Language Learning for a Small World and a Big Introduction

December 11, 2014 § 2 Comments

Most commercials make me hit the mute button or click “Skip this Ad.” But some I like so much that I search them out on Youtube for a second, third, and fourth look. Here are two of those.

The first one, from Rosetta Stone Language Learning, begins with this: “Imagine the world if everyone learned just one more language. Imagine the stories we’d share.”

The second one, my favorite of the two, is from the American Heart Association. It opens with the words “Hello, Jack. Hello, Jack. I am your grandfather. I waited so long to meet you”—and ends with a nice surprise. (By the way, from what I can tell, the grandfather is learning his English from a Langenscheidt pocket dictionary.)

One Hundred Years Ago: The Christmas Truce

December 5, 2014 § 2 Comments

If I had a World War One military cap I’d use it for a hat tip to the folks at Thanks to them I got to see this year’s Christmas advertisement for the UK supermarket chain Sainsbury’s. It was created in honor of the 100-year anniversary of the Christmas Truce, when Allied and German soldiers, nearly five months into the first world war, climbed out of their foxholes and, in the no man’s land between them, found a way to celebrate Christmas together.

The stories of the Christmas Truce of 1914 come from diaries and letters of soldiers on the front lines in Europe. The people who made the Sainsbury’s ad tell about the background for the video in their “Story behind Our Christmas Ad” below, quoting several of the first-hand accounts.

Following are excerpts of what the soldiers wrote a century ago, showing in stark terms how longed for, and how elusive, peace on earth is.

From a letter written by British Rifleman J. Reading to his wife—

I hope you all had a merry Christmas; let me tell you how I spent mine. My company happened to be in the firing line on Christmas eve, and it was my turn—with a non-commissioned officer and four others—to go into a ruined house and remain there until 6.30 on Christmas morning. During the early part of the morning the Germans started singing and shouting, all in good English. They shouted out: “Are you the Rifle Brigade; have you a spare bottle; if so we will come half way and you come the other half.” At 4 a.m part of their Band played some Christmas carols and “God save the King”, and “Home Sweet Home.” You could guess our feelings. Later on in the day they came towards us, and our chaps went out to meet them. Of course neither of us had any rifles. I shook hands with some of them, and they gave us cigarettes and cigars. We did not fire that day, and everything was so quiet that it seemed like a dream. We took advantage of the quiet day and brought our dead in.

(Bucks Examiner, January 8, 1915, quoted in Christmas Truce 1914: Operation Plum Pudding)

From Regimental Sergeant-Major George Beck’s diary—

Not one shot was fired. English and German soldiers intermingled and exchanged souvenirs. Germans very eager to exchange almost anything for our bully beef and jam. Majority of them know French fluently.

Passages from Beck’s diary are being published daily, 100 years after being written, at The diary of Regimental Sergeant Major George Beck, part of the Dorset History Centre site.

(Mark Casci, “Diary of Famous WWI Christmas Truce to Be Published,” The Yorkshire Post, August 17, 2014)

From the diary of German Lieutenant Kurt Zehmisch—

Soldier Möckel from my company, who had lived in England for many years, called to the British in English, and soon a lively conversation developed between us. . . . Afterwards, we placed even more candles than before on our kilometre-long trench, as well as Christmas trees. It was the purest illumination—the British expressed their joy through whistles and clapping. Like most people, I spent the whole night awake. It was a wonderful, if somewhat cold, night.

(Michael Jürgs, Der kleine Frieden im Großen Krieg [The Small Peace in the Big War], quoted in English in Luke Harding’s “A Cry of: Waiter! And the Fighting Stopped,” The Guardian, November 11, 2003)

From Fred Langton—

The following incidents will give you an idea of how some of our Tommies spent Christmas Day. The Scots Guards and the Germans opposite, by mutual consent, mixed freely with each other. They exchanged addresses, and promised to write to each other—a typical habit of Tommy’s. Two of the German officers took dinner with our two officers, and before they left arranged to play a football match on New Year Day. Six of the Worcesters had lunch in the German lines, and the same number of Germans had lunch in ours. Before parting, it was arranged that before firing recommenced on either side three volleys should be fired in the air. A week from now these men on both sides will be doing almost unspeakable things in order to kill each other.

(Yorkshire Post, January 2, 1915, quoted in Christmas Truce 1914: Operation Plum Pudding)

And from the Royal Engineers’ Lance-Corporal Henderson—

The alarm went about midnight, and we stood up till daybreak, when we found that our pals of the previous two days had tried to rush our position, but they got cut up as usual, and I believe the next morning the ground where we had been so chummy, and where Germans had wished us a merry Christmas, was now covered with their dead.

(published in The Hampshire Chronicle, January 30, 1915, quoted in Christmas Truce 1914: Operation Plum Pudding)

Why Do Missionaries Leave the Field? It’s Hard to Say

November 29, 2014 § 2 Comments


Read very many reports of people who out of the blue quit their prestigious, well-paying jobs (for example, company CEO, NBA coach, Speaker of the House), and you’ll quickly recognize that the main reason they claim is “to spend more time with family.” Of course, we understand that in most cases, that’s a boilerplate answer used to sidestep what’s really going on. The truth is much more difficult to discern.

When it comes to missionary attrition, the situation is not much different.

After finishing our first term on the mission field in Taiwan, I and my family made our first trip back to the States. During that visit I heard a representative from our sending agency talk about the many reasons why missionaries leave the field. What she said went something like this:

There’s the reason you tell your supporters.
There’s the reason you tell your church.
There’s the reason you tell your agency.
There’s the reason you tell your teammates.
There’s the reason you tell your family.
There’s the reason you tell yourself.
And there’s the reason you tell God.

Detlef Bloecher, in Worth Keeping: Global Perspectives on Good Practices in Missionary Retention, has a similar list, citing

stated reasons (written in the missionary’s prayer letter)
personal reasons (told to close friends or family)
secret reasons (not shared but believed deep in the missionary’s heart)
leader’s reasons (identified by the team or field leader)
recorded reasons (added to the missionary’s file)
believed reasons (accepted by the director of the sending base)
socially accepted reasons (published in the mission journal)
further reasons identified by the missionary’s professional counsellor, and
true reasons (a combination of the above or something completely different)

Bloecher’s listing is part of his discussion of the challenges faced by the Mission Commission of the World Evangelical Fellowship (WEF) when, in 1994, they set out to examine why missionaries leave their work. Their study, surveying 551 mission organizations and sending churches from 14 countries, was called ReMAP (Reducing Missionary Attrition Project), and their findings were reported and discussed in Too Valuable to Lose: Exploring the Causes and Cures of Missionary Attrition.

Why do missionaries leave the field? It seems that it’s hard to say.

Attrition Happens

In Chapter 6 of Too Valuable to Lose, Peter Brierley writes that one of the key findings of ReMAP is that each year the on-field mission force loses 5.1% of its workers. Of these, 71% leave for what are called “preventable reasons.” These reasons are in contrast to non-preventable reasons, “such as normal retirement, a political crisis, death of a spouse, marriage outside the mission, or a change of job.”

To clarify, this number of “leaving” missionaries includes those who resign from one agency and then join another, thus returning to the field, but it does not include those who leave the field to take a home-based position with their agency.

When grouped in categories, the reasons that ReMAP found for missionary attrition are as follows, ranked by weight/importance:

  1. Unpreventable
  2. Personal
  3. Marriage/Family
  4. Society
  5. Work-Related
  6. Team
  7. Cultural
  8. Other

Broken down further, the complete list includes 25 reasons, arranged by perceived significance, from greatest to least:

  1. Normal retirement
  2. Child(ren)
  3. Change of job
  4. Health problems
  5. Lack of home support
  6. Problems with peers
  7. Personal concerns
  8. Disagreement with agency
  9. Inadequate commitment
  10. Lack of call
  11. Outside marriage
  12. Immature spiritual life
  13. Marriage/family conflict
  14. Poor cultural adaptation
  15. Problems with local leaders
  16. Elderly parents
  17. Inappropriate training
  18. Lack of job satisfaction
  19. Political crisis
  20. Inadequate supervision
  21. Death in service
  22. Dismissal by agency
  23. Immoral lifestyle
  24. Language problems
  25. Theological reasons
  26. Other

Where Should the Data Come From?

It is important to note, and fully acknowledged by ReMAP researchers, that the reasons above are not necessarily those given by the missionaries themselves. Rather, they are the ones perceived to be true by their sending agency or church. This is because, writes Jonathan Lewis in Too Valuable to Lose, interviewing all 4,400 missionaries who left the field during the study period, from 1994-1996, would have been nearly impossible. And by choosing to get data from organization “decision makers,” the researchers were involving the people who would have the power to later make the changes necessary to reduce attrition.

This method of gathering data on attrition is not uncommon in the missionary community. Mark Wingfield, writing in the Baptist Standard, reports that the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board (IMB) carries out a study each year on personnel attrition, with regional supervisors filling out the survey forms.

In 2000, several IMB trustees had questions about the reported numbers. They wondered if IMB’s recent movement of missionaries to new fields had caused an increase in missionary attrition.

David Garrison, then the associate vice president for strategy coordination and mobilization, assured them that that was not the case.

IMB’s figures showed that in 1999, only 9.56% of those who left their work left with “disagreement with IMB philosophy, policies, staff or structure as a contributing reason.” The largest proportion, 25%, left because of a “change in understanding of God’s call.”

Winfield writes that Garrison “admitted some who resigned could have failed to cite their true feelings about IMB philosophy changes but expressed confidence that was not likely to have been true in many cases.”

Drilling Deeper

When Worth Keeping was published in 2007, it was ten years after Too Valuable to Lose. The second book uses the results of the ReMAP II (Retaining Missionaries: Agency Practices) study to followup on ReMAP, this time focusing on what organizations can do to keep their missionaries. ReMAP II called on agency leaders to evaluate their practices, and then their responses were used to find correlations between methods and retention.

Two  months ago, the mission research organization Global Mapping International (GMI) published a post on their blog commenting on ReMAP II, calling it “one of the more famous mission research studies since the turn of the millennium.” But GMI reports that when Jim Van Meter, the leader of the US analysis, looked at the correlations, he found that the practices and retention rates didn’t match up as expected. So he asked GMI for its input. Were the questions flawed?

No, said GMI. “The problem isn’t the questions. It’s the person answering them!” They explain further:

Administrators can reliably answer factual questions about their agency’s practices, but they cannot reliably answer evaluative questions related to their support of field staff.

GMI cites the following example: In ReMAP II, administrators were asked to rate their agencies’ practices in relation to the statement “Missionaries are included in major decisions related to the field.” While the responses showed that this is something that agencies do well, the findings did not correlate with retention rates.

When GMI did their own survey of over 1,700 workers in the field, the phrase “My organization involves employees in decisions that affect them” was rated in the bottom 10 of 68 items. And unlike in ReMAP II, this finding did correlate with retention.

The solution, says GMI, is a third-party collector of data, and in what they call a “shameless plug,” they offer Engage, “a customized Field Missionary-Friendly employee survey,” implemented by GMI and Best Christian Workplaces. By using Engage, they say, “Everyone wins. Leadership teams get to celebrate successes and identify priorities. Boards receive meaningful measures and see how leaders are taking initiative.  Field staff gets a chance to be heard and offer ideas.”

Getting the Full Picture

To better know why missionaries leave the field, it makes sense to me to start with what the missionaries themselves have to say, reported by them, unfiltered through others. We all have our natural, inherent biases, along with fears that come with speaking and hearing the unvarnished truth, and the less we add these to the equation, the closer we will get to that truth.

This won’t be easy, and we should consider utilizing GMI and Best Christian Workplaces, and other groups like them, for their objectivity and for their experience in conducting and analyzing surveys. At best, surveys should be repeated consistently (as is done by the IMB), and they should be shared with, and owned by, everyone in the organization, not just those in leadership.

While I highly value the responses of missionaries, I also realize that their views alone aren’t guaranteed to represent the whole picture on the causes of attrition. Missionaries don’t always completely understand their own situations, and even when they do, they’re too often inclined to voice safe or respectable explanations. Getting to the truth will take patient listening and will need to seek anecdotal input that goes beyond numerical responses to a standardized list of questions.

Groups and individuals who offer member care and debriefing can help in this area. They often hear what others do not, because of their willingness to listen and because of the safe outlets they provide. But care needs to be taken to ensure that any reporting they do does not compromise the very trust they have fostered that encourages missionaries to share openly.

Writing in Too Valuable to Lose, Brierley suggests that future research on attrition go beyond the statistics of quantitative research and move to the explanations of qualitative research. One example he gives of how this would be helpful would be to look more deeply at the differences between responses collected from different sources. How and why do the reasons given by missionaries, those written in the missionary’s personnel file, and those believed to be true by mission leaders differ?

The Truth Is Out There

We need to recognize that though the truth on why missionaries leave the field may be elusive, it can be found. The differences in viewpoints can cause confusion, but they can also bring clarity. Recognizing how we see things differently can help us get closer to the truth and can also point out areas where more communication is necessary.

I think of how we prepare for the classic interview question, “What is your greatest weakness?” Knowing that the question is coming, we try to prepare an answer that at least seems honest but also doesn’t reveal an actual grievous problem. In one interview, I was asked to tell what my coworkers would say my greatest weakness was. Though I can’t remember what I said, I know it was more revealing. Just looking at myself through others’ eyes helps me see myself more clearly.

I hope that we will be able to trust each other more and become more open to listening to different perspectives. This goes both ways in the relationships between mission leaders and field workers—and should also include researchers, trainers, and member-care workers. We’re all on the same team, and while we sometimes don’t see eye to eye, we all are working toward the same goals.

So back to the question: Why do missionaries leave the field?

It is hard to say. But if we commit ourselves to opening our hearts and our ears, it’s far from impossible.

(Detlef Bloecher, “ReMAP 1: What It Said, What It Did, and What It Achieved,” Worth Keeping: Global Perspectives on Good Practices in Missionary Retention, edited by Rob Hay, William Carey Library, 2006; Peter W. Brierley, “Missionary Attrition: The ReMAP Research Report,” Too Valuable to Lose: Exploring the Causes and Cures of Missionary Attrition, edited by William D. Taylor, William Carey Library, 1997; Jonathan Lewis, “Designing the ReMAP Research Project,” Too Valuable to Lose; Mark Winfield, “Disagreements Discounted as Source of Missionary Attrition,” Baptist Standard, April 24, 2000; “Listening Well . . . and Why It Matters,” Global Mapping International, September 22, 2014)

[photo: “Walk Away,” by Nikos, used under a Creative Commons license]

15-Year Look Back Shows Big Changes in International Student Population in US

November 17, 2014 § Leave a comment

iew_2014_logos_0Over the past 15 years, substantial changes have occurred to the landscape of international students on US university campuses.

According to data released today by the Institute of International Education (IIE) in the 2014 Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange, since 1999/2000, the number of international students in the US has increased by 72%, to an all-time high in 2013/14 of 886,052.

Since statistics have been collected by IIE, starting in 1948, the number of international students has increased each year, except for 1971/72 and from 2003 to 2006. The growth for the past school year of 8.1% is the largest percentage increase since 1980/81.

The top country for sending students to the US has been China over the past 15 years, with its share of total international students growing from 11% to 31%. But the rest of the top ten has seen significant shuffling.

In 1999/2000, the number-two country was Japan. Since then, their numbers have dropped by 59%, moving them down to 7th place. India, South Korea, and Canada have each moved up one spot, landing them at 2nd, 3rd, and 5th, respectively.

The countries making the biggest jumps over the past 15 years, moving into the top ten, are Saudi Arabia (from 21st to 4th), Vietnam (43rd to 8th), and Brazil (13th to 10th).

Taiwan has dropped from 5th to 6th; Mexico has held steady at 9th; and Indonesia, Thailand, and Turkey have fallen out of the top ten.

Other changes over the past 15 years are

  • The contribution of international students to the US economy has grown from $9 billion to $27 billion.
  • In 2000, schools hosting 1,000 or more internationals numbered 135. Now there are 231.
  • The majority (2/3) of international students are supported primarily by family or personal funds, but the proportion of those funded by their governments has tripled.

International education, says Evan M. Ryan, assistant secretary of state for Education and Cultural Affairs, is a key part of meeting today’s global challenges:

International education is crucial to building relationships between people and communities in the United States and around the world. It is through these relationships that together we can solve global challenges like climate change, the spread of pandemic disease, and combatting violent extremism. We also need to expand access to international education for students from more diverse backgrounds, in more diverse locations of study, getting more diverse types of degrees. Only by engaging multiple perspectives within our societies can we all reap the numerous benefits of international education—increased global competence, self-awareness and resiliency, and the ability to compete in the 21st century economy.

The fifteen-year data was compiled in conjunction with this year’s 15th anniversary of International Education Week (November 17-21), a celebration initiative by the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Department of Education.

(“Top 25 Places of Origin of International Students, 2012/13-2013/14,” Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange, Institute of International Education, 2014; “Top 25 Places of Origin of International Students, 1999/00-2000/01,” Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange, Institute of International Education, 2014)

Give the Gift of Flight (and I’m not talking about those new Air Jordans)

November 15, 2014 § Leave a comment

193980184_35f2b9d8a0_zHere’s another way to get rid of those pesky frequent-flyer miles. Actually, it’s not the miles that are pesky, it’s those notices that your miles are going to expire due to inactivity that get irritating.

Last year, I wrote about trading a few hundred miles for magazine subscriptions. But maybe you don’t need another Golf Digest laying around your house. Maybe you want to live out your belief that it’s better to give than to receive.

Most airlines allow you to give your miles to selected charities, and it’s even easier than buying magazines. In fact, it probably takes more clicks to find the donation site than to make the donation.

I’ve put together a list of airline donation sites to help the cause. I give credit to the folks at for giving me a head start on finding some of the links. More about MileDonation below.

Some of the other useful links at are instructions on how a charity can solicit mile donations for itself, a form for joining their list of people seeking donated miles, and the list of published requests that others can give to.

You can also contact your favorite non-profit directly to see if they can accept miles into a matching frequent-flyer account (a fee will apply).

Of course, you don’t have to give your miles away. There’s always Cigar Aficionado.

[photo: “Airbus A319 C-GJWF,” by Doug, used under a Creative Commons license]

Why Is IKEA One of the Most “Meaningful” Companies in the World? 10 Reasons

November 8, 2014 § 4 Comments


What is it that makes IKEA a global phenomenon? Is it the DIY furniture? Is it the maze-like stores with free childcare? Is it the lingonberry jam?

Whatever the cause, the behemoth that is IKEA is not only the biggest producer and manufacturer of furniture in the world but also the most “meaningful.”

According to Paris-based Havas Media, IKEA ranks #6 on its list of “Meaningful Brands,” the result of a global survey measuring how people think companies benefit their “personal and collective well-being.” (Three years ago, IKEA was #1.)

(“Meaningful Brands,” Havas Media; Jennifer Rooney, “Ikea, Google, Nestle Tops in ‘Meaningful’ Impact: Survey,” Forbes, November 8, 2011)

Here’s my list of 10 things that give IKEA meaning in today’s world.

1. It’s big, Big, BIG

As of October 15, IKEA has 364 stores in 46 countries (map). These include the two stores in Taipei, where I was first introduced to the chain, and the newest store in the US, which opened last month in Meriam, KS, about two hours from my home.

(“Bringing the IKEA Concept Worldwide,” Inter IKEA Systems B.V.)

2. It has an “effect” named after it

IKEA is known for it’s “flat box” furniture, bought in a box at the store and assembled at home by the customer. While this can cause frustrations, especially if a piece is missing, it has it’s upsides. Researchers from Harvard, Yale, and Duke found that when people put effort into creating something, they like it more, even valuing their creations over others of higher quality. They dub this the “IKEA effect.”

(Michael Norton, “The IKEA Effect: When Labor Leads to Love,” Harvard Business Review, 2009)

3. Now it’s a kind of diplomacy, as well

It’s too early to say for sure, but I think the term IKEA diplomacy is going to catch on, too. Just a little over a week ago, Sweden recognized Palestinian statehood. This was followed by a swift condemnation from Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, who said, “Sweden must understand that relations in the Middle East are much more complicated than self-assembly furniture at Ikea.”

“I will be happy to send Israeli FM Lieberman an Ikea flat pack to assemble,” responded the Swedish foreign minister, Margot Wallstrom. “He’ll see it requires a partner, co-operation, and a good manual.”

(Inna Lazareva, “Ikea and Peace in the Middle East,” The Telegraph, November 1, 2014)

4. IKEA’s catalog is published in biblical proportions

Each year, IKEA prints millions of its catalogs each year. According to the Wall Street Journal, in 2012 the company planned to distribute 208 million, which is estimated to be more than twice the amount of Bibles that are produced each year.

In 2012, the IKEA catalog made news when the company removed images of women from photos in the version distributed in Saudi Arabia. IKEA later apologized.

And September marked the announcement of the 2015 catalog in the highly innovative—dare I say groundbreakingform of the “bookbook.” Genius.

(Jens Hansard, “IKEA’s New Catalogs: Less Pine, More Pixels,” Wall Street Journal, August 23, 2012; “Is the IKEA Catalogue Being Distributed in More Prints than the Bible?” Skeptics Stack Exchange; Ben Quinn, “IKEA Apologises over Removal of Women from Saudi Arabia Catalogue,” The Guardian, October 1, 2012; )

5. Its product names are just so Kwïrki

If you’ve shopped at an IKEA or browsed a catalog, then you know that each product carries some kind of Swedish—or Swedish-ish—name. They often sound odd (a shelf named Ekby Bjärnmum), sometimes funny (a soil block is called Kokosnöt), and sometimes unfortunate (I’ll let you Google for these yourself).

Of course, this isn’t just a Swedish-to-English issue. The Wall Street Journal reports that before opening a store in Thailand, IKEA put together a team with the sole purpose of catching names that sound off-color to the Thai ear, such as Redalen (a bed) and Jättebra (a plant pot), both of which sound like Thai sexual terms.

And then there’s Lufsig, IKEA’s stuffed wolf toy. In December of last year, an anti-government protestor in Hong Kong threw one at Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Cy Leung during a town-hall meeting. The man tossed the toy because Leung is called “wolf” by his critics. The action took on more meaning since the Cantonese name for the stuffed toy sounds like a crude sexual term in that language. Lfusigs became a must-have item and soon sold out.

(James Hookway, “IKEA’s Products Make Shoppers Blush in Thailand,” The Wall Street Journal, June 5, 2012; Per Lilies, “Stuffed IKEA Toy Becomes Offensive Anti-Government Symbol in Hong Kong,” Time, December 10, 2013)

6. Name another furniture store that’s known for it’s food

According to The Wall Street Journal, IKEA’s food division is on par in sales with Panera’s and Arby’s. And the cornerstone of its in-store restaurants and grocery products is the humble Swedish meatball, of which they sell around 150 million each year.

The meatballs are nothing fancy, just really, really good. Here’s how they’re described on the company website, in typical Scandinavian understatement:

Meatballs, frozen
Key features
– Meatballs are minced meat formed into round balls and then fried. Serve with boiled potatoes, lingonberry jam and cream sauce.

Even after its meatballs were recalled across Europe early last year, the store’s culinary reputation survived. Why the recall? Trace amounts of horse meat were discovered in a batch made by a Swedish supplier. If that news still gives you pause, have patience. Next year IKEA plans to roll out meatless vegetarian meatballs.

In the UK, IKEA even brews its own line of dark lager and regular brew beers.

Remember, this is a furniture chain we’re talking about.

(Jens Hansegard, “IKEA’s Path to Selling 150 Million Meatballs,” The Wall Street Journal, October 17, 2013; Andrew Higgins and Stephen Castle, “Ikea Recalls Meatballs after Detection of Horse Meat,” The New York Times, February 25, 2013; April Gosden, “Ikea Plans ‘Green’ Meatballs to Help Tackle Climate Change,” The Telegraph, April 17, 2014; Laura Stampler, “IKEA Now Brews and Sells Its Own Beer,” Business Insider, July 18, 2012)

7. It doesn’t want only to sustain its business, it wants to sustain the planet, too

Vegetarian meatballs aren’t the only thing “green” about IKEA.

The company started selling roof-top solar panels in the UK last year and in September it announced plans to expand that offering to 8 more countries in the following 18 months. It’s starting with the Netherlands and Switzerland and will move on from there.

As reported by Reuters, IKEA has installed 700,000 solar panels on its own rooftops at stores around the world and has plans to up its global use of wind turbines to 224. Other green initiatives include plans to replace, by 2020, all the plastic in its products with recycled plastic or renewable materials, such as wood.

And if you’re driving your electric car in the United Kingdom, you’ll appreciate IKEA’s announcement that all UK stores now have free electric vehicle rapid recharging points installed in their parking lots.

(“IKEA to Widen Solar Panel Sales to Eight New Nations from UK,” Reuters, September 22, 2014; “Electric Vehicle Charging,” IKEA)

8. In the time it takes to put together a couple bookcases, you could build a shelter for a refugee

Bloomberg Businessweek reports that the IKEA Foundation has invested $4.8 million to develop portable shelters, to be used by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Last year, 50 prototypes were shipped, in flat-pack boxes, to Syrian refugee camps. Olivier Delarue, UNHCR head of innovation, says that his agency was looking for an improvement on the tents typically used to house the displaced around the world and turned to IKEA for its “expertise in certain areas—such as logistics and flatpacking—that we could learn from.”

According to The Boston Globe, each 188-square-foot unit takes about four hours to assemble. The cost of a prototypes is $10,000 but is expected to fall below $1,000.

(Caroline Winter, “Ikea Sends its New Flatpack Refugee Shelter to Syria,” Bloomberg Businessweek, September 11, 2013; “Ikea: Refuge in a Flat Box,” The Boston Globe, July 5, 2013)

9. An IKEA store is like a 20-bedroom home away from home

It seems that many IKEAs not only have lines of people waiting to buy home furnishings, they also have lines of people wanting to make themselves at home.

Take, for instance, shoppers in China who lounge on the couches and climb under the covers for naps in the beds (photos at ChinaHush). Camilla Hammar, marketing director for IKEA in China, tells Advertising Age that stores there don’t just allow the try-it-out approach, they welcome it, embracing the idea that for the Chinese, shopping at IKEA can be an emotional experience. “It tends to initiate very romantic feelings,” she says. “The first time some couples start talking about getting married is in our showrooms. So that’s something we’ve tapped into.” And that’s why the store in Nanjing hosted three Swedish-style weddings for three couples as a PR event.

But it’s not just the Chinese who want to take advantage of the store’s sleeping—or wedding—accommodations. When Havas Media UK was looking for a way to promote the chain, they found a Facebook group called “I wanna have a sleepover at IKEA.” They latched on to the idea and organized “IKEA’s Big Sleepover” for 100 lucky customers.

And when couple in Maryland looked for a venue for their wedding in 2012, they chose the IKEA store where they had their first date. Another pair, this time in New Jersey, got married last year in  an IKEA framing department, the same place where they’d met eight years earlier.

Even Hollywood knows that domestic magic can happen in IKEA.

(Key, “IKEA in China, ‘Our Home Is Your Home,” ChinaHush, July 27, 2012; “Happy to Bed,” Havas Media; “A Wedding in Aisle 3? Why Ikea Encourages Chinese to Make Its Stores Their Own,” Ad Age, December 10, 2013; David Boroff, “Couple Gets Married in Maryland IKEA,” New York Daily News, April 20, 2012; Eliza Murphy, “Couple Says ‘I Do’ in IKEA’s Framing Department,” ABC News, June 11, 2013)

10. And it can put your love to the ultimate test

Of course, adding IKEA to a relationship doesn’t ensure bliss—even in Sweden. A story in The Local last year recounts how police were called to a home in Strömstad by neighbors who were concerned about loud noises during the early morning hours. The authorities found that the “banging and screaming” was caused by a couple putting together a piece of IKEA furniture, and by their crying child.

There’s nothing like assembling furniture to check your love for your significant other. Well, maybe shopping for furniture can have the same effect. A trip to IKEA could be the perfect premarital outing for couples wanting to see if their love has what it takes to go the distance. Take a look at the video below to get an off-kilter view of the store that just might be “the number one place where couples realize they actually can’t stand each other.”

(“Police Called to Swedish Family’s IKEA Nightmare,” The Local, November 8, 2013)

[photo: “IKEA of Sweden,” by Håkan Dahlström, used under a Creative Commons license]

Repost from Stephen W. Smith: The Greenhouse Effect

October 31, 2014 § Leave a comment

When Steve and Gwen Smith founded Potter’s Inn, they had their hearts set on helping, as Stephen calls them, “men and women who are caught in the whitewater of life.” Some of those men and women are church leaders, some are leaders in business, some are missionaries. The Smiths, who have served in churches in Kentucky, North Carolina, and The Netherlands, now lead others in soul care and spiritual formation, with much of their ministry taking place at their retreat center, Potter’s Inn at Aspen Ridge, in Colorado.

My wife and I met Steve and Gwen when they were facilitators at the week of Debriefing and Renewal we attended (DAR is a program of Mission Training International) after we came back to the States following 10 years in Taiwan. We so appreciate the wisdom, comfort, and encouragement they shared with us and with the others in our group.

Steve, the author of The Lazarus Life: Spiritual Transformation for Ordinary People and Soul Custody: Choosing to Care for the One and Only You, recently posted the following on his blog.


The Greenhouse Effect
(reposted with permission from

People build green houses to help plants and vegetables to flourish. When the weather conditions are less than ideal, greenhouses are constructed to help plants thrive.  Too much cold; too much wind; too many predators and nothing will grow.

In many ways, the ministry of Potter’s Inn is creating a Greenhouse Effect for people. People come to our retreat; read one of our books, experience soul care and something deep within happens. They begin to flourish in many ways they could never do without coming to the retreat or reading a book. Sometimes, the harshness of life—the predators and conditions—make life more difficult, almost unbearable. We need a new, safe and spiritual environment to grow and thrive.

We all need the right conditions to grow, don’t we? Jesus used this metaphor in helping his followers understand the spiritual life. We need the right soil—the right environment and conditions—to truly thrive.

This past weekend I personally experienced the Greenhouse Effect.  We hosted a “Coming Home” retreat based on the teaching of the life-changing book, Return of the Prodigal by Henri Nouwen. It was a moving weekend to be sure. One business executive flew in from Atlanta to attend. When he arrived, he showed me his worn, tattered shoes that were literally falling apart. He asked where the closest store would be so he could go buy new shoes. I said, “Here, take my shoes and wear them for the weekend. You’ve come with your ‘soul’ falling apart. God must really want you here.”  He smiled and graciously took my shoes and wore them. On Sunday, I said, “Wear these shoes all the way ‘home’ cause God is doing a new thing in your life.” He cried and wept in my arms.

The weekend was so very powerful for all of us. Healing. Restorative and Transforming. For me, it was a moment of truly giving someone shoes who had come as the Prodigal—someone who had lost so much on their journey home.  We sat in silence for our final breakfast and ate breakfast together without one word. As I sat there with my fruit and yogurt, I wept. I was flooded with emotion and compassion. It was a moment of sheer highlight for me to truly feel God’s love for me and so many others who had come with their Prodigal hearts only to truly come home to God again.

Everyone needs a greenhouse to flourish. Churches help us flourish.  Friends help us flourish and as you know, Inns help us to flourish. Jesus told another story to help us understand this in the story of the Good Samaritan. After the man was beat up and left stranded, someone took this man to an “Inn” where he would experience the Greenhouse Effect.

That is who we are. This is what we do.

[photo: “Antique Greenhouse Interior,” by Jaydot, used under a Creative Commons license]


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