Posts By Ryan Johnson

06 Dec 2012 RyanJohnson

Traveling with an Ally

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Studying in a coffee shopI often find myself amazed by the specialized skills of those with unique hobbies, passions and interests. I want to ask permission then, to share my knowledge in a small area of passion. Will the following words change your life? Probably not. Are there bigger problems in the world? Definitely. However, as a Regent scholar, it might make that next late-night study session on the road a little better.

First, let me qualify: I travel a lot. In the past three years, I’ve been to most of the continental United States, as well as a handful of countries. Over that time, something has always bothered me: the coffee. For any coffee aficionados that have been forced to drink Hampton Inn or Best Western coffee for a few weeks—you can relate to my grumbling.

If you find yourself in Paris or Rome, surrounded by small, independently-owned cafés, consider yourself exempt from my advice (but not my jealousy). Otherwise, here are a few options for constructing the optimal cup of joe.

1)     Starbucks Via. These are a little on the pricey side, but they travel well and taste good. Go with the Colombian or Italian packets–they taste a little more like the in-store Starbucks brew. An extra option: combine with weaker hotel coffee for an extra strong cup.

2)     Mug Press. For those French press fans, you can purchase a mug press. They don’t work nearly as well as a full-size French press, however, they are portable and you can pack ground coffee inside the mug while traveling. Bodum makes a nice mug press, but it will cost you around $25. The worst part of the mug press is that the used coffee grounds sit at the bottom while you sip, which can make the coffee taste overly bitter or over-brewed.

3)     Cold Press/Toddy coffee. If your hotel room has a fridge, you can cold press coffee using two empty plastic bottles. Mix filtered, cold water with coarsely ground coffee (grind before you leave home). Let it sit for twelve hours in a fridge and then filter. You can reheat the coffee if you’re looking for a hot cup, or after a quick visit to the ice machine you can enjoy iced coffee in the classic tradition. Because the leaching of flavor uses a different chemical process (I’m putting on my nerd glasses here), the coffee tastes sweeter and less bitter. The best thing about this method is that it travels easily: just bring ground coffee, a couple empty coke bottles, and coffee filters. Don’t let the filtered coffee in the fridge for more than 48 hours though—the fresher the better.

Coffee in a hotel4)     Single-cup pour-over brewing. This is my preferred method. You can buy a Swiss Gold or Melitta plastic pour-over system, which is really just a fancy ceramic or plastic cup that sits on top of a mug (ranges between $4 and $20). Use a #2 paper filter (the ones that look like a cone chopped off at the end), finely ground coffee, and fresh water. Put the #2 filter in the plastic cup, add some finely ground coffee, and place it over a paper cup. Carefully pour hot water (using a microwave to heat) over the brewing apparatus, filling up the paper filter and coffee grounds to the top. Sit back and let gravity do the rest. The entire system travels easily and allows for a strong cup of fresh coffee. I pack a couple of mugs along with the plastic brewing cup so I can heat up bottled water in the microwave.

5)      Get out there and find a local café. A good tip: if they have a large, visible espresso machine you have likely found the right place. Order an Americano and pull out that Econ textbook.

French novelist Honore de Balzac said, “As soon as coffee is in your stomach, there is a general commotion. Ideas begin to move…similes arise, the paper is covered. Coffee is your ally and writing ceases to be a struggle.” As traveling students, whether with noses buried in case law or the Encyclopedia of Psychology, bring with you a proper ally.

06 Sep 2012 RyanJohnson

In-N-Out, Greasy Guilt and Chuck Colson

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I was about halfway through a delicious burger from In-N-Out when it hit me. In addition to a greasy burger and fries, I was being served a big side of guilt. I was on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles, eating a late lunch at 3PM, frustrated that my schedule was pushing my lunch back so late.

I had been photographing work done by a group of college students on Skid Row, a chronically poor section of downtown Los Angeles. Skid Row contains one of the largest stable homeless populations in the country. In the span of only a few blocks, 2,000 people of L.A.’s 80,000 homeless population spend the night on the street (L.A. Downtown News, 2011). I had been tagging along, documenting the students’ interaction with the homeless as they served food. Not that I minded much, but my own lunch was pushed back as the students prepared food for a group of young moms who arrived late.

As stroller-pushing moms filled up the mission’s tiny cafeteria, I watched hungry families devour hot trays of food. Students played with the more energetic children, holding crying infants while chasing trouble-making toddlers, giving the moms a few minutes of peace. It was fun to see Christ’s love shared in this way, over a tray of hot food and a screaming infant. Those moments soon ended though as the moms and their children filed back out onto Skid Row. It was time for the group of students and me to get lunch, so we piled in a large white van and sped off for an In-N-Out burger on Hollywood Boulevard.

Within minutes, we were waiting in a large line at In-N-Out. We were surrounded by clean, hip, iPhone checking fellow fast-food goers. We carefully studied the simple menu, deciding on what greasy delight we wanted. It was ironic that only five minutes before, we were in an area of L.A. where people live hungry all the time, struggling to get a full meal even once a day. Here I was, grumpy we were eating at 3PM, but excited to eat my second full meal of the day. That’s when the greasy guilt hit hard, in the middle of a large bite.

There’s nothing wrong with In-N-Out, but in that moment, it hit me: the complacency I felt for the closeness of these two worlds. I had separated them in my heart. I had built a fortress. To put it simply, I felt guilt.

In the Christian Foundations of Government course, a required class in the Robertson School of Government, we were taught about Christianity as a worldview, as presented by Chuck Colson in his book How Now Shall We Live? We were exposed to ideas regarding post-modernism, the effect on Judeo-Christianity, and the need to live out faith in action as a result of a comprehensive, Christian worldview. Colson’s writings and my professor’s lessons leapt into my head, sitting in that crowded In-N-Out.

“We must be men and women who will dare to wrest Christianity free from its fortress mentality, its sanctuary stronghold, and establish it once again as the great life system and cultural force that acknowledges the Creator as sovereign over all” (Colson, 36).

Chuck Colson, a course at Regent University, and a greasy burger from In-N-Out broke down the fortress mentality I had been carrying around all day. As we went back out into the hurting communities of L.A., I found my fortress had crumbled, and I was grateful for it. Here’s to hoping it stays in ruins.

14 Jun 2012 RyanJohnson

Tornadoes in the Heartland, 1,000 Volunteers and a Class at Regent University

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After a tornado, the debris always makes the same crackly sound in the wind. It’s the pieces of plastic and insulation stuck to construction debris that creates the noise. I’m still not used to sound, even though this is my fourth time in a disaster zone after a tornado. I work for Operation Blessing as a disaster photographer, but I photograph much more than just disaster; I document the hope and perseverance of a community picking itself back up and recovering from a terrible event. That’s why I do it.Regent University Christian Adult Education

I was in Harrisburg, Ill., for the first half of March, documenting a tornado that destroyed 300+homes and took seven lives. Even brick structures had been destroyed, leaving behind bare foundations and scattered cinderblocks. Big trees looked like giant toothpicks snapped in half. The sights and sounds were familiar to me, but the heartbreak and consequent hope in a community is something that always amazes me. If you ever want to see God working in a community, visit a disaster zone.

Regent University Adult Student Volunteers

A couple sits on their front steps, looking down the block at the destroyed homes. Their own brick foundation is all that is left.

I just finished taking a Disaster and Terrorism Consequence Management course in the Robertson School of Government here at Regent University. I’ve had the unique perspective of studying disaster from a desk, and then experiencing it in the field. The complimentary nature of the two has been amazing. The online nature of the class has been helpful with my unpredictable work schedule. As we were learning how to manage volunteers in class, I was watching Operation Blessing handle volunteers in the field. Not only was the classroom content helpful, it was dead on in its practical application.

As we learned in class, managing volunteers after a disaster or crisis can be very difficult; where do they sleep, what do they eat, are they a liability, what are their skills, how do they get access to the disaster zone, where do they park? In Harrisburg, we had the same questions for our volunteers: how do we equip our volunteers with the things they need to volunteer for a week?

Regent University Adult College Volunteer

An Operation Blessing volunteer cuts construction debris with a chainsaw. Wearing the right safety equipment is imperative in a disaster zone. Volunteers must be safe while assisting cleanup efforts.

Emergency Management was overwhelmed by the volunteer response, and lacked the structure to handle the logistics for so many people. We offered to help. Operation Blessing saw just over 1,000 volunteers show up our first morning in Harrisburg. We had the structure, materials, and answers. We worked with a local church to provide housing, our mobile kitchen cooked meals, and we used our volunteer forms and organizational systems to manage them safely. We even strategically placed portable bathrooms and water in the disaster zone. These were all management issues we studied in class, and I was watching it happen in the field.

It was amazing to me the level of applicability that our class content complemented my field efforts. It is no surprise that God, our amazing Father, is able to orchestrate such a coincidence. And it is also no surprise that God can use Regent University academics to complement my understanding of volunteer efforts on the ground in Harrisburg, Ill., after a natural disaster.

Regent Adult Education Volunteer Cleanup

Volunteers show up for a day of debris cleanup in Harrisburg, IL. They must first go through a quick orientation so they understand some of the safety rules and volunteer requirements.

Leo Buscaglia said, ” We have very little control over external forces such as tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, disasters, illness and pain. What really matters is the internal force. How do I respond to those disasters?” I would suggest that in addition to our internal response, as Christians, we are a part of God’s larger response to comfort his hurting children. Between the hope I saw in the community, and the things I had learned during that spring semester at Regent, I can safely say that we responded to the Harrisburg tornado as God intended, comforting his hurting children to the best of our abilities.