Generosity from where I least expected it

One of our #1 priorities at GiveSafe is getting more beacons out there to those who need them. One way we do that is by hanging out at the Millionair Club Fridays 12–2pm. Jess (operations) was gonna meet me there; I had all the beacons plus cardboard signs that help explain the project. I stepped out of my U-District house at 11:30 to drive down (okay, okay, maybe it was 11:50).

One problem. Dead battery. 😩

With no jumper cables, and too much to haul in a rideshare, I ran back into the house and asked a roommate for cables. No dice. A second checked his car but none still. I turned to the neighbors. I knocked on three doors. No answer. I even asked a construction crew working on a house. Nothing.

I was growing despondent; beacons weren’t getting given out, plus I was stranding Jess. I started wandering towards a church at the end of the block to inquire within. As I entered the mostly empty parking lot, I noticed an older woman at her rusting, late-90’s minivan packed to the GILLS with stuff. I’m not proud to share this thought, but it went off immediately in my head… “Now HERE’S someone who almost certainly has jumper cables; she probably needs ’em weekly.”

I walk up. “Excuse me, would you by chance happen to have jumper cables?”

“Yeah, I’ve got them back here somewhere.”

She goes to carefully open her trunk, revealing a tightly packed “wall” of goods, including a printer and a desk.

“Remote office?”

“Not really. I’m homeless, living out of my van to save money.”

She jigsaws some items to reveal a crate, which gives up a set of jumper cables.

“Here they are! They’re yours.”


“I’ve got another set, don’t worry.”

“Absolutely not!”

“You’ll probably need them again sometime so just keep them.”

“…I’m at least gonna buy them off of you.”

*I take out $10*

*She firmly refuses*

At this moment I realize that, here I am trying to get somewhere to give beacons out, and here I am introduced to someone who just might one.

“I’ve at least got something for you then.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s called a beacon…… “​

Sandy’s from Bellevue and has a heck of a story which you can read here. In her words, Sandy took the beacon because it “gives me resources I need, and keeps me connected to services too.”

I added $10 to her beacon, and headed off to jump my car, beaming.

Sometimes, generosity comes from where you least expect it.

Why is it that those who have the least often have the most to give?

Oh, you made it this far? You’re still wondering what ended up happening at MCC? Let’s cut to Jess, who’s at a big empty table with nothing to offer but a grin:

When I get there 40 min later, I initially tell her I was out distributing a beacon. This is the face I get:

But all’s well that ends well, and we end up meeting some pretty incredible individuals that if you’re in Seattle, I truly hope you’re able to meet soon.

I believe in BOFO

There’s an employee with special needs that works at my home gym back in Chicago. Something caught Curt’s attention as I walked in with an old hoodie I hadn’t worn in years.

“What is that?”, Curt asked, as he got closer to me.

I looked where he was looking and noticed a tarnished badge on my left breast pocket. Continue reading

The Manifesto of a Church that Might Not Exist Yet

An interesting series put on by Northpoint Church
Interesting series put on by Northpoint Church


Over the years, I’m thankful to say I’ve gotten to take part in many faith traditions (mostly Christian, with a visit to a Sikh or Hindu temple here and there). Churches have come in many flavors growing up: medium, large, mega, small and house, in suburbs and the city.

Nowadays, I’m a user experience designer, and have occasionally applied “usability principles” (typically saved for designing interfaces) to the church, wondering if certain aspects could be tweaked or added to help a church exemplify love.

I’m not saying these seven concepts are perfect, that no church has incorporated these already, or that I’m even looking for a church with all seven. I also believe it’s our responsibility and opportunity to experience God at a church, not that of the church to “serve God to us”. If the guy or gal is reading from the Bible and is putting in the time, it’s on us to look past any perceived imperfections and seek God. We have the privilege to give our Creator glory—the one who glorified us first by coming to hang out as his Son (no pun intended).

God doesn’t seem to have called me into the local church, but if He did, this are some of the things I’d love to put in place for the “user”.


1. Parking for Latecomers

Not the most encouraging sight when you’re late as it is

Okay, so this one’s a little selfish… But the church is all about the lost, right? 😉

The guy or gal who partied late into the night before, the person who was on the fence about coming in the first place, the family who fought for half an hour before getting in the car—if the church is really about people on the margins (Jesus was), this simple gesture can help demonstrate it. The regular/early folks will take care of themselves.

Does it encourage lateness? I don’t believe so. The person may learn that fellowship before a service or worship is critical, and that it’s their own loss if they miss it on purpose. But it’s our job to put them first.

The church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.



2. No Lights/Video on Worship Team

One of the things I’ve noticed about some big/mega churches, is how much focus they place on the folks leading worship.

Screen Shot 2016-08-22 at 12.17.20 AM

Screen Shot 2016-08-22 at 12.17.46 AM
The wardrobe selections, the levels of attractiveness, the agenda for diversity, and so on. I feel it can distract viewers in the audience. Note that I just used the word viewers, instead of worshippers. I love concerts, but this isn’t one of them (so I thought). We’re supposed to be pointing people to God, but with the way we do lights and video screens, perhaps we are often pointing to ourselves.

I can imagine the committees that make these “presentational” decisions. When energy and thought are being spent from many sides on this (planners, musicians themselves, aforementioned viewers), maybe there’s a different way of doing things. What instead then? Perhaps lighting should be directed away from the faces/musicians, and left dark whenever possible (natural light is fine of course). Use screens to help the worshippers contemplate the words we’re using, and the meaning behind them. Use ambient visuals for the screen, simple realities of nature or daily life. Draw our focus from faces towards our offering to God and his reciprocation.

A good friend of mine, Caleb Kytonen, who’s starting a church of his own in Seattle, also proposed having the musicians behind or with the congregation, playing alongside congregants towards the Lord. Loved this idea.


 3. Have a “Critic’s Corner”

Whether a believer or a non-believer, I think it is healthy to have questions or doubts following a teaching. To foster ongoing conversation and relationship-building, I think a physical space may be designated for folks who still have questions. A place for people who “still don’t buy it” or want to know more to connect with other congregants/church staff who have thoughts or questions.

When we make it hard or unnatural to ask these questions, that is when we tragically lose these questions. How often has a sermon moved you, only for the conversation with friends to tend to lunch plans and afternoon hikes immediately after? While some of this is natural, I would love to see more intentionality from church leadership on preserving and pursuing the thoughts and questions that matter.


4. Serve Food Well


Before a service at any Sikh church (e.g. temple), you can usually head into the basement for a full vegetarian breakfast. After the service, you can head back into the basement for—you guessed it—a full vegetarian lunch. Each week, one family volunteers to prepare and donate the meal (usually easy staples like rice, curries, flatbreads, pakora, etc.) Even though I did not speak Punjabi, it was during these meals I got to know a lot of the kids and have some meaningful conversations about the nature of God.

Good food to me seems like a great investment to seeing relationships catalyze in the church. Think about how you get to know someone. It’s over coffee, dinner, etc. A church that invests in the food that it offers, I believe will see the fruits of its labor. This can be as simple as bringing real donuts instead of those pre-packaged donut holes, or having a sandwich bar and good bread after a service.


5. Kids Lead Kids

taken in Murshidabad, West Bengal

When I was a short-term missionary in El Salvador, I spent time with a youth ministry called JCM (Joventud con Mision). What I saw was incredible: college students leading the high school ministry, high schoolers leading the middle school ministry, middle schoolers helping out the elementary kids. Sure, there were some adults to help, but the youth were at the forefront of the planning, executing and discipling. And you know what? I had never seen teens / pre-teens so excited to go to church before.

There was a badge of pride these kids wore in being part of JCM, whether as a leader or attendee. They were proud to go to church—something I certainly cannot say for myself at that age. It’s still rare for me to see it. And I think it had to do with how they empowered the kids to be leaders for the kids younger than they.

Later on in India, I shot a film about a school called Manzil, where the kids teach the kids. And you know, I saw a lot of the same effect. A girl I met had argued with her brother for months just to be able to join the school.

If I was part of a church plant, this leadership model would be one I’d look to cast.


6. No Offering Plates / Donation Buttons

Later on in the same India trip, we came across an organization called GEMS, which was doing extraordinary work in a terrorist-controlled region in Bihar (previewed for 3min in this film). The Naxalites were funded by Chinese communists, and had kicked out the police presence, all the NGOs, except for one—GEMS. God was moving in incredible ways through them in that difficult place.

One thing I noticed about our time they hosted us, as well as their website, is that they never once asked us Americans for a donation or contribution. They gave and gave and gave towards us. At the end of our time, I asked them about it. He told me about their philosophy to rely on the Lord’s provision. They never solicited a need, until the Lord moved in someone’s heart to approach them and ask what they could do. The ministry was growing in impact; it was clear God was providing through the trust these leaders had.

We say “in God we Trust”. Let’s put ourselves to it.


7. Create Culturally-Relevant Groups

Today more than ever (geez I feel old saying that), I think it’s important for kids to see the greater world around them. That applies whether the kids of the church are facing prosperity or poverty. It also includes getting our group to meet and integrate with kids in the other bucket.

Our youth adventures would be designed to bring kids into scenarios they’re were not used to. If we were inner-city, then broadway and mountain hikes; if we were suburb, then inner-city poetry slams.

Then there is something called ACTS— a group rising out of a scheduling complexity for many people in the church. Many folks want two basic things—to be active, and to be in community—but have to choose between the two with tons of options presented during midweek evenings (esp. for 20s / 30s in a city). They pick between the gym and small group, or are double-booked between helping serve at a school and a pickup volleyball game.

ACTS is so designed for people to engage in both—to feel alive communally and physically. Folks get together to engage in worship and led discussion (30-45min) and then an activity (climbing, yoga, strength-training, a sport, etc). Every sixth event is of active service to the city. The seventh event is skipped to take rest and then it all starts again.



Doctrine-wise, there’s a lot I don’t know. I’m a UX designer, not a theologist. I believe in a God that’s knowable and in one that badly wants to know us too! Besides getting to know our playwright, painter, and creator, there’s not a lot of other things I take a hardline stance on. This church would take the stance of “critical rationality” (see 3rd paragraph) and the importance of relationship.

The people who visit should know this church as the most accepting place for a sinner—not the least. If we can do that, I think the Lord will do the rest.

What would you like to see/not see in a church?

Making useless videos

I believe everyone’s got an art form—the form of “painting” I’ve taken on is video editing.

This painting is about the cinematography of the Matrix, through one of the best songs I have ever heard. The three films told in six minutes. Each beat synced to a bit of the story.

Recommend you click HD and plug in some headphones for this one.

Song is “I Take Comfort in Your Ignorance” by Tycho & Ulrich Schnauss.


Why did I do this? What value did it bring to the world? I’m not sure it’s much. Every so often, I just see things in my head when I hear music. When I first heard this song in 2013, I saw the Matrix. Since then it didn’t escape me, until I finally started laying this together summer ’15. Each one minute of footage took roughly 15 hours to edit; it could be more.

Certainly a personal struggle in balancing stuff like this with the rest of the responsibilities in life—something I’m still working through. I want to praise God through hobbies like these—I know I don’t always. And yet, I praise Him for the amazing ways we get to explore and think about His universe, through pieces of fiction like the Matrix, and how we can bounce and reverberate it off of ourselves to see the result.




Wanting People to Want What I Want

Ready Player One



I’m reading this book, Ready Player One, in which a computer scientist creates a virtual reality that most everyone plugs into. When he dies, he hides his fortune in the virtual world, in a way only someone ALSO obsessed w/ 80s films, music, and culture could find..


His best friend comments, “Jim always wanted to share his obsessions, wanted people to love what he loved… This fortune gives the world incentive to do just that.”


As I read this, I realize that I too want people to share in my obsessions. I too am hurt when I can’t find a few folks who love what I love. What would life be like if people DID love what I love? Am I just wanting to play God? Or..?


What would you give, if anything, for more people to love what you love? Or have you found that there’s plenty who do already?

Relating to someone who has nothing

You know how easy it is to connect with someone who shares your favorite film, author, or team? (presidential candidate?)

Home Alone, Homeward Bound, Final Fantasy VII, and Kingdom Hearts. Some of those might not register unless you were a nerd like I was (am?), but these are things that came up in conversation with a few homeless guys in their 20s the other day at the Union Gospel Mission.

For some reason, I forget many of these guys had a normal home at one point in their lives. A playstation, a VHS deck, a mom to bring down snacks, just like I did. They spent time in the same way I spent time; they liked what I liked.

These three guys.. we probably would’ve been friends in middle school. They shared the same childhood. They were in my shoes. They’re not so different.

I don’t know why, but my mind has always created a line between “me” and “the homeless”. That line probably shouldn’t exist.

The only difference is that they’ve been though a lot more shit than I have.

There’s not as much that separates me as I thought.

“Sorry no cash, but I’ll buy you food?”

pioneer sq night ben haley


Two week back, the Awesome Foundation was in town. As you remember, they funded our first 100 beacons and are waiting for your crazy idea as well. I was to take the international delegation out on the town. We headed to 88 Keys in Pioneer Square.

As we walked down 2nd, a white bearded man stood to the side and pleaded for money for food. No one responded. A second time, a man approached and said, “Hello, I am hungry, would one of you buy me food?” He locked on me, and asked again.

This time I thought to myself, “I am only here celebrating because I said I had a commitment for the lost. How can I keep walking and ignore this man?”

(Why are you where you are today? To what do you owe what you have?)

I agreed to drop the group off at the bar and split off with the man to find food. As I walked with him, I found out that his own brother had kicked him to the streets from their apartment in Rainer Valley. In walking with Milton, I felt like I was doing the best thing possible. You know, actually walking alongside him, helping him find food, etc.

So we get to J&M’s (“the oldest bar in Seattle”), but before we enter, the bouncer denies us entry. Rather abrasively, he spits out that Milton “does this all the time to travelers” and that I’m “welcome to waste my money if I want to, but to forget it if I think I’m doing a good thing.” He stated Milton would take the food and flip it to guys who had alcohol – a scheme preying on the naive.

Decision: I could either take the guard’s advice and leave Milton, or ignore him and go in alone to order food for Milton anyway.

What would you have done?

The seconds felt like minutes as I felt anguish with the guard standing in front of me and Milton behind me. Unable to draw on enough willpower to change my mind, I proceeded in anyway, ignoring the guard’s warning.

As I’m waiting for the food, a barback who overheard the conversation apologizes for the guy’s abrasiveness and says that “he’s just speaking from experience.” “The guy sees so much stuff as a bouncer downtown; Milton does do this often, and has been seen giving food to guys (for or with?) alcohol.” He apologizes again, and leaves with a “have a nice rest of your vacation.”

It was assumed that because I was trying to help a person get food, I was not from around there.

I sat and pondered until the food came out, and then brought it to Milton. I asked if he wanted to share. He said sure and opened the carton for me to grab something. I did, and noticed he didn’t start eating.

I asked if he had a place to stay for the night. He said he didn’t. We walked to the Bread of Life to see if they were still accepting guests. No dice. In a moment of openness, he asked, “Do you know of another place I can stay?” I called a few services (211, and then 911) and came up with two options: an emergency shelter at 4th and Cherry, and very hesitatingly, I offered the couch at my apartment. James, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry man.. I felt honest relief when he elected to try 4th & Cherry.

I told him that if he’d do the part of finding a safe place to live and a number for rent, I’d do my part to help him get the money, saying that I knew some good people (I was talking about you guys).

As we went in different directions, I wondered if I had truly helped Milton or not. Some of these stories don’t have a great resolution, but I continue to believe that it’s the right relationships that change people. Without this aspect, GiveSafe is not gonna make the mark that it can. In the meantime, I believe I’ll head back to J&M’s and interview that bouncer again.

A Year Ago, I Moved to Seattle


Hey G,

In the last year, you’ve done some pretty crazy things here in Seattle. Thanks for being present here. Here’s a fraction that I actually remember:

  1. The catalyst that you used to get me moving to Seattle – the entrepreneurship-in-residence program at Impact Hub Seattle, and all the people you let me serve (and so meet) along the way.
  2. The way you pulled strings to get me a great place to live and a great roommate – Rachel England providing me 9 days of housing to find a place; a chef in Queen Anne promising to rent a room me then selling it to his next appointment; and James Zerkle, my last resort, who botched the craigslist posting so bad he only got 20 responses instead of 100, picked me out of the lot, and turned out to be the opposite of my fears of living with a designer.
  3. The outlets you gave me in terms of pitch events, sports meetups, and of course hackathons, to start making friends and exercising my passions (among them were Beer&Code, Eastside Football, Writer’s Table, Zino Society, Open Projector Night, Angels and Pitchers, Sandlot Pickup Baseball, Protohack, ATT Mobile Hack, Angel Hack, Design4Good – all amazing.)
  4. What you pulled in Ann Arbor with MTank (Adam not able to make it to pitch FoodCircles, a pivot on the plane to pitch an idea called GiveSafe, my friends stepping up until 4am to help me prepare a 2-minute “silent pitch”).
  5. The Midwest road trip you sent me on and how it affected my views and music – seeing Vivake get married, seeing Caleb and Andrew Bishop in Troy OH, discovering RadioU) plus getting me out on other random trips: sf ’14, a weekend with Caleb in Iowa before I left, retreat with Bethany Community Church on how you want us to treat animals, Malibu with Young Life men, Breakaway with my Wyldlife kids, a trip to Portland and Grand Rapids, Thanksgiving in Chicago, a mountain lodge trip with Sanctuary Church, Vancouver BC with none other than my main man, Bruno Guidolim.
  6. Bringing people who welcomed me here, Rachel E., Rick D., Roberto S., the young life crew and parents, Sydel, Michael Grabham, Mike Ma, DJ Pandian, Tyler B., Sebastien R., Andrew E., Jason K., Brian H., Anil G., Kevin C., Zee Z., James Z., Rene H., Qays P., Daniel T., John I., Sharis, Shelley B., Sarah H. and people all over the Impact Hub.
  7. Preparing a place for me to serve youth again, and being so welcome and needed. Not only that, but the connections to people like Brent Turner and Eddie Wang that have proven so valuable.
  8. How you had a purpose for each dollar I received or spent (AC, UK, RB, FC restaurants, MM, DP). What I made was just dollars enough to keep me pursuing what I feel created to do.
  9. Giving me affordable living, food, officespace, and transportation – I feel so blessed despite having little on paper
  10.  Helping me finish stuff I started (Talim, the code on this website, Spare Room Grand Rapids (radio interview at 1:13:00)) plus starting stuff like Out of Body, a film about the Matrix, Proofing Buddy, and of course, GiveSafe.
  11.  Everything you pulled together to transition me to a new company, GiveSafe (staff, volunteers, partners, competitions, advisors, early adopters, continued stewardship from HML for FoodCircles)
  12.  Giving me some tough lessons learned: FoodCircles failure in Seattle/hiatus in Michigan, working with the wyldlife kids, facing loneliness, royally messing up Social Venture Fast Pitch, slow mornings, getting locked out of the TTNG concert, late nights, being a sinful person in general
  13.  Your forgiveness and your wisdom and your presence here.

What does the year ahead look like? It’ll be different. It’ll be a sequel to build upon this. My dad recommends consecration of my time in three ways:

  1. Pursuit of devotion and service to You, knowledge of You, walking with You
  2. Pursuit of economic viability and education as you pursue the above
  3. Pursuit of a suitable helper and companions as I sort all this out

Thanks G, going for it.
– Jonathan

Best Birthday Ever


Who will you spoil on your birthday?

If your birth signals your opportunity to affect the world, why aren’t birth-days more about celebrating that fact instead of serving ourselves cake?

Few years ago on my 24th birthday, Rebecca Currey and her friends inspired us to do something different.  24 “Random Acts of Kindness”, one act for every year of life. (Funny enough, this event led to something even greater 18 months later.) So what were the random good deeds, you ask?

Well, first, we created a poll on Reddit asking for public nominations of “kind things to do around town”. We then met at my place as a “staging area”, to split up into teams, arrange purchases, write encouragement notes, get some shovels together, etc. Here’s the full list:

Continue reading

Let Me Tell You of Dreams

So I’m pleased to finally publish Talim. While it’s also streaming on Amazon Instant Video, my friends at Gumroad made it easy to offer it here too. You can donate $2.99 to rent the title, $7.99 to buy, or use the promo codes listed right below the trailer. Bit more background underneath.



Talim started out of a failure to get a legitimate internship.

In spring 2010, Alex O’Dell wandered into my room one night and asked me to help launch TED Talks at Michigan. Eventually assenting, I soon found myself staying at Frank Lloyd Wright houses, listening to Groove Spoon, and hob-nobbing with professors in fuzzy sweaters who found everything “terribly interesting”. At the afterparty of what was an intimate, highly sought-after event, Alex, myself and another Indian kid were celebrating with champagne. We asked each other’s summer plans and jointly lamented how organizing TED had taken our capacity away to go after the best internships. Grimly noting our likely fate of making copies all summer for some firm in Detroit, the Indian kid joked that we should do our own internship, consulting for different NGOs across India. He said it a second time; it sounded better. The wheels started turning.

The next morning, Alex and I woke up buzzing about the plan. The other guy forgot about it, never emailing us like he promised he would, but we were fixated. We’d go around India offering our consulting—get this, for free—to local organizations. We’d hand-pick the ones that sounded interesting and teach them to run their organizations.

It took us longer to realize than it should have, but eventually we remembered we didn’t know anything and pretty much scrapped the idea. Here we were, 21-year olds from the Midwest, thinking we had a thing or two to teach nonprofits facing down some of the toughest issues on earth. Audacity is often a good thing, but not when you walk into a place thinking you’re wise and knowing as little as we knew.

But after we recognized we had nothing to contribute, the focus shifted from “teach” to “learn”After all, that’s what an internship is, right? The project slowly came to life in a new form. We’d seek the Why’s behind innovators, and delve into the meaning behind social change. We’d meet people instead of organizations. And, if we were able to budget it, we’d take a camera along for the ride. So we launched a 2010 Kickstarter to enable you to join us. Needless to say, we’re stoked to finally show you what we’ve worked on for half a decade.

We got the Kickstarter funded. We got a semi-drunk Sam Valenti (President of Ghostly International) to offer usage of his label’s music in the film (Tycho, Mux Mool, among others). Then we sent one simple email to be circulated among the global TED community:

What are the coolest things happening in India that nobody knows about?

From this alone came the movie above. 18 names came through; we tracked down half, and found our own along the way. We ran out of $$ by Day 35 (of 56) and relied on my remnant family members to get us through. We managed to burn two CDs for the entire trip, searing the playlist into our minds (this, alongside music from the film below):


We got sick of each other. We got robbed. At several instances, we had no idea the plot or point of our film (the “Fireworks” chapter touches on this). By some means though, we came home with 16 stories bouncing around our heads to tell. A school run by kids, a story remarkably similar to Slumdog Millionaire, a tribe boxing their way out of extinction, the list continued. They are the reason we persisted to pursue this film after so many years; to keep these people’s tales inside of our heads alone was impossible.

At the very end of my journey through India, I was asked, “Are you proud of what you were able to accomplish?” I replied, “I don’t think ‘proud’ is the right word. More appropriately, I feel overwhelmed with a gratefulness to have had this opportunity.” What we did here was not remarkable; I want to make that clear. Talim can be easily replicated in any locale with the question above and the right people to help. This was an internship, a learning experience, and I’m now proud to share nine tightly-woven stories at the top of this page.


*To set up a free university screening for a club or organization, just contact me.
*If you’ve seen other vignettes like Talim, or are part of one, please send them my way.