In the garden in Germany

Communications meetings (day 1)

Ka'rimu ReceptionSo here I am, hanging out with my team at the Karimu conference centre in Holzhausen, Germany. We try to get together a couple of times each year to talk and make plans. Having only joined the team full-time in April this is the first meeting that I’ve had overall responsibility for the agenda. Despite the jet lag some are suffering from there was little downtime and we got straight into work.

Catching up and praying for each other

We are a team distributed around the world so it’s important that when we are together we do things that enable us to build deeper and more meaningful relationships. So, on our first morning, we spent time sharing with each other the things that are going on in our lives. Family updates, moving house (and continent), the challenges of children and parents and all the things that come along at different stages of life.

It was wonderful for me to be able to share with these guys the things that are important, talk about the challenges we are facing as a family and be prayed for. A group like this is especially important as, though our individual experiences may differ, they all know something of the unique challenges that serving in full-time mission can throw up.

Mission, vision and values

Like many organisations, Wycliffe Global Alliance has a mission, vision and values statement. This informs the core of our work. The values are,

  • The glory of God among the nations
  • Christlikeness in life and work
  • The Church as central in God’s mission
  • The word translated
  • Dependence on God
  • Partnership and service

In other organisations it may be possible to only apply the values to what is done by employees. But with the values of the Alliance, personnel need to embody the values so that they resonate through all that they do.

We spent the afternoon trying to think through how each of these values applies to each one of us in our work. It wasn’t always easy – how can one person embody ‘the Church as central in God’s mission’?

It was a challenging process but good to do.

That was yesterday. We are now into day two.

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The best father son relationship

Last week I was listening to a podcast from The Miller Tells Her Tale (show 591) in which I heard the Michael McDermott song, Shadow in the Window for the first time. It’s a beautiful image of the imperfect father-son relationship where neither party seems prepared to ask questions or share feelings – instead, there’s silence where there should be a conversation.

In the song McDermott writes of his relationship with his father,

I always wondered what he was thinking
Was he waiting for me to crash
Or maybe he just wanted to come with me
I never thought to ask

I wondered what he was doing
Watching me every time I drove away
I wonder what he did that for
Maybe he just wanted me to stay

So often in songs relationships are made out to be wonderful or terrible, there appear to be very few songs about ordinary relationships. This song seems to fly against this trend as the picture is painted of a very normal father-son relationship that could be so much closer should a few words be used.

I was thinking of using this song to introduce communion on Sunday but decided against it as it could have the same impact on the congregation that showing the first few minutes of the film Go did – turned everyone into a blubbering mess. But I like the contrast between a very human father-son relationship that seems to leave each party slightly unfulfilled with what the Bible tells us about God. That the God who created the universe and everything in it wants to have a relationship with us, his creation. That even though we continue to ignore him in the choices we make every day, he doesn’t become more distant – he’s not watching us from the window – he’s sat right next to us wanting to be part of the journey you and I are about to embark on.

Plus, it’s a great song!

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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.

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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.