Gospelcom tribute

Gospelcom in Review

Prior to starting my senior year in college, a Professor who knew my older brother contacted me about a possible technical job with a Christian ministry named Gospel Films. Heading into a double major of Computer Science and Religion & Theology, I guess my interests seemed like a good fit.

For the next decade, I worked for Gospel Films, later to become Gospel Communications International (referred to by most as Gospelcom). At the end of last year, Gospelcom closed its doors, ending a 50+ history of successful ministry in various forms of media.

A couple months ago I visited Monterey, CA, as part of a work trip and it brought back a slew of memories of conventions attended while at Gospelcom, including a couple in Monterey.  Since then I’ve been reminiscing about my time at Gospelcom. There are many questions about why Gospelcom had to call it quits after so many years, but rather than speculate about what’s already done, I’d rather highlight some of my favorite memories of my time there.

Offered Me A Start

I worked in the Internet area at Gospelcom, assisting with sites we owned and hosted, as well as those of hundreds of other Christian organizations. Based on my relatively low real-world professional experience, Gospelcom took a risk hiring me and allowing me to grow on the job. During my time at Gospelcom, I was able to watch the technical staff grow from 1 person (me) to 16 or so full time people. As a result, I was privileged to do everything from technical support and web development to systems administration and management.

Technical Development

During that time I was able to become experienced with a number of technologies. In the area of operating systems, I got to work with compiling Linux kernels (starting with 2.1?), SGI IRIX, early RedHat, Fedora Core, and RedHat Enterprise.

During most of that time I was allowed to run Linux on my desktop, generally RedHat and then Fedora. My proficiency with Pine as the email client of choice was quite impressive, lasting 13 years until I made the switch to Mac OS X in early 2006. On the server side, I learned the ins-and-outs of PHP, Perl, Apache, MySQL, LDAP, qmail, tinydns, and was able to dabble with numerous other technologies.

Considering the size or our small organization, I had the privilege of interacting with some great people in the Open Source world. I was able to write back and forth with Monty, one of the primary MySQL developers early on. I was able to attend conventions and attend sessions led by Rasmus, the founder of PHP.   I even have a picture of me with Tim O’Reilly. (I knew you’d be impressed.) While I didn’t talk with Larry Wall personally, our team did receive email from him regarding some functionality on biblegateway.com, a site we owned and developed.

I am forever indebted to Gospelcom for the chance they took on me and the freedom they gave me to grow technically. Speaking from a purely selfish perspective, the experience I gained at Gospelcom has opened a world of opportunities for me in multiple professions.

People Reaching People (How Could I Resist?)

However, what I’m most grateful for are the people I was able to work with. There were numerous people who made an intentional effort to mentor me, and I learned much from each and every one. And I learned just as much, if not more, on a personal and professional level from my peers. I’d love to list names, because I honestly believe I learned something from each person, but I fear I’d leave out a name or two from the course of those 10 years. Rest assured, I’m a better person having worked with you all.

A unique aspect of working at Gospelcom was being able to work closely with the web ministries of hundreds of other Christian organizations, including places such as RBC Ministries, Youth Specialties, YFC, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, Back to the Bible, InterVarsity Press, Louis Palau, musicians, international ministries, radio stations, etc. Being able to work with those organizations, in whatever small way, was a privilege.

A Few of My Favorite Things

With a decade of memories, I fear the following snippets don’t do justice to the incredible experiences I had. Nevertheless, I give you some of my favorite memories:

  • Every Wednesday was donut day. At 10:00 AM sharp, donuts were set out in the break room and freely available. In the later years, things began to morph a bit as the number of donuts lessened and additional alternatives were added such as fruit and bagels. Even so, it was a great perk and a good chance to take a break from email to sit and chat with folks.
  • The drink refrigerator was a commercial-sized sliding door refrigerator. It was stocked with pop, water bottles, juices, and other beverages, and employees were allowed to help themselves. I certainly went through phases where different drinks became my daily routine: Cherry Coke, water, cran-grape juice, pink grapefruit juice, and Cherry Coke (did I mention that already?). There were obviously the expected political battles where we fought to have our drink of choice stocked. We managed to get Frappucinos for a while. The one constant drink that was ever present was Tab. It had a faithful following in the accounting department.
  • Speaking of political battles, I remember the struggle to get recycling available for plastics, bottles, etc. When I left there were still devoted employees (thanks, Ron) providing paper recycling services personally.
  • Working in an environment now where business casual is the dress code, I fondly look back at the Gospelcom dress code, or lack thereof. Summers were filled with sandals and shorts, and jeans were definitely the normal for other seasons. I did have a single suit that made an appearance once each year at the annual Board Meeting.
  • When our technical infrastructure got big enough, we began scheduling certain upgrades and changes during maintenance windows, typically early in the morning. Those sleep-deprived mornings are some of my favorite memories. A few of us would gather in the wee hours of the morning, grind some coffee and brew a strong pot, and settle in the back warehouse to get some uninterrupted work done. Pcg would invariably kick off some tunes for everyone, the most memorable for me being Morrissey. Assuming all went well with whatever change was performed, we’d head off to Bob Evans for some breakfast, so we weren’t in the office when normal business hours started. (I mean, did we really want to hear about any problems caused by our changes anyway?) Bob Evans boasted some serious Eggs Benedict, omelets, and these biscuits with the thickest sausage gravy you can imagine.
  • While we’re on the topic of early morning coffee, someone at Gospelcom first introduced me to White Heather.  Anyone want to take credit for that?  I owe you.
  • Initially we hosted our entire infrastructure in our offices at Gospelcom. From humble beginnings where we literally had pen caps holding in the network connections of one of the servers, to gas-powered generators during storms (my wedding night included), to the headaches of getting multiple DS3s coming into the building. One snowy January night we moved the entire infrastructure, 7 racks of equipment in all, to a data center 50 miles away. While things were down we had a Sony Vaio laptop serving a splash page for all website requests.
  • I was able to help influence Reverend Fun cartoons on occasion.  My favorites were always the ones about camels.
  • I was privileged to attend a number of technical conferences, including O’Reilly’s Open Source Convention. It was great having those late night brainstorming sessions with the other Gospelcom-ers that went, but also attending all the great sessions about our favorite technologies.
  • Speaking of conferences, Gospelcom hosted a conference or two every year to collaborate with, and provide training for, the hundreds of organizations in the Gospelcom alliance. They were a ton of work, and often a source of frustration in planning, but leading sessions and meeting with all the incredible folks from the ministries was incredibly rewarding.
  • I always enjoyed hearing some frequent speakers at Gospelcom conferences such as Jeff Veen.  I also enjoyed McNair Wilson‘s one-man dramas.
  • Bonicki’s.  Barbeque chicken and pineapple quesadillas.  Mmmm.
  • My closet has a sizable section of Gospelcom t-shirts.  Little did I know at the time the process to get those shirts designed and approved was a foreshadowing of the government contracting world.
  • At 3:00 PM on afternoons when the weather was nice, a handful of people often headed out back to toss frisbees around.  I didn’t participate nearly as frequently as I should have.
  • During the early years of my time at Gospelcom, each employee received boxes of See’s candy as a gift at Christmas.  Z loved the stuff, and shipped it to everyone he came in contact with.  I believe Z was single-handedly the largest distributer of See’s candy in West Michigan.  Seriously.  There were also years where Poinsettias and Lilies would be sent to our house at Christmas and Easter, respectively.
  • Speaking of Z, he took a few of us to hear him preach at Joe Louis Arena one Sunday.  I was able to walk on the floor of the arena, check myself against the boards, get on the team bench, and walk through the back hallways.  Dream come true.  Go Wings!
  • When I first started, the last day of the month was always a late night so I could compile the month-end statistics reports for Smitty.  He loved his hits and page views.
  • The annual Christmas party certainly needs to be on the list.  In my early years, Z played a number game.  He’d think of a number, tell us a range, and whoever guessed it got cash.  He’d do several rounds.  At the end, anyone who hadn’t won would get a sympathy cash prize.  If I’m not mistaken, I was always in the last category.  I seem to recall Don always making a trumpet noise for some reason, too.  Anyone remember what that was about?
  • I, like most people, have stereotypes about wealthy people.  Rich DeVos shattered them all.  He was the chairman of Gospel Films for many years, and was a faithful supporter.  I am grateful I was able to meet him and hear him as he shared his heart with the staff on numerous occasions.  It’s amazing to see how much he does that intentionally goes unnoticed, for everything from ministries like Goselcom, to schools, and to cities like Grand Rapids.
  • Back when blogs were all the rage, I got my start with my analog blog on the whiteboard in our meeting room.
  • I’ll always remember the lunch breaks where we sat around a projector and watched various TV shows.  I was introduced to some great shows, including Scrubs, Freaks and Geeks, The Tick, and Fawlty Towers.  (Did I really put The Tick in that list?)
  • Paul Harvey highlighted Gospelcom during his normal daily broadcast one day.  Anyone able to find that online somewhere?
  • One of the office supply stores our office used frequently provided a free box of Famous Amos chocolate chip cookies with any orders over a certain amount.  The box would appear on the break counter, at which point they were fair game.  Invariably the first person to discover it would take a handful … and then send email to everyone else about the fresh box.
  • When pcg moved away from MI, he had an old upright Pac-Man arcade game.  We moved it to the warehouse and Gospelcom and for many, many months talked about how to get it fixed.  It finally happened, and I was in my glory.  I was never able to overtake Luke’s high scores, however.  He was crazy good.

Are there any other obvious ones I’m missing, all you former Gospelcom folks out there?

Closing

I personally have many fond memories of Gospelcom, and it was a significant time in my life.  At the same time, I know Gospelcom was able to provide the Gospel to many, many people over many decades, and through numerous methods and languages.  I’m honored to have been allowed to play a small part.

15 thoughts on “Gospelcom tribute

  1. BCP,

    Thanks for the walk down memory lane … those were truly some great years of ministry and growing together. Thanks for all you did to make it happen.

    Robby

  2. Leave it to the Follow Thru staff member to write up the retrospective we all wish we could. 🙂 Thanks for sharing, Brian. And, your Tim O’Reilly picture incident is safe with me….

    -Chip

  3. Oh this was a wonderful post to read, bcp. Brings back a lot of memories, and I was only there for like 2.5 years. One major memory you didn’t mention that popped into my mind right away was the “toast that set off the fire alarm and brought the fire trucks over” incident.

  4. What about our Y2K party/DEFCON 5 meeting? We actually brought families in to watch The Matrix on the projector and had it end just before Jan 1, 2000. Then we sent all of the spouses out, sat at our desks, waited for nothing to happen, muttered “I told you so”, and drove home.

    Topher taught me how to get going in reverse on the ice and pull the emergency brake in the Gospelcom parking lot.

    I remember not only playing Frisbee in the back, but occasionally having to keep our eyes open for golf balls, as the creative team practiced their golf swing across our field!

    Let’s see… what about the forest-mural wallpaper in the break room? That was pretty special.

    Also, picayune detail: it was The Smiths, not Morrissey (who *was* the lead singer for The Smiths), that we used to play in the wee hours of the morning.

    All in all, a great post about a pretty great place to work. As always, you’re the one who’s able to bring out all of the fun(ny) things about working at a place that was pretty bizarre and frustrating at times. 🙂

  5. I hesitated publishing this post for literally months because I kept thinking of more and more items I wanted to highlight. Even so, you all are pulling out stuff I had forgotten:

    * Follow Thru: The Kolbe A Index! I’m still surprised how much that changed the way I view and interact with other people, both personally and professionally. I’m rather proud of my 7 8 2 3, for those keeping score at home.

    * As for the Tim O’Reilly pic, I don’t remember anything awkward about that moment. Ahem. Just keep in mind, Chip, I have a picture of you trying to iron while on that same trip, so I’m not too worried about any details leaking. 😛

    * The toast fire! I just found some good pics of the incident: truck arriving #1, truck arriving #2, truck leaving, and Smokey’s follow-up visit.

    * The Y2K Party was great, and I well remember the Matrix showing. If memory serves, only the devo-daily.pl script thought we had entered year 100.

    * Anyone have a picture of the forest-mural wallpaper? That’s too good to not be documented.

    * I stand corrected regarding The Smiths. You even made the distinction for me not so long ago. Thanks for the attention to detail, pcg. History must be recorded accurately. 🙂

    Thanks for all the additional memories!

  6. Man, that all brings back so many memories. Now I have to do a post as well. I still have the schematic of our office that I made for pcg when he was considering working at Gospelcom.

    I remember playing pcg’s Hendrix cd way too many times.

    I remember getting a new air conditioner on the roof, and then Smitty surreptitously turning the air all the way on, making it freezing in there.

    I remember Johnny V putting a projector on his machine and getting Winamp to play cool stuff on the wall while we turned the lights out and cranked the tunes. Then he stood there with nothing to do because his machine was busy. 🙂

    I remember bcp being flabbergasted that he had a baileywick.

    I haven’t thought about this stuff in a coon’s age. 🙂

    Good times.

  7. Brian, well done. This was a great read. A few things I’d add to the post and comments from the four years I was there:

    The “Dolly Special”. To those that weren’t there, this was a bagel prepared only as Dolly at Big Apple Bagels could; she’d ignore the handy automatic bagel slicer and have at the poor pastry with a knife and her keen, aged eyes for detail. The knife worked great, the eyes not so much. One day I brought my bagel back to show you in your cube (this was probably 8:30am, so you’d been working for almost 2 hours already), silently held up my mutilated breakfast, and you just said “Dolly special, eh?”.

    The “Tiny Cube“. One of the only days Ron and I beat you in to work was when some other parties had spent the prior evening reconfiguring your cubicle to be about 3 feet by 4 feet. We wanted to be there for the reaction. Naturally, you took it in stride and worked from the cube as it was for the rest of the day.

    It was a tradition at Gospelcom that first days on the job had to be memorable somehow. Mine was no exception–on my first day Rich DeVos choppered in, landed on the lawn in his Airwolf helicopter, and we had a catered lunch outside. It was also one of the only days I wore anything but jeans to work.

    I remember the sinking feeling I had when I, with one keystroke, managed to wipe out all member passwords in the database. I also remember being amazed at how quickly the much smarter people I worked with were able to fix my error (thanks Alan, pcg, bcp!).

    I vividly remember receiving an email inviting all technical staff to a donor banquet, the next day, where a suit was appropriate dress. I remember the impromptu huddle at your cubicle five minutes later as your staff tried to figure out what to do since they did not own suits.

    I remember some area regulars: Old Man with a Bat; Foot-Dragging Scooter Guy; and of course the aforementioned flock of wild geese.

    I remember having a great time at conferences hanging out with ministry folks, enjoying a few in the hotel bars, and talking and listening about whatever. I loved seeing familiar faces every year.

    The epic Muskegon -> Grand Rapids server move is one of my most vivid memories; I was made the ‘Task Manager’ for some reason, and I remember the contrast between our extremely orderly start to the evening and the harried end to things much, much later, when none of us had any energy left at all.

    I appreciate, especially in hindsight, Gospelcom putting their full confidence in me (for some unknown reason) to be a primary support person and to even get up in front of people and speak.

    And, of course, the people at Gospelcom made working there a ton of fun, even when some non-fun things were going on.

  8. Hey, read your latest blog on gospelcom and it was awesome. I wish I could have had an experience like that. Doing what you love and actually feeling like you are contributing to make a difference. Great post!

  9. Nice! Thanks for the memories!
    How about the time all the Brians sang “O Holy Night” in the shower for our Christmas party while people sat at tables and asked one another, “why are there 3 guys in the shower together?”

    Awe_some.

    p

  10. I harken back to the glory days when there were just a few of us, all packed into a tiny little office. I’ll never forget how much we laughed when Chris VanOosterhootie would utter the phrase … “you have to be connected” while offering tech support. I still use that phrase today.

  11. I can’t believe how many classic moments I’d forgotten about. They just keep coming …

    Topher, your air conditioning comment reminded me about the homemade air conditioning contraption we built to put in the door of our server room. That way when the air conditioning units on the roof froze (generally in the summer), we could wheel in the door air conditioner to keep the servers at what I’m sure was an optimal temperature. And thank you for the coon’s age reference. 🙂

    How could I forget Dolly at Big Apple, or Tiny Cube? That’s good stuff. And while I don’t remember you deleting the members database passwords, I do remember doing an accidental `rm -rf /usr` on what was at the time our single mail and FTP server (a.k.a. jericho). Turns out that can do considerable damage, even with Ctrl-c swooping in only moments later.

    Paul, I have no recollection of the three Brians singing “O Holy Night”. I have no idea what you’re talking about, and I have no pictures documenting the event. At least that’s my story. Just awful …

    Brent, I remember CVO saying that very thing. I, too, still pull it out on occasions. I really should thank him for that.

    Thanks for taking time to share, everyone!

  12. Really enjoyed reading the reply and different perspectives…think it was frustrating on your end doing the t-shirt thing..you should have been on my end…planning the conferences etc was one of the highlights of my 26 year career with Gospel Communications International.. what a privilege it was to work with all of you…and just to show that even old guys can change…I now wear shorts, sandals and t-shirt (no gospelcom.net ones) almost exclusively between 1 May and 30 Sep…there is no dress code or deadlines in retirement unless you leaving for an extended roadtrip…If I knew where you guys ended up I just might show up some day…God’s best to you and yours..
    In His and Your Service. – Smitty

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