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.

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!

Round the World: Traveling Tips after one month and 24,000 kilometers

Well we have been travelling for one-month today. Bob and I have journeyed almost halfway around the world. We are in Kenya, East Africa. How are we doing?  Well…

  • I snore and Bob wears hearing aids that he turns off at night #awesome combination
  • I waken easily so I can defend us from intruders – animal or human, and also hear the alarm
  • When Bob tries to be humorous and is misunderstood – I can interpret for him #whatfriendsdo
  • I am a bit of a techie and Bob isn’t so it is like he has his own IT department with him #technopeasant
  • Bob’s Parkinson’s is controlled by medication – nothing like having a friend to ask if you have taken your meds #nag
  • When dealing with a legal matter in Chile it is sure helpful to have your lawyer with you – (even though he cannot practice in Chile unless in the Canadian embassy, he still thinks like a lawyer) #lawyerhead
  • It is totally possible to travel around the world with a carry on suitcase. You do want to check it though as the security searches for carry on takes too much time #inconsistent
  • Quick dry travelling underwear – where have you been all my life. #amazing
  • Travel shirts and pants – again terrific. Don’t bring blue jeans or cotton of almost any description. It may feel comfortable but takes forever to dry #useahairdryer
  • Get over an desire to buy souvenirs. You don’t have room and no one needs more trinkets. #photomemories
  • Take a big bottle of acidophilus with you and take several daily. It helps give you a fighting chance with a diet that changes every few days #reducegasemmissions
  • An iPhone can serve as your movie camera, camera, microphone for interviews replacing all these gadgets. Get really comfortable using it before a trip. Oh yeah, and do not allow it to join a network and roam. That can cost as much as the trip J #threedollartextmessages
  • There is a lot of time for reading while travelling. Bring your library on an iPad or Kindle device – you will be glad you did
  • Energizer Batteries. In all the travelling I have done in my life I have tried every AA and AAA battery there is. None have performed like Energizer in fact I think of Energizer as an unofficial sponsor of this round the world tour. They are powering my flashlight, digital recorder, noise cancelling headset and none have required a change yet #keepsgoingandgoing
  • Carry US dollars as it is often the preferred currency for visas or paying reciprocal fees at airports (cash only). That said don’t bring bills larger than fifties and none printed earlier than 2000 or they may not be accepted #goodoldusa
  • Take naps. These are the ultimate cure for frequent time zone changes so plan your days around naps #melatonin
  • Lower travel expectations. There will be flight delays, cancelled flights and mix-ups. Act like the travelling professional you are and seek solutions with the staff #getoverit
  • Remember that you are entering into someone else’s culture. Don’t impose your culture on everyone around you; instead take a real interest in his or hers. Try to speak their language #notegocentric
  • Worldmate – a travellers dream app. We use it twenty times a day for weather, conversion of currency, flight info, hotel info and time zones #worldmate.com

Now here is a list of what I would do differently:

  1. Not carry books as gifts #tooheavy
  2. Bring one more pair of travel pants that can pass as dress pants in a very light color or shade #classy
  3. Print a bookmark or even just photos with contact information as gifts for people #nottooheavy
  4. Bring teaching materials with me and anticipate being asked spontaneously #beprepared
  5. Allow more time for journaling. It takes as long or longer to record the experiences #capturewhilefresh

So that is it after one month, let’s see what I would add to these lists after two months!

Day 9 Santiago, Chile: Public Transit to the Palace

Flying into Santiago the city is completely surrounded by mountains, like it is in a meadow amidst snow-capped peaks. The ocean lies to the west and is accessible through a valley pass while the majestic Andes to the east.

It is already reminding me a lot of Vancouver and there is a common expression here in Santiago like we have at home saying that you can ski in the morning and sail in the afternoon.

An organized city of 6.25 million it seems quite manageable both in size and because of  the subway system – the Metro.

James Matheson, a gifted younger leader, served as our host while here. He conscripted dad to meet us at the airport and take us to our hotel the night we arrived. The next morning James met me at the hotel and we walked to the subway to begin a day of interviews.

James is a communication major at university and works with YFC here in Santiago. He is a very networked guy and seems to know everyone. On the way to the subway we stopped and picked up Justine, daughter of a Baptist pastor from Dartmouth, NS who is in Santiago for the term and off we went, two Canadians and a Chilean. Bob stayed and rested today at the hotel.

Encuentro Con Christo

We travelled by underground to “Encuentro Con Christo” (Meeting with God). This church in a great location in Santiago with a large shopping mall under construction across the street and very close to the Metro.

The first person to greet me when I entered was Marlene – a close friend of my colleague Luz back at FBC and I was welcomed like family. They had set up a meeting room for me and I conducted interviews there in the morning.

Pastor Jorge Eduro is the teaching pastor at the church and has been here thirty years and what brings him greatest joy is building the team among the pastors.

Miner’s Home Place

Luis Castro is a leader of a home for miners children. He left a secure job and salary to work full-time helping vulnerable youth. They have on home with forty-five boys and girls and a waiting list of thirty.

World Vision Chile

Elza Fagundes is the national director of World Vision Chile where she and her team oversee over 35,000 sponsored children and then the many more family members who also benefit through their sponsorship program.

We met in their offices with other senior staff including a pastor responsible for church relations. I have visited staff of World Vision in over a dozen countries around the world and I am consistently impressed with the caliber of people working to save and protect children.

Next to Group Biblica de Universitad, the IFES group working in over thirty-five campuses of university and colleges. Their commitment to students is impressive and to hear that they are only able to touch half the campuses in this city is a little daunting.

The surprise addition to the day was a late invitation to come to the presidential palace. Alfred Cooper, Capellán Evangélico en La Moneda is the chaplain and spiritual advisor to the president and was a significant leader during the Chilean mine disaster. He called James and wanted us to meet.

More on this tomorrow.

Day 4 Lima Peru: No Problem

Hospitality and Excellence

Our teams at First have been hearing me emphasize two focus words for 2012 – Hospitality and Excellence.

Why? Well, we describe ourselves as a community, and that implies a relationship. To welcome people into a community requires an expression of hospitality and I think this is especially true for those living downtown. A core requirement for a community is interaction between the members and the downtown presents such diverse people groups that this can be hard. It is making me think a great deal about how we can enhance community building at First Vancouver.

Complex Communities

Pastor Samuel Reátegui and his daughter Susana met us to drive us to the ocean (Pacific) and to see more of the district of Miraflores. Samuel wanted us to see the beauty of the ocean (that we share) and a terrific view of the city. The view however was partially eclipsed by a heavy marine layer fog that often hangs over Lima during the winter months.

Miraflores is an upper class community of people living in multi-million dollar homes ironically bordered by barrios – housing made of metal and wood scraps strung over adobe bricks.

Interesting that they both have a million dollar view.

Real Community

Three thoughts from the day:

1. The differences between people groups that attend our church are not as readily visible as the contrast between barrios and mansions, but they still exist. How can they build community beyond their affinity groups?

2. Here in Peru, there exists a strong value on being in community. People love being together. Even among the very poor, their default is to join all of their belongings together. They may all be poor, but perhaps together something good will come of it if they face it together.

In our culture downtown, when people are going through tough times the tendency is to hide and make it through yourself. How can we make it easier for people to join into community during tough times and good times.

3. My final insight came through the example of Samuel, Margarita and their two daughters. We were strangers with the exception of a few email interactions prior to our trip to Lima. We left as family. The value of hospitality is such that they seemed to drop everything to welcome us, translate for us, transport us. Throughout the day we heard him enthusiastically express in one of his favourite English expressions, “No problem.”

Part of this instant community is being in the family of God, but beyond this there is a value where Bob and I were meant to feel as treasured guests, and they did this with excellence.

I’d love the chance to honour them with a return of hospitality in our city someday.

All to often in our busy downtown world we try to fit in guests around our already busy schedule. Is hospitality a spiritual discipline we need to practice more in our lives?