Long Obedience in the Same Direction in a Complex Neighborhood: Mumbai


I have a lot of respect for leaders who stay working in a business or organization for more than ten years. In order to do so they have built a tremendous trust account with their people, have adapted to the many changes that take place, and have re-invented themselves at least two or three times.

It is for these reasons that I was so delighted to spend time with a great leader – Stanley Mehta. He is, and has been, Senior Pastor at Bombay Baptist Church located at the southern end of Mumbai near the Gateway of India. He has been here for thirty-one years and is fifty-nine years old.

The British rulers, using Indian labor, constructed this architectural statement between 1913 and 1924. It was to commemorate the visit to India of King George V and Queen Mary in 1911. The locals here refer to it as the Taj Mahal of Mumbai.

Interestingly, the congregation of Bombay Baptist Church would have watched this construction take place for the church was formed in 1896.

Complex Neighborhoods

Across the street from this charismatic Baptist church is the Imperial Mansion. In fact, within walking distance of the church are: homes of two of the wealthiest people in India (one of them in the world); a beautiful beach area frequented by Bollywood stars; and then less than fifteen minutes away is the underworld of the brothels of Mumbai.

This is a very complex community in which to ‘be the church’ due to the extremes of socio-economic cultures as well as a very diverse ethnic blend an languages spoken here.

The sanctuary itself seats five hundred people on plastic chairs that are stacked against the walls to use the auditorium throughout the week for other purposes. Today they have 4,400 attending on Sundays with services in English, Hindi and Tamil.

How do they do this? Well in 1987 they started training lay people in the church to minister in house churches and today they have over 25 locations for Bombay Baptist Church throughout greater Mumbai. With 70 staff and 65 committed volunteers it was easy to discern that my new friend Stanley is a great leader of people. Then when he let me in on his organizational structure that makes all this happen I was even more impressed.

Stamina and Giftedness

To stay put in a complex neighborhood situation like this requires stamina. In a formal role that demands you provide leadership, you’ve got to deal with the people thing. In fact, your impact, your effectiveness, and your performance depend on your ability to influence, work with and/or through others effectively. As obvious as this sounds, it is the primary failure of most leaders.

Stanley is not a failure. This man taught me so much in two hours I went away amazed and wondering how some of his strategies and methodology might speak into our church situation in downtown Vancouver.

What a joy to be with someone who is so committed over time. I am silenced just thinking about all that has been accomplished in his neighborhood.

So, just before leaving I mentioned to Stanley how moved I was by their commitment to the community (I have in my journal a list of all the services they do as a church in the city).

“Carson”, he replied, “Jesus told us that we are to be about loving God, and loving our neighbors as ourselves. In our churches we are good at loving God in our worship and our prayers. We are not very good at loving our neighbors.”

I was quiet on the drive back to the hotel as I drove by his people, his neighborhood, and ponder these words.

Dichotomy City: Mumbai

I love the cities and looked forward to our week in Mumbai, India, the city formerly known as Bombay. It is the largest city in India and one of the largest cities in the world with a population of over 21 million.

Many northern hemisphere folks were introduced to this city through the blockbuster movie: Slum Dog Millionaire and although Mumbai is home to the largest slum population it is also a booming commercial capital and predominant Asian seaport. All around us are construction cranes, and even Donald Trump is investing in buying property here – although Donald might be viewed as chump change to the other billionaires living here. Two of the richest people in the world live in Mumbai.

Add to all of this Bollywood, center of the globally successful Hindi film industry. This creates an eclectic cosmopolitan feel to the city and peppers it with movie and music stars driving down the streets. This lends a Los Angeles feel to the city and the local beaches add to that comparison – however the waters off Mumbai’s coast looked extraordinarily dirty.

People from all over India have flocked to this city in search of work, fame or anonymity. It has created a rich mosaic of cultures all within the one city. Hindu temples, mosques, churches and even some synagogues reflect some of the diversity.  English is very widely used and most people we met could communicate with us in at least broken English (except for one driver Bob had but that is his story to tell).

There is a strong 19th century architectural influence that the British established and these buildings are in remarkable condition for their age – in contrast to buildings erected in the last thirty years that appear to be falling apart.

Labor from our Canadian perspective is inexpensive in Mumbai however this does not factor in the purchasing power of the Rupee for the people earning them. You see many people servicing some businesses. The restaurant that Bob and I favored had a staff to guest ratio of four to one – and the service was exceptional!

Mumbai for its size and diversity felt quite safe. Having been targeted by terrorists from Pakistan on three occasions (1993,2006 and 2008) killing a total of over 700 people, security is high in most buildings. For example, we were not able to drive into our hotel without the car being searched for weapons or bombs each time. When we walked into our hotel there was a screening device as in airports you walked through.

Some visitors to India may want to argue with my position that Mumbai feels safe due to how frequently you get approached by people on the street trying to sell you something. From beggars to prostitutes, you will have people pressing into you (literally) especially if you are a foreigner.

But there are lots of police around, right? Well, policing in Mumbai is a challenge. We had the privilege of meeting with the District Police Commissionaire. He is a devoted and decorated police officer who has also served the United Nations in peacekeeping and international policing situations such as Kosovo.

He told us that there are 44,000 police officers for the city of Mumbai or 1 officer for every 500 people. The ration for Vancouver is 1 for 507. However, how effective are they? While the ration seems good, there is much training needed for the officers, and the temptation of economics make bribery a common practice among some officers.

We were surprised to learn through the folks at International Justice Mission that in a courtroom, the testimony of a police officer is not considered reliable and that there must be the presence of a civilian witness in order to seek a conviction. This is because of the level of corruption in the system. (See positivelyparkinsons.com for Bob the lawyer’s discussion of this).

More on Mumbai and the work of IJM next …

Hot and Cold In Different Cultures

Kirstie (Jon’s girlfriend) just asked me what place has been my favorite so far on this round the world trip. It is a question frequently asked and it is impossible to answer. Each culture is very different and our experiences are not even in the same categories. This has made me think about the different cultures we have visited and the varying degrees of culture shock we have experienced.

Cultural Disorientation

Flying from one country to another sounds so exotic. Life in a foreign culture can be exciting, but it can often lead to misunderstandings and this is something I have tried to keep before me as I listen to leaders from so many different countries and backgrounds.

When travelling like this you can have periods of confusion and cultural disorientation and even find it hard to cope with the easiest tasks required for life. This is part of culture shock and not uncommon. Bob and I had decided before we started to just roll with it – whatever that would be.

The Shower

In Kuwait I was ‘inwardly’ thrilled to be in a country where things seemed familiar from a North American perspective. It started in the morning when I went to have a shower. I could hardly wait. I trusted the water and even recognized how the faucet worked. Believe me, these things were new to us!

I turned the tap on and tilted it to the middle. The water was quite warm, so I moved it towards the blue dot. The water temperature increased.

“Ah”, I thought, “it is not a ‘civilized’ here as I thought. They put the tap in backwards.” So I moved the handle back towards the red dot – but the water was hot there too. Strange?

At breakfast I shared my experience with Warren and Debbie Reeve where I was staying. They smiled (laughed actually) and told me in Kuwait during the summer that water heaters are turned off because water tanks are stored outdoors in the 45 degree Celsius sunshine.  So it is all hot – blue or red.

While I was trying to impose my Canadian expectations on the shower faucet it simply functions differently here. It takes a different type of traveller to consciously set aside our predispositions to listen to the culture of others. We all know how it is when you visit a place as a tourist and it seems so ideal. You just want to stay there. Yet when you really listen to those who live there you find it is not as glamorous as you thought. No place is perfect.

For Bob and I as we are travelling abroad, we have discovered that it’s when we experience and see things that you do not see when you are just a tourist that we have really ‘listened’ to the people and begin to understand the culture.

The potential for culture shock or misunderstanding is present every time you change cultures. For us that has been almost every week for the last month and half. Although we have both traveled widely we can still experience culture shock.

Having a sense of cultural disorientation is normal, but there are a few things that I have been processing that I think may be very applicable when I return home to Vancouver to a very international church.

Travel Tips

In communicating with people from different cultures in your city here are a few things we have learned that help:

  • Try not to respond with contempt for those from a different culture.
  • Stop anticipating you can do everything just as you would back home – toilets alone will make this real for you.
  • Don’t always compare the new culture with your culture; doing so may cause you to see the new culture as inferior.
  • Try to learn the local language. Bob is very good at this, although his attempts have also caused rooms to burst out in laughter.
  • Ask questions so you can understand the culture and the rules of social behavior.
  • Refrain from making comments about the amount of litter lying around in public places – we often don’t see the litter in our own back yard.
  • Be aware of common ethnocentric expressions like talk of drivers driving “on the wrong side” of the road. Just say the “opposite side” or even the “left-hand side”?
  • Don’t speak about the Arabic language as being read “backwards.” Just say “from right to left” or “in the opposite direction from English”?
  • When sampling the food of another culture, using a phrase like “Oh, that’s different” rather than more pejorative terms or awkward facial expressions that clearly imply you didn’t like it. (I have used this a few times.)
  • Don’t assume you can take just take photos whenever you want, ask first. Oh and a safety tip, do not take pictures in government buildings or public transportation buildings without asking. 🙂
  • We all have a comfort zone, an invisible zone of psychological comfort that we carry with us. We call it our personal space and it varies with different cultures. How much personal space one needs varies depending on who we are talking to and the situation we are in. Don’t assume that your degree of personal space is correct (especially important in India or other very crowded cities).
  • There is an additional resource I would recommend on this subject. World Vision Australia has a two-page pdf  on being a culturally sensitive traveler I encourage you to read if you are planning to travel to other cultures – especially those of extreme poverty. It is available here.

So while this all seems easily applied while I am the minority in another country and culture, I am pondering how I might live differently at home.

Handcuffed in Saudi Arabia

Bob and I boarded our Ethiopian Airline flight from Addis Ababa to Kuwait City. It was a late departure and we would not arrive in Kuwait until 1:45 am.

FYI: Flights often come and go in the evening here when the temperature drops to a safe level. Air temperature very definitely affects takeoff performance. All else equal, hot air is less dense. The result is that our plane must be moving faster through it to generate enough lift to take off. Unfortunately, the less dense the air, the less power the engines develop, so it takes even longer to to accelerate to the needed faster speed.

We were tired. We had spent the last five hours in the Addis airport – three hours not so comfortable and the last two in the frequent flyer lounge (but it was hot). I was determined that I would sleep on the flight because after our arrival I would only have a few hours of sleep and then I was speaking four times in Kuwait starting at 8am.

Mistake 1

We lined up to check in for our flight using the Elite check in as we have done many times before. There was a slight difficulty with language as I had trouble understanding the woman. Just as she printed out our boarding pass I asked, “Can you tell me what seats you have given us?”

Bob and I have been flying with each of us on an aisle across from each other. This allows us to get up to stretch and move easily. When she responded to my question she told me that we were assigned a middle and aisle seat in row two.

I explained that we would prefer not to have a middle seat and she politely offered us two aisle seats across from each other and asked if that would be okay.

“Yes, that would be fine as long as row two was not a business class section. What is the configuration of this aircraft?”

She didn’t respond right away but went ahead and printed the row twelve boarding passes.

“Is row two business class?” I asked again.

“No” she smiled back and then reminded us of the frequent flyer lounge location near our departure gate.

Boarding the Flight

Unlike boarding times in North America our tickets say that we are to board the flight one hour prior to departure. It seemed unreasonable at first but we have learned on this trip that the boarding procedures are not as efficient as we are used to. It begins with passing through security again at Addis. This is the third time we have placed our bags on the conveyor and through the xray machine.

Next you are gathered together in a secure room that is too small for the number of passengers on the flight. Our room was filled and 85% of the passengers were young women in Muslim wear although many had their faces showing like they were enjoying their last bit of freedom.

When they announced pre-boarding for the flight it was a zoo when over one hundred young women crushed together, pushing and forcing their way to the front. It was odd if you are a frequent flyer because you know that we are all being directed down several long hallways to a door on the lower level where busses will come, load up fifty at a time and drive you to the airplane. Rushing was not going to do anything, especially because all the seats are assigned – you are not benefiting by getting their first. Now sometimes I like boarding early if I have carry on luggage to ensure I get some space, but these young women were carrying nothing.

As we entered the door of the plane I let out an “Oh no” to Bob.

“What?” he asked.

“Row two is business class!”  I told him. “Oh well I will just talk to them and explain the mistake.”

After minutes of trying to explain that we had boarding passes for row two but the gate agent misinformed us and moved us to row twelve – nothing had changed. We kept having higher and higher levels of staff come to talk with me while Bob stood nearby just wanting to go to sleep.

Now when you are really tired, those front section seats look so wide and plush and inviting. The thought of them fully reclining pushed me to be bolder and stronger than I normally would – remember I am tired.

So they went an brought the man in charge to speak to me who listened to my story again and then briskly said, “We do not have the authority to move you from economy to business class.” He then offered to move us into the exit row to at least provide extra leg space, however he didn’t remind us that the seats do not recline at all. So this flight, Ethiopian #620 was already on our list as the worst flight of our trip (so far).

Mistake 2

Bob had a bad trip. He hardly slept, while I on the other hand did collapse into dreamland even sitting straight upright. We were both relieved when the wheels touched down right at the appointed time of 1:45am. In that half baked, dozy almost nauseating stage of being only partially awake we gathered our things together while the one hundred ladies stayed in their seats – very different from their behaviour on boarding. I said goodbye to Mr. “I have no authority” stepping onto the jetway and started walking towards the airport enjoying the air conditioning. You could tell that even at two in the morning it was still very hot here.

Suddenly a man started yelling in Arabic, and he kept yelling.

I turned around to see what was going on only to recognize the man in the official looking uniform was yelling at me – well Bob too. So in my I just woke up character I asked, “WHAT?”

He motioned for us both to return to where he was by the aircraft.

Right at this time the one hundred maidens started out of the aircraft making our walk back to the man reminiscent of salmon swimming upstream.

When we approached him, he took our boarding cards saying “Kuwait, Kuwait!”

“I know, I know” I said strongly back.

He then said, “This is Saudi Arabia” and he made the motion of clasping handcuffs on my arms as he pushed us back onto the plane through the last women departing the flight.

The plane had made an unscheduled landing in Dammam, Saudi Arabia and the only people who got off were the hundred women and their handlers. Very wierd. I asked Bob, “How much does it cost to get a plane to make an unscheduled stop like this?”

When we finally landed in Kuwait at 3:45am, there was a very nicely dressed man in a suit holding up a sign with both of our names on it. “Oh boy” I thought. Usually when I am going to get into trouble, I like having my lawyer friend on the other side and able to help. This time he is with me!

Well the suit man turned out to be a fellow our host had arranged to meet us and guide us through immigration into Kuwait. Although there were people sitting in the immigration area that looked like they had been there for days – we were processed through in minutes and able to meet my friend and Arrow leader, Warren Reeve who had been waiting for us since 1:45am.

“Don’t worry he said, this stuff happens here.” Warren said graciously.

I slept for two hours before starting to my marathon preaching day. Before falling asleep I quietly pondered what it would be like to be behind bars in Saudi right now?

Then I wondered about the future of those young women who departed where we could not.

Leadership Wisdom from Three Ethiopian Elders

Mulat, Mamo and Wolde were waiting for us on the second floor balcony of a coffee shop in Addis Ababada. These three men meet here every week as part of their routine to nurture their friendship and to discuss what they might do together to help others.

At seventy six to eighty three in a country where life expectancy is fifty-one years of age, these three men are certainly well named ‘elders’ of the community.

Ethiopia is where they were born and raised, but also where they have led. They were young children in October 1935 when the Italians invaded Ethiopia under Mussolini and the Ethiopians did not capitulate. Mussolini was trying to rebuild the Roman Empire and needed North East Africa to do so. He also wanted to settle the score with Ethiopia as they had defeated the Italians in the past during the battle of Adowa that took place in 1896.

Gorilla groups of fifty were organized by their leaders against the Italians. Ethiopia at the time had a relatively weak army that consisted of indigenous tribal forces that were still using basic weapons such as spears and shields, whereas the Italians had an air force of 12 fighter planes and made substantial use of mustard gas, in both artillery and aerial bombings.

Today the majority of Ethiopians are still farmers who still live from harvest to harvest, and are vulnerable to crop failures. Famine has ravaged this country time and time again and the country has been ravaged by the affects of extreme poverty. These elders know all about that.

Not only do they know about famine, they have lived through them and also done something about it. They are some of the founders of the Kale Heywet Church, one of the prominent and fruitful evangelical denominations in Ethiopia and have sacrificed their precious lives being actively involved in God’s service to the people bringing about holistic transformation.

Their church today has over 8 million people across 8000+ congregations.

“Would you like another cup?” I was asked, referring to their delicious Ethiopian coffee.

This little coffee group of elders had welcomed us into their fold and we were mesmerized by the leadership wisdom that flowed from them.

I have been asking leaders in the global south, “If you could send a message to leaders in the global north, what would you like to share with them?”

Dr. Baffa responded that he would want to remind us, “You don’t have to be fancy, you just need committed people.”

Ethiopians know what it means to be committed – to one another, and to a cause.

Ethiopia: Who is rocking this cradle?

This is my third time in Ethiopia.

I had wanted to visit here for years because of my friend Aklilu Mulat, my former colleague at Arrow Leadership. Aklilu is Ethiopian and had introduced our family to Ethiopian food and cultural tid bits. However, none of this prepared me for my first visit here.

Often referenced as the “cradle of civilization” Ethiopia is a landlocked country situated in the Horn of Africa. It is bound by its bordering neighbors Djibouti, Somalia, Kenya, Sudan and Eritrea. For outsiders, famine, war, poverty and drought are the things most synonymous with the Ethiopia. Even now, it’s still one of the least developed countries in the world, so those preconceptions would not be entirely baseless.

It is a country of over eighty-three million people – and believe me getting accurate census data is extremely hard in these environments. Addis in 2007 had just under four million people (last census). Today they estimate between six and seven million.

Based on Human Development Indicators ( a standard used globally to measure life standards) Ethiopia is eighth from the bottom of one hundred and seventy-seven countries. Life expectancy is 51 years of age – younger than both Bob and I now, and one in six children die before their fifth birthday.

Dubliner, Bob Geldof organized Band Aid and Live Aid benefits for famine relief in Ethiopia.

Many of us remember Ethiopia from the early 80’s when television brought home the impact of severe drought and the resulting famine that left more than eight million people facing starvation. Well if that broke my heart, the situation today, while different, sure wants me to do more to help here. I am looking forward to meeting the leadership of World Vision‘s national office here in Addis and visiting one of their Area Development Projects on Wednesday and Thursday this week north of here. WV has been working here on the ground since 1971 – a decade prior to the famine crisis of the 80’s. I look forward to hearing about what it is like on the ground here today.

Some of the changes I notice here are:

  • the indicators of economic growth like many new buildings in the last three years – although I do smile at some of the construction techniques still being antiquated.
  • there are no street signs or house numbers here in Addis. People refer to locations by landmarks. With all the new building taking place, landmarks are being replaced and they are talking about having to one day name streets and even create a map of the city.
  • walking downtown today I noticed many more women wearing what I might describe as western or european clothing styles. Not all, but my first trip here I saw nothing like this.
  • There are some new churches that have begun in the downtown area – protestant evangelical charismatic tribes
  • There are still no stop signs anywhere making driving here very exciting
  • Construction has been very good for employment and for retailers selling building supplies
  • Much of the money coming into Ethiopia is from China and India

China and India possess the weight and dynamism to transform the 21st-century global economy. I think it is easy for us in North America to put our head in the sand over this. But come to the global south and you will see it more clearly. In the coming decades, China and India will continue to disrupt North American workforces, industries, companies, and markets in ways that we can barely begin to imagine. We are looking forward to being in India in the

My first visit to Addis 7 years ago left me in shock by the poverty and the chaos that surrounds this city.

Over 100,000 boys and girls abandoned on the streets of Addis Ababa

Today, on my third visit I am grateful to see all the change – in a positive direction with the economy but am still left with questions about the overall impact on children. There are estimated to be over 100,000 abandoned children living on the streets of Addis. We have met some who have gotten off the street through the work of Youth Impact but the numbers are overwhelming.

Tomorrow, we head north of the city to a place no one here in Addis has heard of. It is an area development project of World Vision.

I knew it was a little off the road when I read that we are travelling there by vehicle and horseback.

This is not the first, or the last, time that World Vision will be in a place few have heard of. I do know that they are there because of the children and the ability to transform a community.

Okay, but do I really want a rabbit business?

We passed through Macedonia on our way to a village area about 30 minutes north of Kisumu in Kenya. Well okay it wasn’t ‘that’ Macedonia, but it was an inn by that name where above the registration desk hung this passage:

I will visit you after passing through Macedonia, for I intend to pass through Macedonia and perhaps I will stay with you or even stay the winter, so that you may help me on my journey, wherever I go. (1 Cor 16:5,6)

We flew into Kisumu International Airport, a beautiful new airport about the size of Abbotsford’s airport. To our observation there are no international flights landing here yet but they hope to attract these soon.

Kisumu is a different city from Nairobi. It is beautifully located on Lake Victoria and when you look out onto the water it might well have been an ocean. It is the third largest fresh water lake in the world – just after Lake Superior and Lakes Huron/Michigan in size. This gives Kisumu an ocean side feel to it in an African kind of way. In population, Kisumu at between 350 and 500 thousand is much smaller than Nairobi where they cannot really tell you how many people live there. It is somewhere between four and seven million.

In January of this year I was in Uganda and landed at the airport in Entebbe, also located right on the shores of this great lake. It too had a similar feel to it as a city.

We drove the next morning to Muhanda in a rural village area of this very pretty part of western Kenya. The drive there began to give signs of the poverty among the people and community. Petra and Ruth Anaya from Langley started a small NGO to help address needs in this specific community. It is the community where Petra grew up and it was actually his twin brother Andrew who drove us to see their work. The ministry is called HODI (Hands On Development Initiatives) and they take special effort to ensure that the community is involved with decisions about development in their area.

Everyone we met in the community were also excited about a group of students from Trinity Western University that were about to arrive the following week. So they were feeling blessed by Canadians!

HODI has a stellar example of community based ministry projects in a creative water distribution system where clean water is pumped from an underground stream source to a holding container on the highest point around. From there, gravity takes its course and water flows to schools and houses or near houses throughout an eight square kilometer area.

The water is pumped using electricity so there are some costs to this. The community formed a cooperative where members pay a monthly fee to cover costs and to help build a fund for repairs to the infrastructure.

I had a chance to look over the books and noticed two things. First, there are many people who cannot afford to pay anything, however their water is not cut off – it is simply recorded that they have an unpaid amount. Secondly, even with unpaid balances on the books the water distribution center made money each month. It is a very good example of a sustainable project HODI has undertaken.

We also visited the Mawazo Child Care Centre where HODI have 150 children attending. It is a facility that helps to prepare children for further public schooling. The commitment of the staff and the level of competency was impressive. I personally struggle with children performing for visitors but at the same time realize that it is something for them to have visitors from Canada come to their little centre. The children themselves were great and the singing beautiful.

Then came a little ‘African side trip’ when we drove twenty minutes to attend a meeting of the members of a newly forming business. It was in the village next to Muhanda in a different county or region. We found out that this was only the third time that these folks had met, but they were prepared for us. There was an awkwardness in the air as I felt we were in essence being pitched on the idea of investing in their rabbit business idea.

The chair of the cooperative read to us from the briefing they had put together describing how it was going to work. He placed special emphasis on the fact that rabbit is a white meat and that people are moving away from red meat. Their projections were enthusiastic and so were they.

It is always difficult for people in the developed world visiting in the developing world to understand how important it is not to ‘promise’ anything in meetings. The people here have so much need they cling to words from you long after you will have forgotten. So Bob and I were very careful in choosing my words. I didn’t want to say anything without my lawyer present. Heh, wait a minute! He was present J

Now back at the childcare centre. We were shown new construction taking place of a farming building that was to have a rabbit hutch built into the top of it. Hmmm rabbits coming up twice but I certainly am not able to connect the dots. The rabbit meeting had thrown me off track.

While at the Centre we heard, and saw, children who had not eaten that day. Sometimes the children go two days without anything to eat from home and the Centre is their source of nourishment. Now I didn’t hear anything from the community rabbit group about giving some of the rabbits away to help families feed their children – but maybe that is for later.

So how did it end?

Well we rolled with it and politely took their copy of a  printed rabbit business proposal.

Lion Like Leadership

A highlight memory in my life was recently watching a pride of lions hunt in Kenya on the Serengeti plains. Here are some leadership points I took away from the experience.

Leaders are hard to find

The pride was carefully concealed in the grass. Although these lions are large creatures, they usually kept their heads beneath the level of the tall grass. You had to look very carefully and get up closer to really notice what was taking place.

Lion Insight: This is true of leaders. You need to get close enough to them to really see their leadership at work.

Identify the target

One of the pride raised her head high above the grass and spotted a single Hartebeest on the horizon more than a kilometer away. Once identified, she never took her eyes off the prey and somehow signaled to the entire pride to do the same.

Lion Insight: Leaders are the ones who can look out to the horizon and determine where the entire group should be headed. They also have a way of communicating this so all eyes are on the goal.

Spread out and gain perspective

With a military like precision, the pride began to spread out across the plain, each one staring intently at the goal. By doing so they were increasing their ability to judge the direction and potential action of the prey. It also positioned them in such a way that no matter what took place, some member of the pride may be in a place to have success. This was a team effort.

Lion Insight: Leaders are always helped by getting more perspective on a situation. Allowing your team to be among your feedback group gives an even greater potential of achieving your goals.

Be patient

The pride began to move toward their goal slowly, quietly with stealth. They were not in a rush, as they knew that would be futile when they have to cover so much territory to get close to achieving their goal.

Lion Insight: Leaders need to have the discipline to patiently work towards their goals. One step at a time will get you there. If you rush, you may loose entirely.

Ignore the distractions

We were in a four-wheel drive right amidst the pride, in fact they walked around us while hunting without even giving an acknowledgement of our presence.

Lion Insight: There are so many things that can capture a leaders attention, but if we are going to reach the goal we must learn to ignore distractions and keep moving forward.

Outside influences can affect the plan

As the pride were moving towards the Hartebeest another Land Cruiser came across the plain towards the lions so that their customers could catch a glimpse of one of the Big Five. In doing so, he attracted the attention of the Hartebeest who then quickly took off in the opposite direction foiling the hunt.

Lion Insight: There will always be the outside influences that can impact your plans. Leaders need to realize this and get over it quickly.

Be quick to regroup

As soon as the pride realized their dinner was now far from a reality they quickly moved back together and began the task of identifying a new target

Lion Insight: Leaders should be quick to call the team together again when there is a need to regroup and set a new goal.

We have an example

There is another lion from whom we can glean leadership principles. Revelation 5:5 refers the Lion of Judah, one of the names ascribed to Jesus.

Lion Insight: Following the Lion of Judah can be a guide for life providing leadership insight and life in all its fullness.

PS – I might add one more to this list and that is that it was the women doing all the work!

You talk like a woman… Cross Cultural Training

The leadership team at Wellspring in Kigali, Rwanda asked me if I would give a day to do professional leadership development for them as a team. I am always happy to teach, especially developing leaders, however I was not travelling with my regular toolbox of training content.

So resorting to a topic I think is relevant and I’m confident with, I focused on the topic of mentoring and how it models how Jesus interacts with his disciples.

The Rwandan “style” of top-down management and leadership practices are largely influenced by tribal and feudalism paradigms, which describe leaders at the top of the hierarchy where they direct and control all activities of the people working below for them. This is an organization that is trying to function in a different manner – one completely led by Christ like principles.

Teaching cross culturally is not new to me, but each time it is an experience. As the teacher you are constantly scanning your audience trying to read if you are being understood or if a particular point really causes a connection. This training was done in English removing the additional challenge of translation – and getting a proper translation of what you are trying to convey.

Language or phrases are often a foul-up in training cross culturally. When General Motors introduced the Chevy Nova in South America, it was apparently unaware that “no va” means “it won’t go.”  After the      company figured out why it wasn’t selling any cars, it renamed the car      in its Spanish markets to the Caribe.

When Parker Pen marketed a ball-point pen in Mexico, its ads were      supposed to say “It won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you.”       However, the company mistakenly thought the Spanish word “embarazar” meant embarrass.  Instead the ads said “It won’t leak in your pocket and make you pregnant.”

So, when teaching cross culturally, you want to check phrases to see how they translate.

Now this group of leaders spoke English, but that does not mean that our expressions or colloquialisms are going to be understood. My friend Bob has been having this experience with his sense of humor. I often have to hold up a sign that says, “He is trying to be funny.”

This crowd was very reserved. Even attempts at stimulating interaction were met with polite silence. I did find when I asked them to share with the person next to them it was hard getting them to stop.

The six hours of teaching went well and in asking questions for some feedback I learned some new things. One that was shared was, “You talk like a woman.”

He went on to explain that in Rwandan culture men are raised to learn to handle ‘their stuff’ and not talk about it. They are to be brave and strong at all times. So the concept of being open and authentic, as we had been sharing was not something that they practiced in their culture. He liked it, that I would share from both strength and weakness but it was unusual for them.

Bob while sharing that day quoted James Houston’s “friendship is based on the mutual sharing of weakness.” Many do not practice this in a Rwandan culture.

My response was that we are not trying to emulate or be part of Rwandan culture, we are to model a Jesus culture and teach a new way. He smiled, said an emphatic “yes” and thanked me again.

Bob and I are experiencing a different culture every few days on this round the world trip. South African, Rwandan, Kenyan and on it goes with us learning new things every day – like I talk like a woman.

Genocide and Generations

Today we made the rather obligatory visit to a Rwandan genocide memorial. We wanted to go. I believe  it is absolutely necessary in order to provide context and the backdrop to realities of life in Rwanda today.

It was a Polish lawyer who first coined the word genocide in 1943 from the Greek ‘geno’ (family, tribe or race) and the Latin ‘cide’ (killing).

If you have been to Auschwitz or one of the several concentration camps in Europe you would know what to expect. What I was not prepared for was realizing how similar the pattern of genocide was between Germany and Rwanda. There is no question that in Rwanda it was not a riot gone bad but rather a highly planned an orchestrated intent to destroy a group of people by killing, causing serious bodily or mental harm, and deliberately imposing conditions where life was impossible.

In 1994, twenty percent of Rwanda’s population were murdered leaving tens of thousands of children as orphans, between 250,000 and 500,000 women raped, and many men and women maimed for life with missing limbs, eyes and fingers.

Genocide Mass Grave Kigali

As I looked over a mass grave where 259,000 Rwandan’s are buried I was caught up in my mind with the theological doctrine that derives from the Augustinian concept of original sin. Simply stated it is a doctrine that asserts we as people are by our very nature hard wired to reject the love and rule of God in our lives. It is illustrated by a glass a wine with a few drops of poison in it. Even though it could be a glass of very good wine, the few drops poison all of it. So while not all of our nature as a human is depraved; our nature is totally affected by depravity.

There were good people, neighbors, and friends who suddenly over a very short period of time became killers and it has left behind a generation of damaged people in a nation trying to rebuild itself.

The Next Generation

Just two hours after reflecting on the Memorial I was escorted to the Kigali Institute of Science and Technology to speak to a classroom of students – mostly engineering students. It is a significant university here that was started with the determination to encourage the zeal for modern technology and science among the Rwandan youth so that they would be able to compete with students from other parts of the world.

Most students in the room would have been between one and five years of age when the genocide of 1994 took place here. Some of these young adults were raised by others – their own family dead. Everyone in the room knew of family or friends who lost their lives in 1994 under the planning of the group called Akazu.

Yet what I experienced with the students was a hope for the future of Rwanda. They desire to be educated and a part of the future in this aesthetically beautiful land. They are Rwandans and no reference is made in this country now of tribal differences. Do they still exist? I suspect so, but the people are trying to focus on the future more than the past.

I am now back on the campus of the Wellspring Academy feeling convinced of their focus on improving education. They are not only developing top-notch schools and using these as models for the government, but they are also building up the caliber and capacity of teachers who are the heart and soul of an education system. Their laser like focus is a key to their success, and evidenced by the sense of God’s favor they have here in Kigali.

Bob and I are doing a day of leader development tomorrow, pouring into the team here at the campus to encourage and equip. Wellspring was birthed right in our neighbourhood back home, so I guess we are just trying to be good neighbors.

Learning from today:

  1. You and I are capable of doing unimaginable things given circumstances that nurture that. There were men and women who claimed to be Christians who participated in, or did nothing to prevent the bloodshed.
  2. I think about the children – those who were massacred and those who have had to live with the consequences of what they saw during that 100 day killing spree. It inspires me to continue giving time to the work of protecting and caring for children as a board member of World Vision Canada.
  3. There is hope, and it is just one generation away. This inspires me to continue mentoring and building into the next generation of leaders.