How I Found Myself On the Mission Field in Information Technology

This post isn’t so much about a technology issue so as it is a post that hopefully inspires people to go out and do things that they are being called to do. If you have that nagging-tugging feeling that you are meant to be doing something and have been avoiding doing it then this post is for you.


Spring of 2006

There I was, 26 years old sitting across the desk from the managing director of the NGO I was with. It was a warm day for Spring in Kunming, China and the director began to express his frustration; “mate,” he spoke in his usual charming manner with his native New Zealand accent, “I’m still waiting for our new IT director to arrive, he will be switching most of the organization over to Linux. You seem pretty clever, do you think you could start working on it now and we’ll let him take over once he arrives?”


From the Beginning

How had I gotten myself into this situation? Well, I had grown up following my parents to church and the Christian nonprofit organizations they were involved in. I always had technical aptitude so it wasn’t uncommon that I would be called upon to try to fix technical issues. Looking back, this was to be the beginnings of working in the information technology industry; a trajectory that would increase during university.

While sitting in the university entrance exam, I found myself staring at a list of majors, near the top I spotted “aerospace engineering;” and decided on the spot to select it as my major (I had always been fond of airplanes). Unfortunately I was bored to tears for the first three years of university while taking mind numbing courses on fluid dynamics, but on the plus side, aerospace engineers take a lot of computer science courses so my technical expertise grew a bit more.

I was accepted to the best aerospace engineering program in the country, but the problem arose that I just didn’t enjoy it as a career. Finally I returned to my native Idaho to finish university in a justice program with a police administration specialization.


From University to Career

I had become a reserve police officer as part of my university practicum and continued working in police and juvenile justice for a few years following graduation. During university; however, I had also started attending a new church and gotten active in ministry. That’s when things derailed a bit from the life I had planned out! You see, I had caught the attention of one of the pastors and he was convinced that I was meant to be in ministry. I had always avoided the thought of full time ministry and swore off ever being in ministry or missions, but for some reason or another that I can’t fully explain I left the safety and job security of a public service career to become a ministry intern.

I was working as a humble ministry intern, which in the States generally only pays a few hundred dollars a month. My savings were slowly dwindling on the intern salary, but I was taking postgraduate courses in church administration and had become engaged to a girl who had also been active in the college and young adult ministry. I had gotten to the point where I was entrusted with a lot of the duties within the children’s ministry (which was a big deal given the elementary school ministry alone was nearly a thousand kids!) and was hopeful that I would eventually be able to become a full fledged children’s pastor so things seemed to be looking up. Unfortunately, after a few years as a ministry intern, I was out of funds, my fiance had sworn off Christianity and left, and as single children’s pastors are frowned upon and it appeared I needed a secular job again. I was feeling lost at sea.


“Go West Young Man and Grow in a Different Country”

That’s when I met an old friend of my parents who was running a Christian NGO in China. We began talking and I thought “well, I don’t have anything else going on right now so I suppose I can do something there for a little while” so we went back and forth in a negotiation where we eventually settled on 2 years (He wanted 10!). I was in China within a couple weeks working with the administrative arm of the organization. This brings us back to the Spring of 2006 where I was sitting before the managing director and finding myself answering “sure, I can try to get the network sorted out until the new director of information technology shows up.”

The new director of information technology never showed up. In my experience, only 1/3 of the people who make a commitment to go on the mission field ever do and anecdotal evidence from recruiters states that 1/10 of the people who express wanting to become a missionary ever do; the result is many people who do go into missions fall into doing jobs they were never trained for, to compensate for those who never show up. The following weeks, months, and years were spent reading books, experimenting, and scouring the internet. Within three years, we had created a great information technology department that was getting praise from the other NGOs in the area. We were even starting to mentor other NGOs and take on trainees from other provinces!

During my first year I had also met my wife, a Singaporean, after two years of a long distance relationship, we were married in 2008 and she came back to work in China. After 3 years, we decided to leave China, as the local situation was changing and I had trained replacements for most of the roles I was in; furthermore, we wanted to finally settle down and make roots somewhere. The question became do we go to Singapore or the USA? Ultimately, we decided on Singapore for a variety of reasons.


That Old Familiar Calling

When I left China, there was a strong tug on my heart that I needed to start a technology company that could support Christian nonprofits and NGOs around the globe; however, I suffered from a Jonah moment, and fought against that tug. After struggling with it for some time I eventually came to the point of saying “okay, enough already I’ll start that information technology company” and I’m glad I did.

This was to be the beginnings of GeekOut Technologies; sometimes God throws people into situations to teach and train them to do something vital to His kingdom so that they can in turn service the rest of His kingdom! Hindsight is often 20/20, but looking back I can see how the various twists, turns, and even closed doors were there to develop the necessary skills: leadership, entrepreneurship, info-tech skill, accounting, customer relations, etc. It turns out after looking into it that Singapore was even the perfect location: great information technology infrastructure with even Amazon and Microsoft holding data-centers here, great tax rates, and small business friendly government policies. I’m by no means finished, but it becomes apparent when pieces are all falling into place that you are doing what you are supposed to be doing.


What Does That All Mean for You?

This post isn’t really to sell our services so much as to encourage those of you who have been holding back from doing what you are called to do; are you meant to open a new company? Start a new church? Create a new charitable organization? Become a missionary? Stop fighting it and do what you are called to do; furthermore, don’t be afraid to say yes and learn new things because you never know what things the Lord is going to use further down the road for his kingdom.

If you find yourself unsure of whether or not you are being called to do something, seek out a mature Christian, I don’t recommend a pastor per se, just someone who has been a Christian a long time and seems to live it out. While there are certainly wiser Christians out there, if you don’t have anyone else to talk to then you can feel free to contact me and I’ll lend what assistance I can.

Now get out there and do it!


Isaac Johnson

Isaac has been in professional ministry since 2002, holds an M.Div. from Moody, and his goal is to equip churches to reach digital natives.

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