IMG_3675

Visiting Soweto

I’m in Johannesburg this week with the Wycliffe Global Alliance leadership community, reflecting on issues surrounding global leadership. We’ve had excellent discussions and my head is buzzing with loads of thoughts that are going to take some time to process.

This afternoon was billed as a bit of a break from the work. With some members of the Wycliffe South Africa team we took a coach across town to Soweto (I learnt today that the name Soweto has its origins in the acronym – SOuth WEstern TOwnships). We saw the outside of the house that Nelson Mandela lived in before and (for a very short time) after his imprisonment on Robben Island and then walked on to the Hector Pieterson museum.

Hector Pieterson was a 13-year-old schoolboy who was reported as the first to be shot and killed by police in school protests on 16th June 1967. Schools throughout Soweto had decided to protest against the government policy of enforcing education in Afrikaans.

The photograph on the left was the one that made the headlines. The body of Hector being carried by the 18-year-old Mbuyisa Makhubo accompanied by his elder sister Antoinette.

The museum was both touching and troubling. I’m not sure I was fully ready to see the images and videos of school children being shot and killed by police.

What I find interesting is that instead of hiding this history and trying to pretend it didn’t happen, South Africans are encouraged to engage with it. To remember their roots in what has taken place before.

Today, June 16th is Youth Day, a national holiday to remember the events of the past and those young people who died on that day.

Photo credit: NASA - Earth from the ISS: English Channel

Fear

‘Fear is the worst motivation for any decision’. I can still remember the words of the pastor of the church I was attending while at university.

Fire and brimstone preaching, the threat of hell and damnation, used to be the motivator, driving people to convert to Christianity. It was effective at putting bums on pews but I’m not sure it really lead to the grace-filled relationship with Jesus that the Bible speaks about.

If only our government and media would come to a similar conclusion.

In the EU referendum, both the in and the out camps have looked to create a climate of fear, telling the public how bad things will be if the other side wins rather than painting a picture of what could be possible should their side win.

This isn’t just the culture of the current referendum, though. Think of how many times in political campaigns, the plan to achieve success is to paint a picture of how bad life will be under the other sides rule.

Terrorists employ the same trick. Their plan is not to simply to kill those in charge, but to create a climate of fear, of terror, that destabilises the other side so that they cannot function.

The saddest thing in the current political contest is seeing people who follow Jesus succumbing to the fear tactics and feeling afraid. Afraid of what may, or may not happen.

I keep thinking back to the verses from Isaiah 9 that are frequently read at Christmas,

For a child is born to us,
a son is given to us.
The government will rest on his shoulders.
And he will be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His government and its peace
will never end.

The power and authority of Jesus far exceed any powers and authorities that exist in this world and the plan for his rule is through peace, not conflict.

And then from Romans 8,

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

No matter what happens in this election, no matter what happens in the rest of life, there is nothing that can separate the followers of Jesus from the love of God. Surely that’s way more important than any election?

Now, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t take this vote seriously. Nor am I saying that the result won’t have an impact. But, for those people who claim to be followers of Jesus, I think there’s a need to remember where you are putting your confidence and faith – the powers of this world or your hope of a political system?

I also think this is a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate your faith in a gentle way. Maybe as people share their fears with you about what the future could be like, you can talk about the hope you have.

cropped-IMG_2623-1.jpg

SOLAS Centre for Public Christianity

Thanks, this week goes to Eddie for putting me onto the SOLAS Centre for Public Christianity. He was blogging about the song by Beautiful Eulogy used at the beginning of their podcast series (read his post and hear the track) which is surprising because when my office used to be within earshot of his it sounded like Northumbrian bagpipes and 70s rock were about the only two genres he paid attention to (maybe not so much 70s rock in the office though) Beautiful Eulogy clearly do not fit into those categories.

So, I’ve appreciated doing a bit of poking around the SOLAS website where’s there’s some good, thought provoking material. Their podcast (only 15mins) was an interesting accompanyment to my morning cycle ride – even if there were occasions when I wanted to rebut some of their comments.

I’ve even gone as far as a quick skim through their newsletter, which puts some language to the EU referendum debate that I’ve been looking for.

Solas believes that the biggest question facing us today is not one that relates to elections and ballot boxes. It is the question about the soul of Scotland, the sould of the UK, the soul of Europe. Political and economic issues are obviously important but there are issues that are even more important. What would it profit a person or a nation or a continent to gain the whole world and lose its soul? That’s the question Jesus posed (Mark 8:36). Christians must be involved in the issues of politics, economics, national identity, and so on, but how sad would it be to concentrate all our attention on such issues and ignore the biggest issue of all.

Read the whole thing here

Talking about strategy

Do you know what I mean when I talk about developing a strategy? I only ask because for years I worked with a colleague who had a different idea to me of what a strategy was – that led to a whole world of confusion.

Yeomans shared a helpful blog post about strategies this week. In it they wrote,

[The] author of The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning, Henry Mintzberg observed that people use strategy in several different ways, including:

  1. Strategy is a plan, a “how,” a means of getting from here to there
  2. Strategy is a pattern in actions over time; for example, a company that regularly markets very expensive products is using a “high end” strategy
  3. Strategy is position; that is, it reflects decisions to offer particular products or services in particular markets
  4. Strategy is perspective, that is, vision and direction

Read the full post here

I’d be closer to number four on this scale, my colleague was closer to number one. I guess it’s always worth checking what you/the other person understands by strategy before starting work.

British Airways plane at Bangkok airport

Travelling more

One of the questions I was asked most frequently in the run up to starting my new role with the Wycliffe Global Alliance was, ‘Are you going to be travelling more?’

Initially the question was hard to answer because I had no idea what my schedule was going to look like. Two months into this role it’s a little clearer – yes, I’ll be travelling more than I did in my old role, but fortunately I’m not going to be travelling as much as some of my colleagues do.

Why do it?

Now, we I don’t take these trips lightly as making a trip costs. Obviously each journey costs money and flying isn’t always cheap – even getting to and from the airport can be expensive. My expenses for travel are covered by my department budget but I’m also working for a charity, so a decision to travel isn’t take lightly.

A trip also costs in terms of time away from the family, that’s especially tough on those left at home.

However, I’m now in an international role with colleagues based on four continents and it would be really difficult to do my job well without spending some time with those who I work closest with.

The good and bad bits

There are some wonderful things to travelling for work.

I have been able to see many more places than I ever thought I would. Very often these wouldn’t be on the normal list of places to go to for work and I often have the bonus of being able to visit the home of colleagues or local people.

I even enjoy wandering around airports and flying – I still try to get a window seat whenever possible and will quite happily spend hours looking out at the ground going past below.

However, a long flight is a long flight and there comes a point where inflight movies no longer hold the interest that they used to. Standing in line to clear immigration is never fun and trying to explain the purpose of your visit with horrible jet lag is rarely easy.

Family perspective

I’ve already mentioned that travel is tough on those that are left behind. My last trip away was for ten days, as I stepped onto the bus to take me to the airport Amy (my three year old) realised what I was doing and started to cry. It was a good job the bus door closed at that point because I was ready to get straight back off and go home with them.

To survive we’ve worked out a system where I record a daily goodnight message that Tany can play to the children before bed. I try to record a new one every day and tell them a bit about what I’ve been doing. Of course, this relies on having access to the internet.

I also recorded a video of my last journey (to Thailand) to try to help those left at home understand what travelling is like.

Of course technology helps communication but it doesn’t solve all the problems associated with being away form home. We have decided to limit the amount of travel I do – ideally not more than one trip every six weeks, certainly no more than once a month – but that doesn’t mean that problems won’t arise when I’m gone. [There’s lots more I could say here but maybe it’s best saved for another post].

Can’t you use Skype?

So yes, Skype does help. This week alone I’ll have had six different Skype calls with colleagues (and it’s only a four day working week). That saves an awful lot of flying.

Yet, it’s not a perfect solution. Personal relationships are best built when you are in the same room as the other person. Quick conversations are only possible when there’s not a delay to the communication and anyone that’s used Skype (or any other meeting tool) knows what it’s like when the sound quality goes, or someone forgets to un-mute their mic, or the call drops completely. Add this to the fact that in many of the places we work the internet just isn’t robust enough to rely on it for extended calls. For example…

I don’t think there’s going to be an end to flying around to meetings for a while.

So yes, I’ll be travelling more than I used to. I’m going to try to enjoy it and make the most of the opportunities I have. No doubt I’ll try to use Facebook to post pictures and share some of my experiences.

Wee Bookshop and Cafe, Chinnor

Week 1 with the Global Alliance

It’s the end of my first week working as the Director of Public Media for the Wycliffe Global Alliance, a new job that means a significant change of lifestyle for our whole family.

Most notable is that instead of going into an office I now work from home. Our spare bedroom to be precise. Which isn’t all that spare at the moment because Sophie (8 mths) sleeps in there at night and will normally take a morning and afternoon nap in there too.

Also different is that my new team are spread out across a range of time zones rather than across an office, so Skype or email is our usual method of communication. That’s OK but it does mean that the incidental conversations that you’d have with colleagues in an office setting aren’t so easy to have. I think that’s the bit that I miss the most about working in an office environment. The opportunity to stick my head above the parapet or wander to the coffee point to run an idea past someone.

So this week has taken some adjusting to – but the end of the week was better than the beginning and I’m starting to discover a new rhythm to life.

One wonderful discovery was The Wee Bookshop & Cafe in the village (see photo). Great for a change of scene and the chance to get out of the house for an hour or so. I love that the walls are stacked with second hand books and that a model train runs around the top of the shelves.

Anyway, that was week one. Week two is already looking significantly busier. My to-do list is growing and people are waking up to the fact that I’m now in post. Keep an eye on this blog or the Facebook page for updates.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/jasonahowie/7910370882

Digital communication for missionaries

Last Friday I spent a very enjoyable few hours with folks from the Church of Scotland who were preparing for work overseas. They were all experienced missionaries, having served in various places already. This event was more of a reorientation for them before heading off into new assignments.

I was asked to go along and talk about communications – especially what it means to communicate about mission in a world of social media and instant communication.

So we talked through some of the basics of communication (noise, message, segmentation, integrated communications) and some of the things to consider when sending messages home.

Finally we discussed social media and the opportunities / challenges it brings.

Before attending this event I’d carried out a quick survey, asking people with recent experience of serving overseas about their approach to social media. These are some of the comments…

  • ‘It can create a sense of being very far away… It can contribute to homesickness’.
  • ‘You have to be extra careful with the things you share because nationals, and the people you are working with may be offended if they learn that you have shared a story/picture about them and are benefiting from it’.
  • ‘You need to be careful what you say so that people don’t get the wrong idea or unnecessarily worried when they don’t understand the big picture’.
  • ‘Since we don’t live in a grass hut in Africa as missionaries are supposed to we have to be careful that we don’t come across as living a life of luxury in a beautiful part of the world’.
  • ‘I don’t have my last name on Facebook’.
  • ‘A way to ask for technical help with various issues’.
  • ‘Using closed groups can be a helpful way to keep people updated without posting everything publicly’.
  • ‘If you are unsure, get someone to check a post before you publish’.
  • ‘My Facebook ‘Keep Kate in Tea’ campaign was a really fun thing to do and I was overwhelmed by the response’.
  • ‘The in-the-moment contact is priceless for people back home’.

So do you think we missed anything?

What would you add to the list?

Of course, if you’d like me to run a similar workshop on communication or social media for your church or agency please get in touch.

Photo: Jason Howie
technology-792175_1280

Eating cake and thinking digital technology

It may be time to turn off Microsoft Outlook and just use Google – at least that’s what I’m thinking about doing following last week’s event Digital Technology and Cake, organised by Adapta Consulting.

The afternoon session included two cases studies. The first from Rob Gethen Smith who now works for Anthony Nolan but was speaking about his time as Chief Information Officer at the Southbank Centre. In the three years that he was there he managed to transform their digital operation from a system that could barely handle online credit card transactions at the same time as selling interval refreshments, to one that does such a good job at getting the basics right that they saw a 500% drop in website complaints within 18 months!

The second case sty was from James Higgott of The King’s Fund. He spoke about the necessary move from a centralised digital team to an independent model with individuals with digital roles embedded in each team.

There was then cake (it really was good cake!) and discussion.

What did I take away from the event?

1 – Fix broken things quickly.

It was Rob Gethen Smith’s first point, but it makes sense. You can’t get investment in digital ways of working from customers, staff or management if the technology just doesn’t work.

2 – Give people the tools and skills to work digitally

It’s no use just telling people to work in a particular way. You have to train them and also equip them to be able to do their job.

One, almost throw away, comment was to turn some of the traditional technology off and drive people towards using Google Apps. I tried this on the Thursday I was back in the office and basically it works. There are some challenges because I have an email filing system that was created in the world of Outlook (using folders) which doesn’t work so well with Google Mail, but I like the idea. I’ve been using Google Docs for a while and love the way it allows me to work collaboratively and remotely.

It also means that I’ve got some flexibility to my working environment – important things I can usually access as easily at home as I can in the office.

3 – Decentralise digital expertise

At Wycliffe I think we are already quite good at this.  During the discussions I was surprised to hear that organisations were filtering all their digital content through one team (or even one person). It was their responsibility to write Facebook posts, Tweets or blog about their organisation.

Already we have recognised that this puts a huge burden on one person and that it’s better to decentralise. Allow others to post on the things that interest them and, if there’s good overlap with what they write and what represents Wycliffe well, we will repost as an organisation.

The next step is to have people in each team that pursue digital innovation. That ask questions about how digital tools could equip them to work more effectively or share information more widely.

Conclusion

This was a great event for me because I was able to dwell on the possibilities rather than the constraints.

I know that people struggle with digital technology and the perceived pace of change, but I wonder if the real issue is that digital technology forces the user to open up to collaboration. Working digitally means that you have less control.

Any thoughts?

The slides from the event can currently be found here.

Group work

On joining Wycliffe Global Alliance and the work I will do

If you know me, or have been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know that I have been invited to take up a role as Director of Public Media with the Wycliffe Global Alliance.

You’ll also know that over the last few months I have been ‘raising support’, looking for people who will commit to pray for us as a family and contribute to our financial needs as this role comes without a salary.

As we’ve been doing this one of the questions that I get asked more frequently is, what am I going to do?

In some ways it’s a really easy question to answer. I have a job description that tells me I’ll be:

Encouraging and ensuring creative, collaborative and effective communication related to the Wycliffe Global Alliance and Bible translation movements worldwide through:

  • Developing mediums that provide resources [for Wycliffe Organizations and the worldwide Church] that inform, encourage and inspire.
  • Recognizing and creating opportunities and environments for multicultural, multilingual and multifaceted dialogue in the general public and the worldwide Church.
  • Leading, participating in, mentoring and fostering a learning community of communicators so that they can provide consistent, compelling and clear messaging.

(These are the highlights. There’s more, quite a bit more, but do you really want to read a full job description?)

In practice this means I’ll be overseeing communications channels and making sure the Alliance talks with integrity about Bible translation, mission and what God is doing around the world.

I’ll also be giving line management to a small team based in the UK, Germany and the US. Oh, and I’ll be serving a wide group of organisations by consulting with them on issues that relate to public communication.

Of course, I can’t do any of this without a support team behind me. People who will pray for me (I should say ‘us’ as we are entering into this as a family) and provide the finances needed to cover our living costs. If you would like to become part of that support team you can find out how to on this website – Join our support team.

In my next post I’ll talk more about why communications matters in mission.