Barlows In Birmingham

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! - some love it, some hate it, few are left indifferent by it as it occupies a growing place in our daily lives.

For me, applications that allow group conferencing, face-to-face conversations across great distances, and free worldwide text messaging have radically changed - and I would say, improved - my ability to work with colleagues and acquaintances in much better ways. It is not unusual on a given day for me to speak with three colleagues in three completely different locations, some on the other side of the planet.

Sure, the technology is not always seemless - and that can lead to frustration. But the opportunity to see and speak with people spread across the globe at a moment's notice certainly is useful as we minister with a team spread thinly in many different places. It essentially allows me to rove around, without boarding a plane, train or automobile.

I will be the first to admit it is not perfect. In fact, I sometimes want to throw the laptop or table device out the window. But, at least at this juncture, the benefits far outweigh the inconveniences.

My most recent adventure was on the Isle of Iona. For years, I have wanted to visit this island - which has played such a key role in the spread of faith on the islands of Ireland and Great Britain, and well beyond. Iona has been inhabited for millenia, but in more recent history, the Irish monk St Columba settled the island around the 6th century A.D. From there, the Picts were reached with the message of the Gospel.

Using the word "adventure" is quite accurate, because the journey there is a bit tricky and weather-dependent. I had to take two trains, two ferries, and a 35-mile coach ride across the Isle of Mull which took more than 90 minutes. I had no certainty of reaching Iona as scheduled. The return journey had to be advanced by 24 hours, because a storm was brewing off the coast of Scotland - and everyone was fairly sure the Iona ferry would not be running. They were right!

I spent the week on Iona with two goals in mind. The first was to understand more about this misunderstood and under-appreciated period of Christian history. I discovered much and grew in my appreciation, but there was so much I didn't have time to see and visit. The other goal was to finish the first draft of a big writing project - part of which touches on the role of "foreigners" who come to a new area and bring significant transformation. That was certainly the case for St Columba and his band of Irish monks.

I don't know if I will ever get to the island again. The journey is unpredictable and somewhat daunting. But my hope is that some of the spirit of that island and its history will go with me wherever I am. Their desire to live the reality of life deeply transformed by God may seem to be "foreign," but it is something that many are searching for without even knowing it.


Tom's Blog

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