Last week I had the pleasure of spending 15 minutes talking to Chris Lim, founder of TheoTech, about what is exciting him about the global hackathon in October and why developers, designers, entrepreneurs and even pastors should sign up to come along.
That’s really what motivates me; I love seeing people do what they love to do, in a way that is intentionally designed to advance the kingdom, I think that is where they find their true joy. It’s one thing to be doing your hobby, it’s another to be doing your hobby but in a way that you know it’s going to impact the kingdom.
– Chris Lim
James Doc [JD]: Hi, My name is James, and I’m one of the co-organisers of the Code for the Kingdom hackathon taking place in London, one of 15 cities around the world taking part in a global hack.
One of the aims of the weekend in October is to bring together technologists and entreprenuers from these cities and countries to use their ideas and skill set to advance the gospel through the creation of new tool that address significant issues in society, communities, families and spiritual life.
Today I’m really excited to be able the share a Skype call with Chris Lim who is a seasoned attendee of Code for the Kingdom events in the US and co-organiser of the Seattle event. Hi Chris!
Chris Lim [CL]: Hi, great to meet you James.
JD: Chris, perhaps you could just introduce yourself; who are you, what’s your day job…
CL: Sure, so my name’s Chris Lim, and I’m a follower of Jesus Christ who happens to love technology, even since a young age. I went to university at the University of Washington, in Seattle and then worked for Amazon for 3 years as a software engineer. But soon after that time I felt called by God to start a company that could do technology and entrepreneurship for the gospel. That basically means beginning with God as your customer and taking that seriously, empathising with what he values and working backwards from there, delivering the kinds of products that will produce the outcomes that He wants to see in the world. So feeling called by God to do that I ended up leaving my job and creating a startup called TheoTech for the past 2 years, doing that kind of work.
Shortly after quitting at Amazon, I got involved with Code for the Kingdom because, providentially, God connected me to the director of the initiative, Chris Armas, who was looking to start a Code for the Kingdom in Seattle. So I became one of the core organisers for that and since that time I’ve been heavily involved because it fits very much with my own mission- to be activating believers to use their technical and entrepreneurial gifts to advance the kingdom.
JD: That sounds incredible, so what does your average day look like TheoTech world?
CL: Well, as you can imagine, it is a little bit unpredictable and there is just so much to be done! Although I’ve had help from various people, people being interns or helpers, I’m really the main guy right now, so right now I’m in the middle of (and I’m going to talk a little bit about it later perhaps) building an Android version of an app called Ceaseless which helps people to pray for others, pray for their friends.
On a good day I could be coding for, maybe like, 6 hours or something like that. Just sit down and be working on that, just trying to knock that out. On other days, I just have to do everything! I could be visiting meeting after meeting, other days I could be working on a presentation or a talk or a prospectus. It really does vary! I can say that it is both a joy to have such variety but it requires a lot of discipline. I really do feel that the first few months have been me developing a person, to develop the emotional fortitude and the discipline to be able to execute!
JD: For sure! You said through TheoTech you got involved with Code for the Kingdom. Tell us a little bit more about what Code for the Kingdom is, what excites you about it?
CL: Yeah, I know a little bit of the backstory actually because I got to talk to Dave Travis, the CEO of Leadership Network which is the organisation that is initiating these events around the world, he just heard about hackathons or NPR [National Public Radio] or something and was like ‘hmm, this is something we probably should start doing’. If you don’t know, their organisation historically has focused on helping innovative leading churched to collaborate and convene the leaders in order to share best practices. So this was a way, I think, they saw, ‘we can convene the culture makers, the technologists, the entrepreneurs who are believers to be sharing and to be relationship with one another, sharing and working together towards kingdom orientated outcomes, things that the traditional church structure can’t really do.
So that is a little bit of the backstory that I heard, but for me personally; because of that providential connection that occurred just at the right time, I had already done some small hackathons for my fellow technologies believers in Amazon another other places like that here in Seattle, but this was like ‘wow, we can do a really big event, for so many more people than just my personal social network, and serve so many more people and really unleash them.’ That’s really what motivates me; I love seeing people do what they love to do, in a way that is intentionally designed to advance the kingdom, I think that is where they find their true joy. It’s one thing to be doing your hobby, it’s another to be doing your hobby but in a way that you know it’s going to impact the kingdom.
That’s what these events give you; a traditional technologist in a church might be asked to do a website, or to do audio visual or something like that… but they have so much more potential! This kind of event convenes those like minded people and lets them use those kinds of gifts, that they have been given by God, to specifically address the things that God cares about, and to do it with other kinds of people who are like that.
I just think that there is a lot of joy and a lot of excitement and really, one of the things I treasure, is working with organisers, people like Chris, has been the culture. It really does feel like the people who come together at these events are so united, they are just serving one another and doing what they love together. It’s an incredible experience.
JD: You mentioned earlier that Ceaseless was a project that you worked on that came out of one of these hacks. Can you just describe what Ceaseless is, what it looks like, what it does, why you built it, where the idea came from?
CL: Yeah, I’d love to! Let me start with where the idea came from and why I built it. I was in a season of my life where my prayer life was happening but to be honest it was really selfish and everything was about me, everything was about my problems, my struggles and all that kinds of stuff. I realised that’s not exactly what the Lord had in mind for prayer life. I knew that he wanted me to pray for other, 2 Timothy says he wants us to pray for all people. So I realised as I was thinking about this that there is this really convenient list of friends called my Facebook friends list that I could be praying through. As a technologist the goal wasn’t just to start a new habit or whatever, I wanted to build something that would help me to that.
So I actually started before the hackathon, building a prototype that was a web based thing and it basically was a Facebook app that pulled in my Facebook friends lists and sent me an email every morning with three friends to pray for.
JD: I still get that email.
CL: You still get it? Excellent, I’m so glad to hear that! That’s still helping people!
It became something that was really easy to pick up, because I’m looking at my inbox anyway and this is helping me to pray for these people and remember people who I never would have thought of otherwise.
I invited friends to do this, I had a lot of self doubt; what is this thing? I’m not putting enough time into it, or whatever, but I had about seventy friends who signed up for the email and what blew me away was that after about 6 months I just checked the numbers. As much as I excel at maths, and I know that I can do analytics, I have some kind of emotional component that makes me kind of scared of looking at the numbers. But I did it finally and saw that we had actually prayed for over twenty thousand people with just seventy of us and that just blew me away. This is amazing, it’s so simple, just pray for 3 friends a day we can have that kind of reach and these are unique individuals because it is from people’s Facebook friend profile.
That really shifted my mind profile; this could be something more than just a handy little tool. What if we could pray for everyone on Facebook? At that time it was like 1.7 billion? What would it take to do that? That is what I took to the hackathon. I wanted to build the apps that would make it possible to reach that kind of scale.
It pitched this idea at the bay area hackathon, talking not only about the personal applications, but really I’ve discovered in leadership so much of it is servant leadership, it really is about those in power using their power to do good to those below. We heard a great talk by Pat Gelsinger, who is the CEO of VMware, and he self described as the senior pastor for seventy thousand employees or something like that. I thought that was an amazing way to view his role, so I introduced Ceaseless at that event as a way for someone like Pat, to ensure that everyone in their organisation is prayed for. You can never do this individually, you can never do this with an intercessor team, but when you start activating the members of your church or community to pray for one another it is scaleable. That’s the story that I pitched at the hackathon and it won two prizes and we did get an Android prototype out and some work to improve the web UI to make it more customisable for organisations.
Since that time Ceaseless has shifted because Facebook unfortunately shut down their friends list API, so my app can only get the list of people who are friends of mine who already have signed up for Ceaseless. I can’t get your full list of friends and that really diminishes it’s utility. What I had to do for existing people, I have built a way that caches all the data of the friends that they already loaded up and that kind of thing, but for the new people I’m directing them to the apps. We have an iPhone app in the AppStore now called Ceaseless and I’ve had a great time working with an iOS developer on this. It is the same experience, but it is integrated with the contacts now and you can add notes, you can follow up with people that way, when they show up for prayer you can pray for them because you took a note the last time you spoke with them.
The dream now, because we are not using Facebook, is could we do this for everyone on Earth? Could we [the Ceaseless community] pray personally for everyone if we have a relationship with them? With some assumptions, if you assume that we have one hundred and thirty unique friendships with people then we could do it with five million believers doing this together, just praying for 3 friends a day.
To me, that is something that is in reach of this generation, that is what seems unprecedented, that we could do this in our generation, we could reach that level of prayer coverage. And beyond that I want to see the Lord do something, the real joy will come not from seeing that the app is successful, but that God is answering the prayers of his people who are praying for people who they wouldn’t have prayed for otherwise because we just didn’t think of them. This is a simple way to help them remember.
JD: That’s an incredible vision, I’m really excited for the Android version.
CL: That’s right, that’s what I’m building day in day out, working on right now!
JD: When is that one due?
CL: I don’t have a due date I’ll be honest. I’m hoping to get it done, probably mid August, we’ll see.
JD: Well before the hack in October then!
CL: Oh yes yes. I just found that after the iOS version was released, every time I would talk to people they would say ‘I have Android…’ So in order for it to be meaningful and the marketing to make sense I really need to support both platforms.
JD: It’s coming then!
CL: It’s coming, it’s a priority I’m working on.
JD: So switching back to the Code for the Kingdom hackathon, you’re obviously really excited about it, you’re really passionate about it, you are co-organising it in Seattle. Why should people come along in October? What should excite people about coming, why should they sign up to get tickets?
CL: Yeah! Well I think that it will vary depending on what kind of person that you are. So, if you are a developer and you’re a pro-developer; you already know the stuff, you do it for your day job or something like that, this is an opportunity for you to convene with other professionals who are kingdom minded. So if you have always wished that you could use those technical skills of yours in ways that are directed to kingdom orientated ends, like in some of the challenges you mentioned earlier or areas like stopping sex trafficking, or encouraging worldwide Biblical literacy, or helping keep families together and many other issues… If you want to use your technical skills to that end this is place to do that with people who love the same thing. The community is what you’ll really be so blessed by, coming to and contributing to. Connecting with these people, building these relationships that will last beyond the event.
If you’re someone who is younger or newer in your technical skills, this is a great event to cut your teeth. Hackathons are ways to really be intensely focused on learning new technology and to build something awesome with other people who know what they are doing, or maybe don’t know what they are doing but you are going to learn together. You get to present it at the end, and you’re just surrounded by other people who are doing the same thing. That creates an environment, when you can work really fast, learn a lot, learn from some of the best and you can use your skills to make a project that may not only be a throw away, it might actually go to market, it may serve other people. I know when I was younger that is what I really loved; I didn’t want to do another homework assignment or an exercise, I wanted to build a real project that people would actually use. That could be a great way to do that and also do it for the kingdom.
If you’re a designer, the truth is that developers just love designers because they make everything beautiful. Especially for pitches, beautiful design goes a long way, it is the first things that people can see and so I think that we need you [chuckles]. You make everything look and feel amazing and inviting for people to use.
Then, even if you are non-technical, Code for the Kingdom can be a great place. Both to connect with people who are technical and to learn about them and things like that, but there is still things that you can contribute actually. I’ve noticed that sometimes as engineers we don’t really understand the problems that well, and so you need the business types and the entrepreneurial types, the people who have customer empathy, who think that through and understand exactly ‘what is it that we need to be doing, we’re not just going to take the problem and solve it as is, we need to understand the problem deeply, so that we can invent a solution that not only solves a problem but has kingdom values infused in it. So there is that opportunity for people who are non-technical to use more of their business skills and insights and the human touch and connection to contribute to these teams and work together. I’ve seen teams ranging from 1 person working solo, to a team of 8 or 10 people who are all working on different parts.
If you are a pastor, this is an amazing event where you can see your members activated, working at their best, doing what they love so intensely, on things that they love to do and they get to do it for the sake of the kingdom. It’s so refreshing to be in that kind of area, the energy is palpable and although everyone comes away tired, it is a good tired. It’s a tired of ‘wow, we really did that? Amazing! When can we do this again?’ That’s the kind of feeling you come away with from these events.
JD: Thanks Chris! If what we’ve spoken about today has peaked your interest and you want to find out more or buy tickets the Code for the Kingdom website codeforthekingdom.org and the Kingdom Code website kingdomcode.uk has lots more information.
Chris, thanks so much for joining, really appreciate that
CL: Yeah, my pleasure, great to connect with you
JD: I’ll look forward to speaking and coding with you in October!
Mentioned in this conversation:
Hackathon tickets: kingdomcode.uk/hackathon
Chris Lim: twitter.com/meritandgrace
Pat Gelsinger: vmware.com