Newsletter 635 – Helping People Wherever They Are

Jean-Christophe in robeJean-Christophe Bieselaar is one of my closest friends (shown here with his son Paul). Born, raised and currently living in Paris,  Jean-Christophe is consulting pastor of one Parisian church, Parish Associate at The American Church in Paris, and a chaplain at five hospitals. We kept in contact during the night of the recent terrorist attacks and I was impressed (but not surprised) at how he responded as the events unfolded. The following principles are well known but sometimes forgotten when crises arise in our own environments.

  • Try to remain calm. Jean-Christophe wrote that there was no chaos in the hospitals. The professional staff was “calm, focused and organized”. Calmness in caregivers tends to spread, especially to people who are afraid and agitated.
  • Resist the urge to rush to the location of the crises. Have you heard about counselors, medical people, or church groups who rush to the places of tragedy, including trips overseas in times of national disasters? These people go with good intentions, but they don’t know what is needed and get in the way of local responders who understand the situation better.
  • Be alert to the place where you’ve been planted. Jean-Christophe went to two churches where he normally serves. One is a young adult congregation. “They were all speechless and shocked. They had never faced anything like that. I encouraged them to turn their eyes from TV and their mobile devices. We read some Psalms particularly Ps 121 and I asked them to focus on John 14.1. Then we spent a long time praying. And the peace of God came upon us all like a healing water”. After this, my friend went to the E.R. at a hospital where he is known and works.
  • Notice the recommendation to turn off media broadcasts. Watching endless media reruns or commentary can arouse, rather than reduce anxiety. In addition, media consumption can lead to fear-inspiring addiction. This stuff is fascinating to watch.
  • Do what you do best in the setting where you’ve been planted. Jean-Christophe worked in the places and with the people where he is known. Few of us can do much in Paris right now, but what about the nervous people in our churches or workplaces? Do you have neighbors with friends or relatives in Paris? Could they benefit from your support, encouragement and prayers?
  • Keep focused on the peace and hope that comes from God and on empowerment from the Holy Spirit.

What would you add? Please comment.

Newsletter 562 – Start Something that Matters


Toms Shoes 2 Several years ago I met and talked briefly with Blake Mycoskie. You may not recognize his name but probably you’ve heard of TOMS shoes. In 2006, Blake was twenty-nine, already successful as a businessman and able to take time for a vacation trip to Argentina. While there he started wearing casual canvas shoes known as alpargatas and wondered, in passing, if something similar could have market appeal in the United States. In a café one day he learned about poor communities where children had no shoes at all and, as a result, were exposed to a variety of diseases and inconveniences, like not being able to walk to school. Some Americans were collecting used shoes but often these didn’t fit and when the kids grew they were barefoot again. Eventually, Blake got the idea of producing sturdier versions of the alparaga, forming a for-profit company, then giving away one pair of shoes for every pair sold. Hoping that these could provide a better future for the poor kids he’d met, Blake called them “tomorrow’s Shoes” abbreviated TOMS. You can read more in Blake’s 2012 book Start Something that Matters.

I don’t know why this book sat on my shelf for so long before I read it last week. It became a #1 New York Times best seller, perhaps because it’s so practical, engaging, and built on a business model that’s more about finding purpose in life than just making money, getting noticed, or being successful. Here are highlights among others that apply to any of us:

  • Find your own story then tell others. Like Blake, if you keep your eyes open you might find that your purpose, niche and calling appears right before your eyes.
  • Face your fears. Starting something new is scary. Expect mistakes. Ask yourself who encourages you. Where is God in this?
  • Keep things simple. “Complicated lives and heaps of stuff don’t necessarily bring happiness [or success]; they often bring the opposite.”
  • Build trust – so people trust you. In turn, trust others and give credit where credit is due.
  • In whatever you do, build a mentality of giving.

I’m giving this book to several of my friends. Not surprising: for every book purchased, Blake and his publisher give books to kids who are learning to read. What do you think? Please comment.

Newsletter 561 – Keeping a Bigger Perspective

Near the end of every year I look back over what I’ve read and select the book that impacted me most. Then copies of these are purchased and sent as Christmas gifts to three or four close friends. Usually these are books on leadership, career development or business but occasionally something unusual rises to the top of my list. 2013 was an example.

 Stearns Devotional 2Probably nobody was surprised to get a copy of Kevin DeYoung’s little book Crazy Busy. (Please see Newsletter 554). Like me, most of my friends are in overdrive and can use something readable, short and practical. This time, however, my Christmas package also included something unusual: a devotional book. He Walks Among Us was written by Richard and Reneé Stearns, the president of World Vision and his wife. (The book was mentioned in passing in Newsletter 552). Here are my reasons for thinking that this also would be useful for the counselors, coaches, people-builders, leaders and students who read these words:

  • The book illustrates trends in publishing that many writers overlook. There are short chapters, captivating stories, clear writing styles, and concise, practical applications. Certainly not all books or presentations can fit this style without “dumbing down” depth of thought or detailed discussion. But many best sellers take this newer format.
  • The book includes incredible photographs by photographer John Warren. Photos and other visual images are difficult to find and expensive to reproduce but never underestimate the ability of images to communicate or to supplement words.
  • More important, the book gives a broader perspective on the world where we live and work. Many of our lives, including the books we read and the churches we attend focus a lot on performance, innovation, success, efficiency, career-building and making an impact. Innately none of this is bad but consider the lifestyle that Jesus lived and the messages he proclaimed. According to the Stearns book if you earn more than $13,000 annually you are wealthier than 90% of the world’s population; you’re in the upper one percent if your salary tops $40,000.
  • This book gently challenges us to rethink our values, revisit the relevance of Scripture, and maybe realign some of the priorities in our lives.

Please leave a comment.

Newsletter #552 – The Latest From Richard Stearns

Richard Stearns 2Until recently I was unaware of Richard Stearns but like most of us I was familiar with the large, global organization he leads: World Vision U.S. Former CEO of two major companies, Stearns moved to oversee World Vision’s goal of “working with children, families, and their communities worldwide to reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty and injustice.”  I was deeply impacted by Stearns’ 2010 bestseller The Hole in Our Gospel: What Does God Expect of Us? The Answer That Changed My Life and Might Just Change the World. So I enthusiastically jumped into his 2013 book Unfinished: Believing is Only the Beginning.

The book was more theological and less practical than I had expected. Stearns shows how we urge people to say some routine prayer that expresses belief but we fail to point out that deciding to follow Jesus involves a long-term commitment that can impact every aspect of our lives. Initially I thought the book got a little bogged down in retelling the whole Bible story but then I thought back to last week when I had dinner with a few seasoned counselors and psychology professors. They bemoaned the theological and biblical ignorance of so many students who want to relate Christianity to their counseling or other professions. I see this myself—dedicated emerging care givers who talk about integrating their faith with their practice. Many have high levels of expertise in their professions but almost no knowledge what they believe and why.

Stearns sets his book in the context of scripture, clearly written theology and Bible history. Then he shows how this can be the basis of helping and building people worldwide. I cannot remember Stearns ever mentioning counseling, coaching or leadership, but in many ways this is a fresh look at what integration could look like even when we’re never involved in humanitarian efforts.

Last month Richard and Reneé Stearns published a book that I plan to read next. Written in a devotional format, He Walks Among Us: Encounters with Christ in a Broken World describes hopes, dreams, heartaches but also joy in the midst of intense poverty and need.

Please leave a comment on any of this. How does it relate to your life and work?

Newsletter #503 – Why Care About Culture?

In response to an earlier newsletter, Ruedi Giezendanner referred me to a fascinating article with a long title, “Cross-Cultural Mentoring: A Brief Comparison of Individualistic and Collectivist Cultures.”

The author, Sunny Hong, reminds us of the differences between individualistic cultures that value individual uniqueness, independence and equality, in contrast to collectivistic cultures where group goals are more important and where there are more firmly defined social distinctions and expectations. Of course there are wide differences between people within any one culture but Western countries (especially the United States) are individualistic in comparison to the collectivistic mindset of Eastern countries including Japan, Korea and China.

Hong focuses on mentoring but her conclusions apply equally to coaching, counseling, leadership, teaching, ministry and broader social relationships. These issues were never mentioned (or perhaps never recognized) in my training as a counselor. My coaching instructors insisted that the principles of coaching apply universally, without need for adaptation. But try taking an individualistic mindset into a collectivistic culture and there can be misunderstandings and communication failures. More harm than good can follow when culturally-insensitive business people, diplomats, missionaries, relief workers and mission trip participants go abroad without awareness of cultural perspectives and differences. This applies in work with neighborhood minorities as well as internationally. Mentoring or coaching in an individualistic culture seeks to help others grow professionally by setting goals and developing ways to fulfill personal visions. This is like parenting where children grow up, leave home and don’t seek further parental advice. In collectivistic settings, coaches or mentors are respected and knowledge-filled gurus or teachers who continue to retain authority and provide wise answers on a more permanent basis. Individual initiative and self-motivation are not valued.

According to Hong’s article, when there are differing expectations and assumptions regarding the purpose of mentoring [or coaching], there often is confusion and misunderstanding for both parties. Cross-cultural people-helping also can be unproductive when there are different views about goals, responsibilities, the meaning of success, boundaries, power, privacy, respect for time, transparency, self-disclosure, and feedback, among others. Before you decide to teach, coach, counsel or lead in other cultures, consider reading Hong’s article. And please comment or share your experiences. Is all of this as important as I am suggesting?

Newsletter #502 – Do You Still Have Time to Change the World?

Have you noticed how some politicians become statesmen following their years in office? Bill Clinton was controversial when he was president but he seems to be turning into one of our better ex-presidents. In a Time magazine cover article (October 1, 2012) Clinton shares reasons for his optimism that the world is getting better. He describes the  work of CGI, the Clinton Global Initiative. Thus far it has distributed almost $70 billion and last month brought together Barak and Michelle Obama, Mitt Romney, the new presidents of Libya and Egypt, plus 50 additional current or former heads of state and others committed to improving world conditions.

Clinton identifies and documents progress in five areas where there has been “concrete, measurable and reproducible” progress:

  1. Cell phones bringing freedom. Clinton writes that technology opens communication and fosters equality. He cites research showing that “cell phones are one of the most effective advancements in history to lift people out of poverty.”
  2. Healthy communities that prosper.  Examples show how major health crises are being combatted and averted in Haiti, Africa and elsewhere.
  3. Green energy that equals good business.
  4. Increased women’s’ roles stimulating productivity. “No society can truly flourish if it stifles the dreams and productivity of half its population…. It’s been proven that women tend to reinvest economic gains back into their families and communities more than men do.”
  5. A future perspective that encourages progress. Ponder this: “We have to define the meaning of our lives as something other than our ability to control someone else’s.”

How does this relate to us or to the people we work with? Younger people seem more motivated to make a difference in the world but shouldn’t this concern everybody, regardless of age or circumstances? Might God have a purpose for putting each of us here, at this time, in the places where we live? Couldn’t we make a difference in our worlds even without the international contacts or funds to replicate what CGI seeks to accomplish?

Please ask yourself, “At this place in life what can I do, however small, to make a lasting difference?” Others can sharpen your vision and help you take action. As long as you’re alive there is time to change the world. Please leave a comment.

Newsletter #496 – Who Cares About Social Justice?

I don’t pay much attention to politicians, political conventions or campaign literature, especially when this gets invasive or focuses on personal attacks. But behind hyperbole and distortions of fact there are genuine issues at stake—issues that concern mental and physical health, core values, personal beliefs, biblical teaching, and all kinds of suffering. The words social justice are not new but they have emerged as the overall umbrella concept to cover any focus on decreasing human suffering, promoting fairness, stimulating respect for all people and “promoting human values of equality and justice.” Even if you have no special interest in psychology please ponder these reflections stimulated by Melba Vasquez in her presidential address on social justice presented to the American Psychological Association (American Psychologist, July-August, 2012):

  • Dr. Vasquez never referred to the Bible but the scriptures often mention suffering and injustice with appeals for believers to make a difference. Jesus bypassed many of the issues that concern Christians today but he put significant emphasis on helping the needy, especially the poor.
  • Some believers and churches focus either on personal salvation and discipleship or on what once was termed the “social gospel,” something more like social work than encouraging commitment to Jesus. Over history, haven’t Christians been involved with both: introducing people to Christ and fighting injustice?
  • Many of us have training, knowledge and expertise that equips us to work with individuals. But that also enables us to help “facilitate the resolution of personal, societal and global challenges in diverse, multicultural and international contexts.” Should we be more proactive in “addressing critical social problems, especially those to which our research speaks?”
  • How do we respond if our professional organizations, churches, or political parties take stands with which we disagree? That is likely to happen. Resigning may not be the best solution. Maybe it is better to work together when we can but otherwise work with like-minded colleagues elsewhere.
  • Should we work across-generations? I have noticed growing interest in social justice among younger counselors and psychology students, sometimes bordering on elevating social justice above other basics of the Christian faith. Can we learn to work on this together, cross-generationally?

Should we care about social justice? How are you showing this? Please comment.