Barlows In Birmingham

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.

For the past several months, I have been immersed in the discovery of how basic coaching skills can be applied to my work with Encompass World Partners. Of course, we are not referring to a basketball or tennis coach, but the more primary definition of someone who comes alongside another to bring out the best in him or her. Coaching at its heart is about listening to the coachee, exploring other perspectives, and helping the coachee to follow through on action steps that he or she owns (very little direct input from the coach).

Through Skype and GoToMeeting, I have connected with a group of ten coaches across the globe. Each of them connect with at least one other colleague on a regular basis, to help each coachee implement the ministry action plan.

At the end of July, we gathered together in Atlanta to compare notes, get better acquainted, and refine our skills through input from Keith Webb, a renowned coach trainer. Others came along to explore their potential as future coaches.

In the weeks to come, I will seek to imbed the idea of coaching deeper still in the fabric of who we are as an organistaion and how we function. These are exciting days, as I continue to learn more about coaching and help others to do likewise, all with the goal of our collective effectiveness and fruitfulness in what we do. Good stuff!


Tom's Blog

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