Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Capitalist Who Loves North Korea

You've got to read this remarkable story about a remarkable man and his vision to bring hope to North Korea. You can read the story HERE

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Least of These

Home-Based Care volunteers are on the frontlines of the battle against HIV/AIDS in much of Sub-Saharan Africa. One of the things I do is try and find those in North America who would be willing to support the work of Home-Based Care workers in Africa.

Click on the link below to read a story of how HBC volunteers make a difference.

The Least of These

Monday, September 07, 2009

President Obama's Speech to School Children in the USA

I was amazed at how upset so many people are about the speech President Obama is making to school children across America. People are pulling their children out of school, others have compared Obama to Hitler, or ironically telling us he is going to make us all socialists (as you know Hitler was a fascist, so how Obama can make us both fascists and socialists is a bit puzzling to me -- I don't think even he has that much power), and people are literally (in Biblical words) "weeping and wailing and gnashing their teeth".

Whether you agree with the policies and worldview of President Obama or not, the reality is the President has a right to address school children. Presidents Reagan and Bush have also done this -- and apparently the world didn't come to an end, and we still live in a democracy -- so it seems that the President speaking to the nation does not lead to an apocalypse.

So, here is the text of his speech. After you read it -- tell me -- is the world going to come to an end, are our children going to become fascist socialists, or is this not a rather good speech?

Hello everyone - how's everybody doing today? I'm here with students at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia. And we've got students tuning in from all across America, kindergarten through twelfth grade. I'm glad you all could join us today.

I know that for many of you, today is the first day of school. And for those of you in kindergarten, or starting middle or high school, it's your first day in a new school, so it's understandable if you're a little nervous. I imagine there are some seniors out there who are feeling pretty good right now, with just one more year to go. And no matter what grade you're in, some of you are probably wishing it were still summer, and you could've stayed in bed just a little longer this morning.

I know that feeling. When I was young, my family lived in Indonesia for a few years, and my mother didn't have the money to send me where all the American kids went to school. So she decided to teach me extra lessons herself, Monday through Friday - at 4:30 in the morning. Now I wasn't too happy about getting up that early. A lot of times, I'd fall asleep right there at the kitchen table. But whenever I'd complain, my mother would just give me one of those looks and say, "This is no picnic for me either, buster."

So I know some of you are still adjusting to being back at school. But I'm here today because I have something important to discuss with you. I'm here because I want to talk with you about your education and what's expected of all of you in this new school year.

Now I've given a lot of speeches about education. And I've talked a lot about responsibility. I've talked about your teachers' responsibility for inspiring you, and pushing you to learn. I've talked about your parents' responsibility for making sure you stay on track, and get your homework done, and don't spend every waking hour in front of the TV or with that Xbox. I've talked a lot about your government's responsibility for setting high standards, supporting teachers and principals, and turning around schools that aren't working where students aren't getting the opportunities they deserve.

But at the end of the day, we can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents, and the best schools in the world - and none of it will matter unless all of you fulfill your responsibilities. Unless you show up to those schools; pay attention to those teachers; listen to your parents, grandparents and other adults; and put in the hard work it takes to succeed.

And that's what I want to focus on today: the responsibility each of you has for your education. I want to start with the responsibility you have to yourself.
Every single one of you has something you're good at. Every single one of you has something to offer. And you have a responsibility to yourself to discover what that is. That's the opportunity an education can provide.

Maybe you could be a good writer - maybe even good enough to write a book or articles in a newspaper - but you might not know it until you write a paper for your English class. Maybe you could be an innovator or an inventor - maybe even good enough to come up with the next iPhone or a new medicine or vaccine - but you might not know it until you do a project for your science class. Maybe you could be a mayor or a Senator or a Supreme Court Justice, but you might not know that until you join student government or the debate team.

And no matter what you want to do with your life - I guarantee that you'll need an education to do it. You want to be a doctor, or a teacher, or a police officer? You want to be a nurse or an architect, a lawyer or a member of our military? You're going to need a good education for every single one of those careers. You can't drop out of school and just drop into a good job. You've got to work for it and train for it and learn for it.

And this isn't just important for your own life and your own future. What you make of your education will decide nothing less than the future of this country. What you're learning in school today will determine whether we as a nation can meet our greatest challenges in the future.

You'll need the knowledge and problem-solving skills you learn in science and math to cure diseases like cancer and AIDS, and to develop new energy technologies and protect our environment. You'll need the insights and critical thinking skills you gain in history and social studies to fight poverty and homelessness, crime and discrimination, and make our nation more fair and more free. You'll need the creativity and ingenuity you develop in all your classes to build new companies that will create new jobs and boost our economy.

We need every single one of you to develop your talents, skills and intellect so you can help solve our most difficult problems. If you don't do that - if you quit on school - you're not just quitting on yourself, you're quitting on your country.

Now I know it's not always easy to do well in school. I know a lot of you have challenges in your lives right now that can make it hard to focus on your schoolwork.

I get it. I know what that's like. My father left my family when I was two years old, and I was raised by a single mother who struggled at times to pay the bills and wasn't always able to give us things the other kids had. There were times when I missed having a father in my life. There were times when I was lonely and felt like I didn't fit in.

So I wasn't always as focused as I should have been. I did some things I'm not proud of, and got in more trouble than I should have. And my life could have easily taken a turn for the worse.

But I was fortunate. I got a lot of second chances and had the opportunity to go to college, and law school, and follow my dreams. My wife, our First Lady Michelle Obama, has a similar story. Neither of her parents had gone to college, and they didn't have much. But they worked hard, and she worked hard, so that she could go to the best schools in this country.

Some of you might not have those advantages. Maybe you don't have adults in your life who give you the support that you need. Maybe someone in your family has lost their job, and there's not enough money to go around. Maybe you live in a neighborhood where you don't feel safe, or have friends who are pressuring you to do things you know aren't right.

But at the end of the day, the circumstances of your life - what you look like, where you come from, how much money you have, what you've got going on at home - that's no excuse for neglecting your homework or having a bad attitude. That's no excuse for talking back to your teacher, or cutting class, or dropping out of school. That's no excuse for not trying.

Where you are right now doesn't have to determine where you'll end up. No one's written your destiny for you. Here in America, you write your own destiny. You make your own future. That's what young people like you are doing every day, all across America.

Young people like Jazmin Perez, from Roma, Texas. Jazmin didn't speak English when she first started school. Hardly anyone in her hometown went to college, and neither of her parents had gone either. But she worked hard, earned good grades, got a scholarship to Brown University, and is now in graduate school, studying public health, on her way to being Dr. Jazmin Perez.

I'm thinking about Andoni Schultz, from Los Altos, California, who's fought brain cancer since he was three. He's endured all sorts of treatments and surgeries, one of which affected his memory, so it took him much longer - hundreds of extra hours - to do his schoolwork. But he never fell behind, and he's headed to college this fall.

And then there's Shantell Steve, from my hometown of Chicago, Illinois. Even when bouncing from foster home to foster home in the toughest neighborhoods, she managed to get a job at a local health center; start a program to keep young people out of gangs; and she's on track to graduate high school with honors and go on to college.

Jazmin, Andoni and Shantell aren't any different from any of you. They faced challenges in their lives just like you do. But they refused to give up. They chose to take responsibility for their education and set goals for themselves. And I expect all of you to do the same.

That's why today, I'm calling on each of you to set your own goals for your education - and to do everything you can to meet them. Your goal can be something as simple as doing all your homework, paying attention in class, or spending time each day reading a book. Maybe you'll decide to get involved in an extracurricular activity, or volunteer in your community. Maybe you'll decide to stand up for kids who are being teased or bullied because of who they are or how they look, because you believe, like I do, that all kids deserve a safe environment to study and learn. Maybe you'll decide to take better care of yourself so you can be more ready to learn. And along those lines, I hope you'll all wash your hands a lot, and stay home from school when you don't feel well, so we can keep people from getting the flu this fall and winter. Whatever you resolve to do, I want you to commit to it. I want you to really work at it.

I know that sometimes, you get the sense from TV that you can be rich and successful without any hard work -- that your ticket to success is through rapping or basketball or being a reality TV star, when chances are, you're not going to be any of those things.

But the truth is, being successful is hard. You won't love every subject you study. You won't click with every teacher. Not every homework assignment will seem completely relevant to your life right this minute. And you won't necessarily succeed at everything the first time you try.

That's OK. Some of the most successful people in the world are the ones who've had the most failures. JK Rowling's first Harry Potter book was rejected twelve times before it was finally published. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team, and he lost hundreds of games and missed thousands of shots during his career. But he once said, "I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."

These people succeeded because they understand that you can't let your failures define you - you have to let them teach you. You have to let them show you what to do differently next time. If you get in trouble, that doesn't mean you're a troublemaker, it means you need to try harder to behave. If you get a bad grade, that doesn't mean you're stupid, it just means you need to spend more time studying.

No one's born being good at things, you become good at things through hard work. You're not a varsity athlete the first time you play a new sport. You don't hit every note the first time you sing a song. You've got to practice. It's the same with your schoolwork. You might have to do a math problem a few times before you get it right, or read something a few times before you understand it, or do a few drafts of a paper before it's good enough to hand in.

Don't be afraid to ask questions. Don't be afraid to ask for help when you need it. I do that every day. Asking for help isn't a sign of weakness, it's a sign of strength. It shows you have the courage to admit when you don't know something, and to learn something new. So find an adult you trust - a parent, grandparent or teacher; a coach or counselor - and ask them to help you stay on track to meet your goals.

And even when you're struggling, even when you're discouraged, and you feel like other people have given up on you - don't ever give up on yourself. Because when you give up on yourself, you give up on your country.

The story of America isn't about people who quit when things got tough. It's about people who kept going, who tried harder, who loved their country too much to do anything less than their best.

It's the story of students who sat where you sit 250 years ago, and went on to wage a revolution and found this nation. Students who sat where you sit 75 years ago who overcame a Depression and won a world war; who fought for civil rights and put a man on the moon. Students who sat where you sit 20 years ago who founded Google, Twitter and Facebook and changed the way we communicate with each other.

So today, I want to ask you, what's your contribution going to be? What problems are you going to solve? What discoveries will you make? What will a president who comes here in twenty or fifty or one hundred years say about what all of you did for this country?

Your families, your teachers, and I are doing everything we can to make sure you have the education you need to answer these questions. I'm working hard to fix up your classrooms and get you the books, equipment and computers you need to learn. But you've got to do your part too. So I expect you to get serious this year. I expect you to put your best effort into everything you do. I expect great things from each of you. So don't let us down - don't let your family or your country or yourself down. Make us all proud. I know you can do it.

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless America.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Last Temptation

You can find a great interview with Wendell Potter, the former head of communications for CIGNA here

Monday, August 17, 2009

Who Healthcare Reform Will Benefit the Most

Here is another great article on how healthcare reform will benefit at least one segment of the US economy. You can read it here.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Persecution of Christians in Pakistan

You can read an article from CNN about a group of 2,000 Christians living in the middle of a road here.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Money and Lobbyists Determine Possible Healthcare Reform

Check out this New York Times article about the deal the Obama Administration has made with Big Pharma. You can read the article here.

Genuine healthcare reforms appears to be dead. Once again, the pharmaceutical industry has used the billions of $ in profits it makes from you and me to be sure that whatever is coming down in terms of healthcare reform will benefit them much more than you and I. At one point in his campaign Obama said he would stare down the drug companies. Obviously his staring ability is not what he thought it was. So, come the fall, we can probably look forward to legislation that will give us more of what we have now -- only it will cost each of us more -- and many more of us will not be able to afford any health insurance. Oh, and by the way, aren't you glad the drug companies are spending $150 million of their profits on TV ads in August (in addition to untold millions of $ on lobbying they have spent the last 8 months) rather than on research that would actually produce medications that might help those who are sick?

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Healthcare Reform? Who Needs It?

Great article from Newsweek. You can read it here.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Select Few: Shocking Corruption at the Washington Post

This post has much more to do with how business is done in Washington than any specific issue. It simply amazes me that we allow this kind of activity and that we are "okay" with this process. If we weren't okay with it, we would do something -- like vote all the politicians who do this kind of thing out of office. But, we don't do that -- instead we would prefer to have our country run by Democrats and Republicans who are controlled by those with large sums of money.

Read the article here.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Roseta - The Epitome of Injustice

Jim Cantelon, the founder of Visionledd has called for "every church to be a Mother Teresa". Visionledd, who Debbie and I are working with, believes in a world where local churches are the hands and feet of Jesus in their communities, ministering to orphans, widows and those infected and affected by HIV/AIDS.

Earlier this week, Theresa Malila, the founder of Somebody Cares, our primary ministry partner in Malawi sent me this story, and asked me to pass it on to others. The story is sad, yet filled with hope. Please read it, and then pray for Roseta, her children and the millions of others who Roseta and her family represent. Roseta's story is repeated everyday in tens of thousands of villages and communities in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Pray also for African churches to be the hands and feet of Jesus in their communities -- and for North American churches willing to walk alongside their African brothers and sisters in the battle against HIV/AIDS and for transformed communities.

Please click HERE to read Roseta's story.

If you want to read more stories about the work of Home-Based Care volunteers in Africa go to the Home-Based Care Africa website.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

American Politics, Lobbying and Healthcare Reform

Here is why we need political reform in the USA -- especially in regard to lobbying. Just think, your insurance premiums are helping to fund lobbyists to the tune of $1.4 million a day, so that the current health care industrial complex can continue to reap profits on the backs of ordinary Americans who often cannot afford insurance premiums or the costs of health care not covered by their premiums. It really doesn't matter what side of the debate you are on -- all of this lobbying and the money being spent by ALL sides -- should make you want to see reform that reduces the huge influence of money on politicians. It is clear that our votes really don't matter -- who politicians listen to are industry, union, and multi-national corporations who have the funds to pay them off. When my African friends ask me if there is corruption in America I tell them yes -- it just involves much more money and is much more sophisticated and more "behind the scenes".

This article from the Washington Post lays it out for you. Check it out here.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

When Charity Destroys Dignity -- A Book Review

For the past 9 years I have spent a significant amount of time participating in partnerships between churches/ministries in the Global North and the Global South. Most of my time has been spent in Guatemala, Indonesia, Turkey and most recently Malawi and Zambia. As a result the issue of dependency is of great interest to me. In my desire to walk alongside churches in Africa I do not want to create unhealthy dependency on outside resources for the work of the ministry.

I recently picked up the book When Charity Destroys Dignity (Overcoming Unhealthy Dependency in the Christian Movement) hoping that it would be of help in thinking about the issues surrounding this topic. The book is written by Glenn Schwartz who was a missionary to Zambia in the 1960's and is now the executive director of World Mission Associates.

While I found some of the stories of dependency Schwartz sprinkles throughout the book helpful, my sense is that he is often addressing the issues he faced in the 60's in Africa more than the issues faced by churches and ministries working in the Global South in the 21st century. As a result, I was somewhat disappointed in this book.

Perhaps the most helpful chapter began on page 307 (Chapter 23) where Schwartz outlines some of the lessons missionaries have learned in regard to unhealthy dependency in the Christian Movement. These lessons are worth repeating.

The problem of dependency among mission-established institutions has its roots in spiritual issues. Without genuine spiritual transformation it is unlikely that people will move from being dependent on foreign sources for finances to providing the monies needed to support their own ministries.

The road to dependency is often paved with good intentions. Well meaning outsiders with hearts of compassion do for others what they might otherwise be able to do for themselves.

Self-reliance has little to do with wealth or poverty. Every community has assets, and every community can become more reliant on those assets and resources to support themselves.

Many transitions toward local sustainability include a direct revelation from the Lord to the church leaders involved. It seems that often those local leaders who want to break free of the shackles of unhealthy dependency do so after hearing "a word of the Lord' to do so.

Westerners often assume that their wealth is the missing ingredient in the spread of the Gospel or in doing health care or other community development projects. Ironically it is sometimes outside funding that prevents leaders or church and local institutions to look for resources in their own community. When money is easily available from the outside the motivation to develop a local funding base declines.

The transfer of psychological ownership of churches, ministries and projects is absolutely essential for breaking away from unhealthy dependence. This is perhaps Schwartz's best point in the entire book. The real test of ownership is to discover whether anyone locally will step in if outside resources are cut off. If the answer is yes -- you have psychological ownership from local people. If the answer is no -- outsiders really own the projects/ministries/churches.

Would I recommend this book? I would not discourage you from reading it, but I wouldn't put it on my "must read" list.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Leading With Scarcity or Abundance

On my way to Austin, TX a couple of days ago I read an article on leadership in the July 2009 issue of Wired. Since I enjoy thinking about organizational development and leadership issues I found the article interesting -- especially the comments of the author about the "wastefulness" of nature and how our Western focus on efficiency seems to go against the way our universe operates (since I am Christian I would say how God created the universe to operate). At any rate, I found the chart that follows thought provoking. I've made a couple of adjustments to it and added some comments, but overall it follows the heart of the author.

Scarcity Management
  • Everything is forbidden unless it is permitted. This inhibits innovation and creativity so that in "brainstorming" sessions with management one often hear the words "can't", "that's not the way we do things", etc. Non-management personnel rarely even suggest new ideas or concepts.
  • Paternalism. Management knows what is best for the organizations or for clients.
  • Plans are focused on Business Models. All new plans need to be presented with a business plan that details how this will create more profit, be more efficient, etc. Everything must be planned out in advance -- as if we know what the future holds.
  • Top Down Decision-making Process. Decisions are made by top management and leave little room for those who are not "the deciders" in how to implement the vision, goals and objectives of the organization. Few innovations are ever adopted. To see the long-term results of this, just check out what is happening at General Motors.
  • Command and Control Organizational Structure. As much as possible is centralized in a small group of people. The job of everyone else at the organization is essentially to follow the commands of "the deciders" who have a tendency to micro-manage. One of the results of this kind of structure is the inability of the organization to keep entrepreneurs, innovators and creative people.
Abundance Management
  • Everything is permitted unless it is forbidden. Innovation, creativity and entrepreneurs thrive in this kind of organization. New ideas are encouraged, new products and services developed and growth explodes.
  • Egalitarianism. The customers know what is best. Those working on the frontlines know what is best. Listening is a hallmark of this kind of organization. The best ideas often come from those lowest on the totem pole.
  • Be Prepared. Preparation is more important than planning -- since in the 21st century it is difficult to plan or tell the future. Preparation for organic growth is more important than planning. Positioning is crucial. The plan is developed as the organization grows and takes advantages of new opportunities.
  • Bottom-Up Decision Making. Once everyone is committed to the vision, values and principles of engagement of the organization, decision-making is pushed down as low as possible on the corporate ladder. Strategies and tactics are largely determined by those doing the work -- as long as strategies and tactics are consistent with organizational vision, values and principles.
  • Organizational Structure looks a lot more like a web than an organizational chart. People at all levels of the organization are invited into the decision-making process. Less command and control -- more flexibility and chaos. More like dis-organized organization.
There is much that could be said about these two models. Both have strengths and weaknesses that have to be addressed. Some people are more attracted to the first model -- others to the second.

In the Christian world, denominational structures may more often than not look more like the first model. Youth With A Mission (YWAM) looks more like the second. It is my belief that organizations who want to thrive and prosper in the 21st century must look move to an Abundance Management style.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Quitting Church

The link below is to an interesting interview with Julia Duin, the religion editor of the Washington Times about the future of the evangelical church in North America.

Whether or not you agree with her conclusions or her analysis, this interview is worth reading and contemplating the content.

Quitting Church

I'd be interested in your thoughts. Feel free to comment.

Monday, January 05, 2009

What Do You Want To Do?

During the past two days I have had two significant conversations that brought to mind something I hadn't thought about for a long time. What came to mind is the following statement.

Do you want to build a big church (or organization),
or do you want to change the world?

I am convinced of the following. If you focus on building a big church or organization you will rarely if ever actually change the world -- because the primary question you will ask yourself is - will this help me grow my organization or church. If that is your bottom line, you will do those things that grow your church or organization whether or not they change the world.

HOWEVER, if your bottom line is -- I want to change the world -- then the size of your organization/church becomes irrelevant and you will primarily do those things that will actually change the world. At the same time, you may or may not, grow your organization.

Everything in the west pushes us to grow bigger churches and organizations. I used to go to large conferences for pastors and church leaders. When you met new people, within 5-10 minutes you would get the "a-b-c-" questions -- attendance, buildings, cash. In other words, people wanted to know how many people came to your church, what facilities you had, and what kind of budget you had. THEN, after establishing those 3 things, they knew where you stood in the pecking order. The larger your attendance, the better your buildings and the bigger your budget, the higher you were in the church leadership pecking order.

NOBODY, ever asked me how our church was changing the world. The result of these conferences and much of the church in the west is clear -- lots of people, attending church in beautiful buildings giving lots of money to get more people to come to church in even better equipped and bigger buildings. BUT, has the world changed?

My suspicion is that if we focused on doing what changes the world -- standing up for righteousness, for justice, for the poor and the oppressed, for the orphan, the widow, the disenfranchised -- for those Jesus focused on -- the world would be a different place.

The trouble with focusing on changing the world, is that we may never build big churches or organizations -- and we may never become well known or famous -- or rich.

Instead, God's kingdom may come, and His will may be done on earth as it is in heaven.

My commitment in 2009 is to invest my time, resources and energy into changing the world -- whether or not it results in a bigger ministry or fame or fortune.