Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Values 1 of 3

“Values” are demonstrated in behaviors. Leaders 4 Life has three main values: 1) preaching the gospel and building the church; 2) leadership; and 3) expertise. Below is an explanation of the first of these three, along with a few additional aspects which flow out of this first value. 

First Presbyterian Church, Freetown

·         Preaching the Gospel & building the Church – We preach the gospel. It is the only thing which can remedy the basic problems of humanity by changing the human heart. We build up the church. The church is the vehicle which God has ordained to bring redemption to the world. Out of this value flows the following traits …
o   Prayer – Prayer is woven into who we are and into everything we do. We cannot produce true and lasting transformation without God’s help, so we pray.
o   Discipleship – The “Great Commission” of Matthew 28:19 does not prescribe evangelism per se, but commands that we “make disciples.” The preaching of the gospel and the making of fully-committed followers of Christ is the essence of the church’s mission.
o   Compassion – We strive to be people who exude compassion and love in both our attitudes as well as our actions. We seek to be compassionate whether we are engaged in evangelism, leadership training, or providing clean water.
o   Responding to the Holy Spirit – Just as the Holy Spirit empowered and guided the early church (Acts 2), so we seek to be sensitive to the Spirit, submitting to His leading and relying upon his power. This means we submit our plans to the Spirit but we are also flexible enough to capitalize on un-planned for, Spirit-led opportunities.
o   Integrity – Integrity (honesty, truthfulness, uprightness) is basic to the Christian faith as well as to the running of any organization. Integrity instills confidence in those who partner with us. Unfortunately, corruption is rife in Sierra Leone. The lack of integrity in some charities also causes mistrust. Therefore, we seek to be transparent in our dealings, especially with our finances, and we refuse to participate in bribery or corruption of any kind (Exodus 23:8; Deuteronomy 16:19). In addition, we seek to have integrity in dealing with the vulnerable, especially children.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


             Our mission statement: “To provide access to the highest caliber leadership and expertise in the world in 4 areas—spiritually, physically, socially and intellectually—in order to transform local communities in one of the most challenging places on earth.”  

The Cotton Tree has been a national symbol of freedom in Sierra Leone since the late 1700's.
             Our mission is to create life in Sierra Leone by providing access to leadership in 4 areas: spiritually, physically, socially and intellectually. Jesus addressed these 4 basic aspects of humanity in Mark 12:30, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart (social) and with all your soul (spiritual) and with all your mind (intellectual) and with all your strength (physical).” We believe, therefore, our mission is not complete unless it is holistic, addressing each of the basic facets of humanity.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011


            Our vision statement: We exist to create life-giving Christian leaders and to transform local communities in one of the most challenging places on earth.   

            Simply put, the vision of Leaders 4 Life is to bring heaven to earth in Sierra Leone—to bring God’s goodness, peace, truth and healing to this country. We want to bring high-caliber Christian leadership and expertise to bear upon one of the most challenging situations in the world. We exist to create life-giving Christian leaders in Sierra Leone. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Scriptural Justification

            Why should Christians be concerned about a country like Sierra Leone? What does Scripture have to say regarding mission work to such a country?
            A first justification for such mission work to Sierra Leone comes from Scripture’s numerous statements about the believer’s responsibility towards the poor. For example, God’s people are to care for the poor through charitable provision (Leviticus 19:10) and through providing justice to those who are defenseless due to their poverty (Leviticus 19:15). God’s ideal is that there be no poor among His people (Deuteronomy 15:1-11), and the early Christians demonstrated this by sharing their goods with one another so that no one was in need (Acts 2:44-45). Sierra Leone has consistently been ranked among the poorest of poor nations in the world. If ever these Scriptural commands concerning poverty applied to a nation, Sierra Leone fits the mould. 
            Second, one might simply note that mission work is the primary focal point of the early church. The church’s birth and its first efforts are rooted in mission. It is no accident that the stories about Jesus in the gospels are followed in the Christian Bible by the book of Acts: Jesus’ coming (and the coming of the Holy Spirit) gives birth to the missionary work described in Acts. The first leaders of the church—men such as Peter, Paul, James and Jude—were all missionaries, preaching about Jesus and his resurrection from the dead and planting churches. This is what the church in every age should primarily be about: the making of disciples of Jesus and the building up of the church. As such, the church should be putting its best and brightest on the mission field.
            One final instance from Scripture will suffice. In writing to the Corinthians who were confident in their own wisdom and strength, Paul explains God’s thinking on human power:
For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength. Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. (1 Corinthians 1:25-29)
Similarly, James writes that God has chosen the poor to be rich in faith (James 2:5-6). Jesus’ message is in fact good news for the poor (Luke 4:18-19). In short, Sierra Leone—humbled by its poverty and its civil war—is ripe for the gospel and for genuine Christian service. And, as the gospel takes stronger root there, one can be confident that Christians in this country have the potential to be very ardent and faithful believers. Indeed, our experience in the country has proven that there are some amazing Christians in the country, however small in number they may be.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Challenging Context of Sierra Leone

When starting a new venture it is crucial not only to assess your strengths, but also to take stock of the challenges and potential obstacles. But being wide-eyed about the obstacles can help us overcome them. The major challenge for Leaders 4 Life is the context in which we are called to work. It will take a Herculean effort to prevail in a place like Sierra Leone. Here's why ...

Corruption is rife in Sierra Leone and recent efforts to root out corruption in the government, army, and police force are slow-going. The main airport, Lungi International, is notorious for bribery and corruption. The infrastructure of the country was decimated during their 11 year civil war and it is only beginning to be rebuilt. For instance, although the war ended in 2002, consistent 24-hour electricity in the capital city of Freetown was only just restored in 2010 along with the city’s hydro-electrical plant being put back on track for completion. Roads are just beginning to be rebuilt so that travel remains slow and difficult. The postal system is notoriously unreliable so nothing can be mailed in or out of the country except by UPS, which is extremely expensive. Less than 1% of the people in Sierra Leone have Internet access, and it is one of the few countries left which is wholly reliant upon expensive satellite bandwidth. (The World Bank estimates that Sierra Leone pays 10 times as much as East Africa and 25 times higher than America for Internet access.)[1] Clean water is a substantial problem in the country (although bottled water is plentiful enough). Food is scarce as subsistence farmers struggle to obtain the skills, equipment and raw materials to improve their food supply.
            The rainy season in Sierra Leone—May to November—makes travel and construction slow and difficult. This large amount of water in the country is, however, also a potential resource for power, etc.
For many people, gathering firewood to sell is the only way to survive.
Unemployment remains high at 74%. Besides contributing to a depressed economy, such high unemployment is a potential threat because it has the potential danger of creating civil unrest. Many of the unemployed or under-employed are youth, and some of these youth are former child soldiers (an estimated 10,000 child soldiers were forced into military action during the war). Such frustration and “idle hands” among the country’s youth is a continuing security threat. 
            Sierra Leone has been consistently ranked near the bottom of the human development index for the past 20 years.[2] Due to the extreme poverty, the crime rate in Sierra Leone is very high with the most common being petty theft, burglary and muggings. Pick-pocketing is also common in highly populated areas such as the ferries or major city centers. More high profile crimes in Sierra Leone are drug and human trafficking. Along with Guinea and Guinea Bissau to the north, Sierra Leone is considered a “weak state” or a “narco state.” Drug traffickers from Columbia and other drug-producing countries in South America use these West African countries as hubs en route to Europe, often bribing airport officials to refuel and make their passage. In the process, drugs often filter into these countries themselves. Women and children are also often taken from the rural provinces of Sierra Leone and trafficked for the purpose of forced labor or commercial sexual exploitation.
Children at a school in Lungi.
            The effects can still be felt in the country from its history of colonialism and poor governance, leading to a brutal civil war. The education level in Sierra Leone is poor, with only a 40% rate of literacy among adults, 66% among male youth (15-24 yrs) and 46% among female youth (15-24).[3] Tribalism makes social cooperation, in general, difficult. The fair and equal treatment of women is also an issue. 
          The level of health in Sierra Leone is poor. Malaria and yellow fever are common as is tuberculosis and HIV. Polio is also present. Sierra Leone’s mortality rate for children 5 years old and under is the 5th worst in the world and the maternal death rate the 4th worst in the world.  
The tools of witchcraft for sale at the local market.
Secret societies and witchcraft remains prevalent religious influences in Sierra Leone, keeping the country in spiritual bondage. The practice of female circumcision related to such religious practices occurs in 95% of women in Sierra Leone and often creates health problems such as severe bleeding and problems urinating, and later, potential childbirth complications and stillbirths. 
             Sierra Leone is not an easy place to operate and initial progress may be slow. However, it is in light of such challenges that we have chosen our particular tactic. The first phase in building our L4L Communities addresses—at least on a small scale—many of the infrastructural challenges (more on this later). Later phases address spiritual issues such as corruption and witchcraft through the planting of churches with the preaching of the gospel; health challenges through the building of clinics; and tackle social and educational issues through the starting of orphanages and schools. The L4L Institute aims to raise the level of technical and leadership expertise (again, more on this later).

I don't know what kind of emotions are evoked in you when you read about these challenges, but I get an adrenaline rush thinking them. I get pumped because I dream about the day when Sierra Leone is rebuilt, revitalized, and renewed.    

[1] This situation will hopefully soon change; in 2011 Sierra Leone—with a grant of $30m from the World Bank—connected to a submarine fiber optic cable which will run from France to South Africa. See http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/10/10/sierraleone-fibre-idUSL5E7LA2W920111010 and http://www.theafricareport.com/201110105174258/reuters-feed/sierra-leone-gets-fibre-optic-link-to-internet.html: both accessed October 10, 2011.
[2] See the United Nations Development Programme’s statistics on Sierra Leone here,  http://hdrstats.undp.org/en/countries/profiles/SLE.html: accessed October 11, 2011.
[3] Statistics from UNICEF’s website, http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/sierraleone_statistics.html#77: accessed June 26, 2011. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Calling

Chris and Lisa Chandler had never heard of the West African country of Sierra Leone until one evening in 2001, when Chris watched a documentary on MTV in which a well-known Canadian rap group called the Rascalz traveled to Sierra Leone. The documentary explained that since 1991 the country had been embroiled in a bloody civil war between an emerging democratic government and rebels from Liberia and Sierra Leone. At a key point, Sierra Leone attempted to hold a democratic election. One candidate’s political slogan was, “the future is in your hands.” In an effort to derail the political process, rebels began performing forced amputations on people’s hands with machetes. This was brutal political warfare. (One woman--pictured below in the wheelchair--Chris met on a 2008 trip to Sierra Leone recounted how the rebels, “told me that I danced when the President was elected, and so they cut off both of my legs.”)
            The documentary also detailed the political struggle of this war: rebels terrorized villagers in order to gain control of the diamond mines in Sierra Leone because whoever controlled the diamond mines controlled the country’s wealth. It was during this time that many groups in the US and Europe began warning Westerners of purchasing “blood diamonds.” (The movies “Lord of War” with Nicholas Cage about the gun trade and “Blood Diamond” with Leonardo DiCaprio give some idea of what this country has been through.) If you keep up on international news, Charles Taylor—who not only trained rebels in these terror tactics but who also supplied rebels with arms in return for diamonds thus fueling the war—has been on trial since 2003 for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during Sierra Leone’s conflict.
Lisa's ring.
            The next day after watching the documentary, Chris asked Lisa if she would be willing to give up her diamond wedding ring to help the victims of war in Sierra Leone. She enthusiastically agreed. A calling and a dream was born. To date, Chris and Lisa have received 15 rings totaling 136 diamonds without ever asking for a ring or a diamond.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

True empowerment in Africa

In my last post I announced a new series of blogs and provided a summary of our mission work. In today's post, I want to address the issue of colonialism in mission work in Africa.

            The colonialism of the past caused big problems in Africa. When a Western power left an African region, it was often the case that an ill-equipped African leader came to power. Many of these leaders were simply not ready to lead. They had neither the character nor capacity to lead well. This often created chaos and/or corruption. (Witness Idi Amin of Uganda, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe or Charles Taylor of Liberia.) This dynamic has happened in government, but this also happens on a smaller (but no less important) scale in the realm of mission work. In Sierra Leone, missionaries of the past quite often led everything and nationals were given little responsibility. When Sierra Leone’s civil war broke out, many (but not all) white missionaries left and this created a leadership vacuum.
Bill Roberts (a missionary who did not leave during the war), talks with David Musa.
            The problem with a colonial style of leadership is that it is crippling, rather than empowering. Today there is much talk about “empowerment” in Africa. At the same time, however, people from the West are flocking to Africa to “help.” Are we really helping? If we’re still doing everything for Africans rather then helping create an environment in which they themselves lead, the problems will persist. Such help, while well-intended, often makes people dependent rather than creating ownership and an attitude of taking it upon their own shoulders when it comes to their countries, their hospitals, their ministries and take responsibility for the success or failure of these entities. We believe a better style of leadership, and one which is more morally responsible, is one which empowers others to lead. Leadership which is truly life-giving raises others up so that they are ready to lead. Needless to say, the style of leadership we promote is therefore diametrically opposed to colonialism.
            We speak of “experts,” often in the context of those we would like to bring to Sierra Leone from the West to teach or serve as leaders in their field. Its tricky to talk in such terms, since this can easily be misunderstood in colonial or paternalistic terms, as if those from America or Britain or Europe are morally or ethnically superior to Sierra Leoneans. Such a notion, of course, is a stench in God's nose since God values all people and is partial to none (Acts 10:34-35).
            We do recognize, however, that there is a high concentration of experts in the West upon whom to draw for resources. Our bottom line is that we draw upon the best, most qualified people—whether they are American, Sierra Leonean or otherwise—in order to build up and empower Sierra Leoneans who, generally speaking, currently have a low concentration of leaders and experts.

Meeting with established leaders Donald Manley and Emerson Thomas.
            Our motive and mentality, then, is to give to, encourage, and build up Sierra Leoneans so they can stand on their own two feet rather than take from, oppress or keep Sierra Leoneans dependent as forms of colonialism in the past have done (including evangelical missionaries).  Such empowerment creates dignity. I want those in Sierra Leone to be able to stand tall and be able to choose whom to partner with rather than being forced into dependence upon the charity of others. Creating such capable and confident leaders is true empowerment.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

New Series of Blog Posts

One of the most rewarding things for me as a leader is when I hear many of you get excited about what we're doing. I've also found that the more details you have, the more excited you become!

A couple of months ago, I mentioned that I have been working on our Strategic Ministry Plan (aka Business Plan). I want to share in bite-sized bits the main points of our plan with you: our calling to the country, the context of Sierra Leone, our vision, mission, values, our two main goals and a few other things along the way.

Worshipping in the village of Kenema
Today is the "executive summary" which gives a good overview of the plan:

            When pastor Chris Chandler asked his wife Lisa to give up her diamond ring to help the war-torn country of Sierra Leone, they had no idea where it would take them or what it would turn into. Over the next decade, God would develop leadership in them through a leadership mentor named Danny Golich and take Chris and Lisa to St. Andrews Scotland so Chris could obtain his Ph.D. in the New Testament. They would also visit Sierra Leone and build an extensive network of both nationals and expatriates engaged in ministry in the country.
            This team of three now has a powerful calling, a unique leadership style, a high degree of theological expertise, and an extensive network. Sierra Leone is an extremely challenging context in which to work. A desperately poor country before its 11 year civil-war, this conflict witnessed some of the most brutal atrocities in recent memory. The country is now devastated in its infrastructure, in dire need of healthcare, battered psychologically, behind in education and lacking in many other areas such as clean water. Through our nonprofit efforts based in Phoenix, AZ, we seek to breathe life into the West African country of Sierra Leone through our commitment to the gospel and our effective leadership philosophy.
            The aim of Leaders 4 Life, as our mission statement says, is “to provide access to the highest quality leadership and expertise in the world in 4 areas: spiritually, physically, socially and intellectually.” We will do this in two primary ways. First, through The Leaders 4 Life Institute we will bring experts from around the world in the fields of leadership, theological education, the medical field, and beyond. This Institute will also create a network of Christian organizations in the country to rally and focus existing efforts. Second, we will create Leaders 4 Life Communities throughout the country. We will work with locals to adopt communities, build a basic infrastructure for them, and then build a 4-fold community consisting of a church, a school, a clinic and an orphanage. Leading these communities will be high caliber leaders alongside nationals. But these expert friends are merely there to help; Sierra Leoneans will eventually lead these communities and continue to receive training from the Institute.
            There is a high degree of risk in a venture of this kind. It is a new concept in a challenging environment. But we are taking every precaution. We approach our work in Sierra Leone cautiously and prepared.  
            We believe that the current state of mission work in Sierra Leone can be much better, and we seek to make drastic improvements. By telling the inspiring story of our calling and telling of the amazing faith of Sierra Leoneans, by training people in our unique leadership style, and through training from the world’s leading experts, we believe we can prevail in Sierra Leone. 
Meeting the Chief with Victor and Tony

Friday, September 30, 2011


The name "Sierra Leone" dates back to the 15th century when a Portuguese explorer sailing down the coast of West Africa came upon the hilly coastline, heard the roaring thunderstorms over the mountainous peninsula, and described the place he saw as Sierra Leone--or "Lion Mountains" in Portuguese. Below is Sierra Leone's coat of arms depicting two lions as well as a picture I took of some mountains in Sierra Leone.  

Sierra Leone's Coat of Arms
Sierra Leone's hilly mountains in the background.
 We have often described the leadership concept of working in a team in terms of a lion pride (lion's always win because they work together), and one can appreciate the strong image of Jesus as the "Lion of Judah," so the concept of a lion's head for our logo was born! I'm really pleased with it and I can't wait to see this image multiplied in villages throughout Sierra Leone as a symbol of Christian service and transformation! Here's our new logo ...

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Baptizing "Leadership"

I remember the first time a Christian leader encouraged me to engage in the leadership skill of "networking." I was a bit shocked that this godly minister would suggest I participate in what I understood to be such a "worldly" tactic. But as I observed my friend, I noticed that he used his networking skills often to benefit and uplift others rather than himself. It was then that I became convinced that it was okay for me, as a Christian, to engage in networking. After all, I concluded, if my networking can help build up God's Kingdom, wouldn't that be a good thing? (This friend, by the way, is Bruce McNicol--a true networker and President of a ministry called Leadership Catalyst/TrueFaced).

Quite often I've gotten the distinct impression that--just as I had my hesitations about networking--many Christians are skeptical when they hear the word leadership. Such uneasiness about something which is usually associated with "business" is understandable. I've often heard people say, "a church isn't a business"--to which I reply, "yes and no." While the bottom line of a business is often to make money or even to contribute to society (with making a profit a mere by-product), churches and ministries often do have radically different goals than most businesses. Ministries feed the homeless, help orphans and widows, or preach salvation (hence the "non-profit" nature of what we do). But shouldn't these efforts be run as well as if not better than a business, especially if we ministers claim that our goals are among the most noble of efforts? Employees and volunteers in the church are managed just like in any organization. Shouldn't they be managed well? Each church is headed somewhere. Shouldn't a church set goals and regularly revisit them to maintain disciplined direction? Pastors perform multiple services for the church. Shouldn't they be evaluated on their performance so their weaknesses can be shored up and their strengths be accentuated?

Stained-glass window of St. Augustine reading.
The hesitation to adopt leadership practices within the world of ministry is understandable. But the church has had to wrestle with such issues before. In the first few centuries after Christ, many Christian thinkers struggled with how to handle the Greek philosophy so prevalent in their world (think "Aristotle" and "Plato"). Some rejected it altogether thinking the philosophers too pagan to be a good influence in the church; others embraced philosophy whole-heartedly, believing these pre-Christian philosophers to have discovered truth which Christians could build upon. It was the church leader Saint Augustine who finally provided a helpful way forward. Augustine said that just as the ancient Hebrews had plundered the Egyptians on their way out of Egypt, so Christians could "plunder" secular philosophers by carefully taking what is good and true from philosophy but rejected that which is bad or in error. 
Bill Hybels interviewing Jack Welch.
This same approach suggested by Augustine regarding secular philosophy can be adopted regarding modern leadership principles. Should the church uncritically appropriate "all things leadership"? Of course not. But can the church benefit from listening carefully to wise leaders--be they Christian or non-Christian, secular or sacred--taking that which is good and rejecting that which is bad? I believe so. I'm a fan of Bill Hybels and his annual Leadership Summit has been a great example of this. Each year the Summit hosts both church and business leaders. The speakers include Christians, agnostics, and even those of other religions. In the 2007 video below, Hybels does a great job of helping those who "get their underwear in a bundle" navigate the issue of appropriating leadership principles for ministry. Enjoy! 

Monday, August 01, 2011

A Plan

Over the past 2 months I have been writing up a Strategic Ministry Plan (Business Plan) for Leaders 4 Life. This past weekend our little team got together and poured over its 30+ pages. Although it still needs many edits and revisions before it's ready for public consumption, a basic plan has been written. 

Pastor Tony considers a space for a church which was never built. (Notice the cross to his left.)
 I've always known the "why" of Leaders 4 Life: in Matthew 28 Jesus commands his disciples to further his mission by making disciples of all nations, to carry on his work "to preach good news to the poor. ... to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor" (Luke 4:18-19). The "why" is that God has called us to carry on the mission Jesus began while he was on earth. But Jesus' vision is pretty broad and he also did a lot of specific things. So, within the overall scope of this mission of Jesus and the church, what should we--Leaders 4 Life--be about?

A well in Cambia.
Writing up a plan has helped us fine tune the "what" and the "how." It has forced us to think through exactly what it is we want to do and how, concretely, we might make it happen. Drafting it has been a good exercise for me. I've had to ask myself, "What do we really value?" and "How can we create something in an environment as challenging as Sierra Leone?" We've had to consider the differences in our own culture versus the culture in Sierra Leone. I've had to assess our strengths and weaknesses and set some goals. I've had to think through the "steps-before-the-steps" which we'll need to take before we can reach our goals, and I've pondered possibilities for our future. I've had to ask how we will get the word out about what we're doing and how to pay for what we do. And in all of this, our basic core commitments remain: a commitment to the gospel and the church, to leadership, to expertise, and to holistic ministry in Sierra Leone.
A school for children in Kenema.
No plan is perfect, but putting something on paper has already given direction for our team and created some excitement. It is our road-map, our compass. The writing process has helped crystallize things.

I won't bore you with the details here, but I will say this: the vision and mission of L4L flows out of who I am: a directionless young man from "sin city" with a radical conversion to Christianity, an amazing purpose and calling to Sierra Leone, a New Testament Ph.D. of high caliber, and a passion for high-level leadership.

More to come later ...

Leading 4 Life,

Friday, July 01, 2011

From the Gut to the Shoulders

In my last post, I talked about going with your gut. Just to be clear, going with your gut doesn't mean we rule out the Holy Spirit's work in decision making. But our responsibility in the process should weigh heavily upon us. Too often we blame God for our bad decisions. We say, "it must not have been God's will" rather than admit we've failed. We justify our decisions based upon "the Spirit's leading" instead of taking full responsibility for our choices. This leads me to today's post ...

If you want to be a leader, you must be willing to take the responsibility upon your shoulders. Although God empowers us, guides us, and gives us wisdom, he has also placed us in a position of responsibility and therefore it is our job to make it work right.

When I first started in full time ministry, I operated as if I was powerless to effect change around me. Rather than seeing the problem and the solution as residing within myself, I blamed my circumstances or I blamed others. I just wasn't being honest with myself. I meet people all the time who function like this. "Our seminar was a flop because of the venue on the other end." "The church service was flat because the crowd was dead." Or my personal favorite: "My child keeps getting in trouble because the teacher doesn't like my kid." On all accounts, What a crock! (Oops, did I say that out loud?) Are there circumstances which are genuinely out of our control? Sure. But more often than not, we can do something about it.

When you step into the arena of leadership, the responsibility rests upon your shoulders. Your organization, your department, your family is a reflection of you. "What about my boss?" someone might say, "he's difficult to work for." Someone who thinks this way should ask himself, "How can I make it work in my little world?" "But I've got lazy people working for me." Really? Isn't it your job to make sure you have people who do their job with enthusiasm and energy? Why settle? Make it happen.

If you are blaming everything and everyone else like I once did, Stop it! The day you stop complaining about your circumstances or the people around you and take it upon your shoulders to start creating change in your little world is the day you start leading.

In the 3 minute video below Ernest Bai Koroma, the President of Sierra Leone, reflects upon the country's rich natural resources and asks, "Why are we poor when we are not supposed to be poor? What are we doing that is wrong?" Perhaps some people in Sierra Leone are beginning to take the responsibility for their country upon their own shoulders ...

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Going with Your Gut

One of the core competencies of a leader is the ability to make wise decisions. Often times, the decision-making process is clouded by a host of relational issues: How will people look at me if I make this decision? Will I make friends or enemies? Frequently we become paralyzed by what may or may not occur as a result of the decision: How will this affect my career? Will I be promoted or fired? With so much riding on the choices you make, how do you make wise decisions, especially when the issues swirling around a decision can make your head spin?
It's been called listening to your intuition or following the blessed impulse. Most often it is affectionately referred to as going with your gut. It's an inner compass--a hunch, an inkling--based upon a mysterious mix of our beliefs, our experiences, and our conscience which gives us the ability to choose wisely. It's that innate ability all of us have to make choices without all of the facts or without knowing how a decision will affect the future. Leadership books and coaches talk about this idea. And while it's nice to learn about it, knowing about this concept in your head is miles apart from actually using one's gut to make a decision--especially a difficult one. Going with your gut on tough decisions can cause you to do a lot of soul-searching and can often be quite gut-wrenching!

Going with your gut is an art. The discernment it takes to make wise decisions doesn't come naturally. It must be developed. Sometimes we're right in the decisions we make and sometimes we're wrong. But through this decision-making process we learn from the choices we make--whether good or bad--and our instincts to make wise decisions are honed. When asked what one thing he would do differently if he could start his business career over again, long-time successful CEO of General Electric and leadership guru Jack Welch says he would act upon his gut instincts sooner.

When I was working on my PhD, I observed a process in which we doctoral students came to a point of saturation in our field and we felt competent to "hang" with the established scholars. We were no longer students: we were equals (if less experienced equals). It's the same when it comes to good decision-making. When you've been involved in enough decision-making situations to see the same patterns emerging over and over again, you start to feel less intimidated by the prospect of making a bad decision and more confident you'll make the right one.

I am slowly coming to grips with the fact that I feel comfortable with the decisions I make. In situations past, I've spent months wringing my hands before making a decision I knew in my heart of hearts was the best thing to do. I'm learning to make decisions quicker--to go with my gut sooner. And I'm also learning that going with my gut gives our team a renewed sense of energy and vigor and refocuses us on our mission, especially if we're bogged down in the decision-making process.

So the next time you have an important decision to make and you're worried about the social fallout, or you're experiencing paralysis by analysis, just dig deep into your heart and soul and honestly ask yourself what the best decision to make is ... and then just GO WITH YOUR GUT!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Sierra Leone's 50th Anniversary of Independence

This past Wednesday, April 27th, 2011, Sierra Leone celebrated its 50th year anniversary of independence from British rule. Sierra Leone has been making great strides forward in recent years. Here are two videos celebrating this, the second featuring the Sierra Leone Refugee All Star Band (whom we'll see in concert tonight here in Phoenix thanks to Chuck and Donna Riser!).

Following the videos are the words to a popular Sierra Leonean Christian hymn sung in Krio.

Tεl Papa Gɔd Tεnki

Tεl Am tεnki, tεl Am; Tεl Papa Gɔd tεnki
Tεl Am tεnki, tεl Am; Tεl Papa Gɔd tεnki
Wetin I du fɔ wi; Wi go tεl Am tεnki
Wetin I du fɔ wi; Wi go tεl Am tεnki
Tεl Am tεnki, tεl Am; Tεl Papa Gɔd tεnki

(In English ...)
Tell Father God Thank You

Tell Him thank you, tell Him; Tell Father God thank you
Tell Him thank you, tell Him; Tell Father God thank you
For what He does for us; we're gonna tell Him thank you
For what He does for us; we're gonna tell Him thank you
Tell Him thank you, tell Him; Tell Father God thank you

Just imagine what Sierra Leone could become in the next 50 years!

Friday, April 01, 2011


One evening in Sierra Leone, I had an interesting conversation with a guy who is in the diamond mining business there. Minutes into our talk, he learned I am a pastor and I learned he adheres to no religious beliefs in particular, although he is bothered by the poverty in Sierra Leone and tries to help where he can. After learning that I'm a pastor, he related his only other experience with a minister. Some years earlier, he told me, the high-profile televangelist Pat Robertson had come to Sierra Leone and convinced him to work in a program called "Jewels for Jesus." After a few tricks and slips, however, Robertson left my new friend high-and-dry, having stolen $40,000 in equipment from him and, needless-to-say, leaving a bad taste in his mouth for religious leaders. "We were sitting by a river eating MRE's [that's 'meal-ready-to-eat']," he recounted, "when Robertson complained about how bad the food was and flung his food into the river behind him." He was astonished that such a well-known religious leader would do this while sitting among a group of very poor children. Pat Robertson's business dealings with dictators in Africa in order to get rich off of Africa's diamonds and gold is not well-publicized in the West or in Christian news, although in 1995 Time ran an article about his dealings with Zaire's Mobutu in order to get gold (http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,982593,00.html). Robertson's business affairs with Charles Taylor in Liberia (who's soldiers taught rebels in Sierra Leone the tactic of forced amputations) in order to get diamonds is also not well publicized but is not unknown (http://groups.google.com/group/misc.activism.progressive/browse_thread/thread/e1ac779193b21dbd/a5426da333b2a822?lnk=gst&q=pat+robertson#a5426da333b2a822).

I sat around a table with a group of twenty or so Sierra Leonean pastors and told them our story of setting Lisa's diamond ring aside and how people had been giving us their wedding rings and diamonds to help. After the meeting, a wise friend told me that the history with Pat Robertson in their country would automatically create some skepticism towards what I am doing, since Robertson came only on the pretense of doing ministry when his real motive was to make money off of diamonds.

Wow. In a country scarred by civil war, with an unemployment rate of roughly 65%, a long history of government corruption, and to top it all off a well-known "Christian" televangelist who has burned the people of Sierra Leone in a big way, how can we build an enduring ministry? Only one word comes to mind: trust. It's that slow process of building trust over time as our friends in Sierra Leone get to know our character and integrity and we get to know theirs. We've got to get to that point where there is no "us" versus "them" but only "we."

As a leader, trust is not something you or I can manipulate or squeeze out of people. In fact, I have found that the more I squeeze the less trust I get out of a person. Trust is something that can only be given and received, but never taken.

I hope and pray I am modelling trustworthiness among my family and friends and those partners in ministry with which I work. I pray you are doing the same!

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Gadhafi's influence upon Sierra Leone's war

Vaclav Havel, leader of the "Velvet Revolution," talks about the revolution going on in N. Africa. This video also details how Gadhafi influenced the brutality demonstrated in Sierra Leone's war.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Work from the Center Out

In this post I want to discuss a leadership concept we refer to as working from the center out.

When a leader is starting something new or is trying to extend his influence, often times he will personally spread his influence and message as far and wide as possible and as quickly as possible. Seems like the logical thing to do, doesn't it? But at a certain point, this approach actually begins to diminish a leader's effectiveness and influence. In taking such an approach, we can become so busy gaining and maintaining a multitude of relationships that we actually gain little traction with any of them. Spreading the vision too far too fast can also create the added difficulty of attracting so many voices that a leader's own voice is in danger of being drowned out.

A more focused approach is to work from the center out. Rather than spreading the message far and wide with many people, you go deep and long with a few like-minded individuals. You build relationships and trust with a select team of people. This is a more difficult route to take and it's also much slower. But the results are worth it.

Rather than one leader spreading her influence by herself, a team extends its influence with one voice. One person can only go so far. But a cohesive team of people who create a web of cohesive teams, who in turn create more teams, has no limits. Rather than the leader's vision getting drowned out, it is preserved and passed on through this web of relationships. The difference between the two styles of leadership is a flash-in-the-pan impact versus slow, steady and sustained growth. It's the mushroom verses the oak tree.
How do you know when your core team is ready to extend its influence? A team is ready when the leader can hear his own voice in his team.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Lisa's Reflections on the Trip

We thought it might be helpful for everyone to hear Lisa's perspective on the trip, since many have been asking how it went for her. So here's a note from Lisa ...
I'm so excited to share with you my reflections on our recent trip to Sierra Leone! First off, the people of Sierra Leone whom I met were so warm and welcoming. When I would encounter a new person, I was often greeted with, "You are welcome! You are very welcome!" I had never been greeted in such a way and I genuinely felt welcome! This was evident to me again when we met a friend and pastor of Chris' in London, Victor Zizer, who greeted me, "Welcome! Let me welcome you to London!" We all laughed at the thought of a Sierra Leonean welcoming two Americans to Britain!
If you know me well enough, you know that my mind is a functional calendar. Dates, especially birthdays and anniversaries, are important to me because of the people represented by these special days. So I'm a bit conscientious when it comes to time and schedules. On the trip I had to grow in this area and learn flexibility when it came to being on time for things. (Although our driver, Abu, was always early!) So if we were delayed 30 minutes or 3 hours, I had to learn to wait--not easy for this time-conscious momma. That's why I said I'm growing and learning ... That being said, Chris and I stuck to our itinerary and accomplished all that we set out to do.

(We had to wait 2-3 days for the clothes to dry ... )

Schools--we were looking for options of schools for our children in Freetown and didn't come away with any viable options. Home-schooling is still being considered, of course, but please keep this covered in your prayers. Eventually, starting a school for orphans and educating our children (and the children of other missionary families who might partner with us) alongside them will happen, we just don't know how soon.
Chris has already mentioned our visit to the school at Mile 91 being a highlight and a perfect ending to our trip. As a mother, I saw such hope in these 53 students' lives. I even had the opportunity to stand before these students in their classroom and speak to them (yes, me!) and encourage them to persevere and never give up, not matter how hard it gets. I felt so proud to see these students fulfilling the dream of geting an education--something their parents never had the opportunity to do. I was overcome by emotion and teared up as I saw their hope-filled eyes and smiling faces.
(Lisa speaking to the school children at Mile 91.)

Both at Mile 91 and at the orphanage where we stayed I realized that dreams, a desire for a good education, and hope for one's future are universal. I heard stories from a few of the girls at the orphanage of how they wanted to help others after college (if they get the chance to go), such as being an advocate for women and children, or becoming a lawyer. The dreams of one 17 year old girl named Mabinty were striking to me. She aspires to be a gospel singer and wants to bring praise and glory to God through her voice! Christ's love exudes from her and the day we said goodbye to these girls, Mabinty asked if she could pray for us and our journey home.

(Lisa, Mabinty, Mamoud, and Dave.)

A lasting impression for me from this trip is that although so many in Sierra Leone live simply, without many material possessions, many are still full of joy and peace.

(Lisa with the girls at the orphanage.)

I will wrap up by saying this: I survived!!! Not the trip--that was the "easy part." Being away from the children for so long for the first time was the difficult part. Being away from the children was another growing and learning process for me. But I feel encouraged and in awe of the many friends and family coming together to support our family prayerfully, financially, and especially looking after our children while we were away. Thanks to all of you for your on-going support!

With love, Lisa