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.

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.

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!