Walking by this week

By Nick Wright

I have been deeply challenged this week by an incident that happened to my colleague Jasmin in the Philippines. As she was getting off a minibus, she glimpsed a young boy trying to scrape an income guiding cars into parking spaces. The heat was overwhelming. The boy sat down exhausted, looking weak and unwell.

In the midst of COVID-lockdown, I’d have sensibly walked away. Instead, Jasmin walked over to him, spoke gently and reached out to touch his face. His skin was burning with a fever. She urged him to stay there while she rushed to find medicine, food and drink. When she returned with the supplies, she also gave him enough money to cover what he’d have earned in two weeks so that he could rest and recover. She helped him onto a minibus home. The boy looked up at her, a stranger. He couldn’t speak; he only cried.

When I asked Jasmin why she took such a risk, she said, quite simply, ‘I imagined how I would have felt if I was that teenager.’ She couldn’t bear to leave him alone, so very sick. She gave what little she had so that his family would not become destitute. To me, she lived out Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan.

This week, when we come across someone in need, let’s ask ourselves:

  • How are they feeling?
  • How can I help?

More stories about Jasmin in the Philippines by Nick Wright can be found here.

See, I am doing a new thing!

By Elaine Vitikainen

Every beginning of the year, Isaiah 43:19 speaks to me. Last year, I wrote a Weekly Thought about this verse too. However this year, this verse spoke to me very strongly. There is indeed a great longing inside of me for a real change to happen. I’m thankful that 2020 ended. 2020 didn’t perform as well as I expected. I realised during my review of the year that I was very much affected by the pandemic. It was a very frustrating year. I heard many distressing stories, not just from far away but from friends who were directly affected by COVID-19. 

Although, I can’t honestly say that I’m full of hope for 2021, that things will get back to normal, that we will take back our lives. However, there are things that I’m really looking forward to. I’m really looking forward to something new to spring up and becomes alive as God intended it. I would like to allow God to make a way for me in my present reality, and to quench my longings for a new beginning and a better year. There is hope and I’m actually looking forward to what 2021 will bring because I’ve come to realise that whatever good things that will happen in 2021 are founded on the experiences of 2020. All I went through last year will strengthen this year. And I’m thankful that amidst all the changes, my God is the same, yesterday, today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8) I’m constantly reminded to take my eyes off COVID and fix my eyes on what God is doing. (Hebrews 12:2)

How was your year 2020? What are your hopes for 2021? 

Have a blessed New Year. 

Re-considering 2020 as ‘pure joy’? Seriously?

By Rick James

2020 has certainly been an awful year for many of us. How many times have I asked myself ‘When will we get out of this?’ or ‘How can I get out of this?’ Maybe these are the wrong questions. Perhaps I should be asking ‘What can I get out of 2020?’

I often wonder what those strange verses in James 1 mean. He exhorts us to:
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,  because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything”.

I don’t think this means I have to consider the trials themselves as pure joy, but if they produce perseverance and maturity then perhaps what comes out of them is net gain. Dealing with any suffering takes perseverance, preferably with the support of others around us. We may realise we cannot solve this problem, we cannot fix things. For many of us this is tough to take. And our response is almost passive, allowing God to “Let perseverance finish its good work in you”.

2020 hold the possibility of being a profound turning point in many ways. It could prove a transformational time in our personal relationship with God, in our relationships with others and in our leadership. Our dashed hopes this year may reveal what we actually put our hope in. As our idols come into the light we may be better able to let them go. 2020 can lead us to an appreciation of life, restored relations with those around us, recognising personal strengths we did not know we had and realisation of new possibilities. Such post-traumatic growth can be considered as pure joy.

Looking back on 2020 reflect on:
What has God been trying to do in me in 2020?
What is 2020 revealing about you? What idols or attachments have come into light?
What has God been trying to do through me?

Becoming a ‘non-anxious’ presence

By Rick James

2020 has locked many people, organisations and even societies into a downward spiral of anxiety. Many of the things we relied on, can no longer be taken for granted. Many of our ways of working, our programmes, our jobs and even our organisations themselves are at risk. A low-level fear is endemic. The only way to break the spiral of anxiety is the introduction of a ‘non-anxious’ presence. That is the role of leaders today.

Leadership theory agrees. When Bain and Co asked the question ‘What makes a leader inspiring?’ they concluded: “one trait matters more than any other. It is centredness: the ability to remain calm under pressure, empathise, listen deeply and remain present”. (Garton, 2017, HBR).

Not surprisingly, the Bible was there first: Colossians 3:15 says:

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.”

Only as we create space to allow the peace of Christ to rule in our hearts we can become the leaders – the centred, non-anxious presence – that people around us need today.

  • But how do I genuinely ‘let the peace of Christ rule in my heart? What is currently ruling?
  • This week what can I do to enable me to receive this gift of peace?

Love in conflict

By Elaine Vitikainen

Why are personnel conflicts so difficult to handle in a Christian organisation? A former colleague often said how much easier it was to deal with conflict when he was working with a secular organisation. Some cultures make it even harder to handle conflict positively. I was born and raised in the Philippines and have always been taught to overlook mistakes and avoid conflict as much as possible.

I was recently part of an organisational assessment process. Some real issues of conflict were surfacing. An individual spoke up, saying, ‘We should stop talking about this now and simply love one another’. The others assented saying, ‘Yes, this is what God commands us’. While loving one another is what Jesus requires of us, how is love best expressed in a situation of conflict? How many conflicts have gone unresolved because we don’t talk about it? Do we too easily sweep conflict under the rug using the excuse of love? Sometimes it is more loving to try to resolve conflicts rather than pretend they are not there.

In my experience, when a conflict is not properly resolved or understood, it comes back and hunts us down. It is not easy to talk about conflict, but in the long run it may be good for us. If we do not share our feelings of hurt, frustrations and disappointment with others, bitterness and hatred can set it. But when we deal with conflict in Christ-like manner, allowing grace to overflow, we will experience peace and reconciliation. It is important for each of us to be able to confess, to repent and to be reconciled rather than to keep unspoken conflict inside us. In this way, we can be healed and restored; we can learn from the conflict. Dealing with conflict enables us to become more healthy and effective as organisations.

This week:
Are there conflicts in your organisation that need to be resolved? How will you resolve them?

Measured on trust

By Rick James

Most metrics we use to measure leadership are misguided. Hopefully 2020 will rid of ridiculous notions that leaders should be judged on measures such as annual income raised or numbers/members attending. Otherwise, every leader will be a major failure in 2020, through no fault of their own.

It has become even more obvious in this crisis year that what really matters with leadership is whether people trust them. This is even more than the decisions they make. Trust is therefore a much better metric of leadership performance. Trust is certainly not the same as popularity, but involves judgements we make, often subconsciously, about whether: 

  1. Leaders listen well and genuinely understand others’ realities. Do people feel that leaders are ‘on their side’?
  2. In the face of such uncertainties, leaders have the courage to take difficult decisions. Are leaders willing to experiment with new initiatives, willing to try and fail and quickly adapt?
  3. Leaders are assured enough of their own identities to be open, vulnerable and OK with not having all the answers. Are leaders looking after their own spiritual, mental, emotional and physical health enough to be consistent and reliable?

While we cannot control how much people trust us, we can control our trustworthiness. 

So this week, which of these three areas can I work on to increase my trustworthiness?

Finding a critical friend

By Elaine Vitikainen

“Leadership is so hard” I said to myself. I was reading the whiteboard in the meeting room. The last group had obviously been discussing leadership traits. The list went on and on. As I studied the long list of seemingly impossible demands, I wondered which of these traits are necessary and which ones are extras. I realised that perhaps one of the most important traits of a leader was not even on the list…

It is the ability to come to grips with his or her own flaws. It is only through accepting their own limitations that a leader can depend on others. Leaders who understand their limitations will tend to look for the potential of those he or she works with.

We all need people who encourage us and affirm us. We all enjoy positive feedback. But more precious still are people who will be honest with us about where we are failing. Leaders need people they can trust to give them honest feedback, however uncomfortable. Without such people, leaders will not see their blind spots. They will lose their humility. Their growth will be stunted.

This week:
– Who do you trust to give you honest feedback?
– How aware are you of your limitations? What are you doing about it?

The Cracked Cistern

By Steven Wetton (www.gcf.org.za)

I woke up today feeling drained and empty, dreading having to drag myself off to the office after the weekend… Why does my work leave me feeling like this? Why is my motivation so low? Is the sense of doing good not enough?

I wonder if the answer lies in where I get my refreshment. Jeremiah 2:13 says:
“For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living water, and they have dug their own cisterns— broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”

Maybe I have been trying to drink from a cistern of my own making, a cracked and broken cistern of reports, outcomes and results that cannot hold water and leaves me dry, empty and drained.

I’m reminded that I need to drink my fill from the ‘fountain of living water’, the true source of life – a source that is fresh and pure and renewed every day. To allow him to renew me for the days and weeks ahead, I need to make time to spend with God every single morning.

Looking to the week ahead, how will you ensure you are receiving refreshment from the fountain of living water each day?