published Saturday, August 11th, 2012

Wired for God: InfoSystems missions arm helps make international connections

InfoSystems employees assist with computer software training in Hungary.
InfoSystems employees assist with computer software training in Hungary.
Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Ed Robinson planted the seed 18 years ago with a request to a newly formed local company to repair his computer.

Today, that seed has led to computer technology assistance, support and installation in corners of the world from Chattanooga to Ukraine to Honduras to Ivory Coast.

InfoSystems, an information technology consulting and managed support company in East Brainerd, didn't officially begin its missions assistance program (MAP) until 1999.

But Robinson, according to company co-founder Joel Dicks, was the catalyst.

The simple repair of his computer in 1994, "which took 20 to 30 minutes tops -- nothing to us," he said, "was big for him."

Robinson, who has since died, lived at home with his mother and had very little connection to the outside world, Dicks said.

"We saw where what was seemingly easy to us meant a lot to someone else," he said. "That really germinated the idea."

The seed grew in 1999, according to Dicks, when he accompanied two employees on a mission trip to help construct a church in Abidjan, Ivory Coast.

"We saw how meaningful it was to this little church," he said. "We wondered what we could do as a [missions] technology arm. But we didn't know how to follow up."

Their first feelers of offering help to mission organizations fell flat, Dicks said.

"We had zero response," he said.

Finally, Dicks got a call from a man in Germany who needed a small network put in for Greater Europe Mission so its pastors could access the Internet for curriculum assistance.

That was the beginning.

Dicks, 47, is now a missionary with his family in Hungary with the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism, but InfoSystems has continued its MAP arm following his call to the mission field two years ago.

Prior to his call, the program completed projects such as network installation at the International Christian School of Budapest, network installation and cabling at ABWE Regional Training Center in Odessa, Ukraine (and reinstallation of the network following a fire), and technical support for missionaries with Chattanooga-based Baptist International Missions Inc.

Since then, MAP has completed a number of projects locally (for faith-based and non-faith-based charities). It provides missionary support to Dicks, who is no longer an InfoSystems employee, and stands prepared to do additional international work on a project by project basis.

Locally, June Puett of Tennessee Saves, a partnership among educational, governmental and community agencies and financial institutions across the state, said InfoSystems' mission assistance arm has assisted with agency marketing events, provided materials for some agency programs, sponsored a radio program on which the agency was highlighted and had a volunteer assist with student education.

"They do an awesome job," she said. That they are "so big and to be community based is just fabulous."

Over time, Dicks said, some two dozen employees have been involved in approximately 20 mission projects in 12 countries. The expenditures for the company have ranged up to $30,000 per project.

Most international projects have been 10 days to two weeks, he said. One early job, he said, was to provide Internet access in two ABWE buildings in Hungary that are separated by railroad tracks and approximately three-fourths of a mile.

To test the early wireless equipment that resembled Pringles cans for the project, Dicks said he and other InfoSystems employees stood a wide distance apart on Amnicola Highway, where the company was located at the time. The system worked there, but there was still a question of whether it would work in Central Europe.

"It was a lot of money, and we had one shot at it," he said. "I was most nervous about that [job]."

Once they were in Hungary, Dicks said, he and other employees had to climb onto roofs and step over chimneys, but the system operated the first time it was tried.

Today, his office is located in one of the buildings the volunteers successfully wired.

Prior to Dicks' call to full-time missionary service, he and his family -- his wife and five children -- lived in Budapest for nine months to complete a project for MAP.

After they returned, and while planning another project in Ukraine, he received a call about long-term help in Hungary.

Today, though he is in the United States briefly to help raise his missionary support, Dicks is the Central Europe coordinator for ABWE. In that position, he works with regional ABWE officials in planning, team development and other aspects of ministry. He also teaches English to Hungarians and works closely with a local Christian church in the city.

Josh Davis, marketing and communications manager for InfoSystems, said "knowing Clay (Hales, the company's president and chief executive officer) and getting to know Joel, missions is a natural extension of [their] culture, whether they assign a name to it or not."

"It's all about people," Hales said of the business and its missions arm. "It always will be. The rest of it's just stuff."

He said many individual InfoSystems employees have been mission-minded from the beginning. The business itself, he said, had to have the means to support mission work and know what it wanted to do.

"As long as I have something to do with it," Hales said, missions work "will be a part of" what we do.

about Clint Cooper...

Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...

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