Barlows In Birmingham

In the last few months, my work in integrating the use of coaching skills in our global organisation has gone to a new level. Every cross-cultural worker now has a "ministry coach" - a colleague who comes alongside to listen actively and ask powerful questions in an ongoing, intentional conversation where the person being coached has the initiative in working through her/his ministry plan for the year.

There have been bumps along the way, as I worked with others to create something that wasn't there before. But in general, the adoption over 24 months has gone well. I continue to see that when someone sees the process firsthand and how it opens new vistas and ideas, the value is clear and there is a desire to continue.

In August, I had the opportunity to share two 3-hour sessions on coaching skills with the directors in our organisation. That was one of the final groups of people I felt needed to see it firsthand in order to have full integration in the organisation. It was a joy to work with them (even if a bit stressful to present all the material in front of colleagues I respect highly).

A more recent hurdle in the implementation is realising that, because we now insist on coaching for every cross-cultural worker, we have liability as an organisation - especially as regards confidentiality and areas where self-harm or abuse could be shared. As a result, we need to make sure each person who is coaching is covered by a 3rd-party agreement.

For several weeks, I've been working with the director of HR and the director of member care to make sure the agreement we put together covers all the necessary bases. Within the next few weeks, we should have those 3rd-party agreements in place - if all goes to plan. That is no small task when our staff is in many countries across the globe. Thankfully, we have technology like scanners - so most of the signatures and expedition can be done digitally. And so, the roving coaching goes on . . .

From 6-13 March I was in Yaoundé, Cameroon. That was my first trip to Africa. Wow! SO many differences to observe and to digest. I had heard many stories from colleagues over the years, but seeing and feeling it myself was a whole different story. (Thanks to my colleagues in Yaoundé who helped me discover, navigate and interpret during those days!)

One of the first surprises was sleeping under a mosquito net. Of course, I had heard stories of malaria and the need to do whatever possible to avoid mosquito bites. But I had not fully grasped what it meant to install a net over the bed each night, carefully insuring that no gap remained around the mattress for any unwanted bed-buddy. It made the process of going to bed and getting up a much longer, energy-consuming event.

A second surprise was the question of security. Everyone I met expressed little concern about safety in living there, but nearly all had a story of an attempted robbery or incident with someone trying to break in. Most of the households hired local "security guards" to keep an eye out. The guesthouse where I stayed was on thorough "lock down" most of the time. It appeared to be more a question of protecting locations where it was obvious that people had money and resources.

This built on the notion of have's and have not's - if I can put it that way. During one drive around the city and another walking tour in Jensen's area of the city, it was evident which groups of the city's population had sufficient resources to live on and which did not. One small neighbourhood, that had green grass, was nicknamed "Kuwait" due to the petroleum industry staff (and money) there.

Several conversations with individuals from the local population included stories of the lack of resources for living and the mismanagement of Cameroon's more-than-sufficient natural resources. It all had a strong impression on me, which I am still trying to get my head around. I know the typical response is: "there is not much you can do about all the disparity." I've already heard it from a few people, who have asked how my trip went. But at this juncture, I'm not prepared to do nothing. I am trying to think through concrete ways to do what I can - to live more simply here at home and to remain engaged with how things are in other parts of the world to be able to act in helpful, sustainable ways.

The past few months have featured more travel than ever before - as I continue to develop the coaching area of Encompass World Partners and as I help with team training for a number of our teams across the globe. In January, I traveled to Thailand - something that I thought I would never say. And in March, I will travel to Cameroon - my first time in Africa.

As I traveled east through Bangkok to Hua Hin, where we held a 3-day coaching workshop, I discovered how many of my assumptions were challenged. For instance, I thought I knew what a LONG travel itinerary was. I mean, I have been traveling between Europe and America for many years now - and sometimes those transatlantic flights seemed to be never-ending.

But after traveling the same number of hours east - to which I am accumstomed going west - I was still only HALF the way to my destination in Thailand. It gave me a knew appreciation for my colleagues who have to take two 8-hour flights with a lengthy layover in between on a regular basis.

Or take road safety and traffic. I thought traffic could be bad in the United Kingdom - with some very dangerous potholes that need some serious attention. Then, I went on a car ride through Bangkok with my colleague, Stuart, and a bus ride from Bangkok Airport to Hua Hin. Wow. SO much  traffic, SO much road maintenance needed, and a MUCH greater degree of faith as a passenger as I wondered for three hours if our bus would arrive in one piece and on all four wheels at our destination.

In the West, we take so many things for granted. And my roving gave me a new appreciation for what we have and what others endure on a regular basis that I could even imagine.

Have you heard about the refugee situation in Europe? (I'm guessing most of us have; if not, turn on your television news or open a newspaper.) Such dramatic images on our TV screens! We can't help but feel strong emotions with all that is going on . . .

As I speak with various people, the emotions are definitely strong - but often in very different directions. Some feel we have to do whatever we can to help, so no small children die at sea. Some feel we have to pressure governments to do more. Some think that radicalised individuals or groups will use the real crisis as a way to move further west. I don't know where you are in all that emotion, but this situation doesn't seem to leave anyone indifferent.

While I know there are NO simple answers, I feel that inaction is not a choice. The scale of this drama - with a high probability of even greater dramas, if we don't act now - is a call to each of us to do what we can. It might be focusing prayer - fervent prayer - on the situation. There are loads of resources to be able to do that well. It might be offering to give money and other forms of assistance to a nearby organisation, which already is involved in helping those who are homeless, asylum seekers or refugees. (This can be a preferred option to those who are uncertain how to really get aid to Syrian refugees.) It might even be considering to host a refugee - along with a group of other people (such as a church).

If you are reading this, please consider doing SOMETHING to help where and how you can. You might not know all the in's and out's; you might not feel comfortable with all the potential risks or fallout. But don't let that lull you into inaction.


Tom's Blog

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