Coach training, Congo update

Monday I spoke with Jacques Luwaku, one of the trainees from a class I led in Kinshasa last September with Charles Buller and Jeannette Buller Slater. Jacques (pictured, in the middle of three men seated behind the table) works with Leonard Kiswangi (pictured, seated to my immediate left) at the Kinshasa office of African Enterprise, an international organization based in South Africa, and also pastors a congregation in Kinshasa.

Jacques said, “I’m going to give you a coaching testimony. Recently, I got a call from a young husband in my church (and he filled me in on their positions, the wife is in the women’s council, I missed what the husband’s position is, but these things are culturally important in Congo, everyone has some position or title) and the man said ‘No, pastor, my wife and I, it’s not working out, we are just going to get a divorce.’ (Jacques did not say what their dispute was about.) So I called the husband back, and I called the wife, too, and I said, ‘No, I don’t have any counsel to give you. But I have a question for you. If I asked you to give counsel to another young couple who was thinking about getting a divorce, what would it be? What should they do? Get divorced? Or stay together? Please reflect on that together, then you tell me.’ and they called me back later and said, ‘No, pastor, really, we’ve thought about what advice we would give; we’re going to stay together.’ They solved their own problem, they have walked away from the door of divorce. When I am coaching, I am second, and they are in charge.” Jacques went on to say that he hadn’t had to stress out about it and was glad to see the couple find their own solution.

I felt excited for him. I told him, “But Jacques, you didn’t even use the Panic Technique.”

“What? The Panic Technique? Oh, no,” he laughed, “I did not use the Panic Technique.”

It’s gratifying, and that’s an understatement, to see that the training we did in Congo last fall is bearing fruit in very real ways. Coaching saves marriages.

This story is shared with Pastor Jacques’s permission.

I continue to coach Jacques occasionally, pro bono, with your support. It seems like a good time to remind my readers that if you’d like to support our work in developing nations, training leaders like Jacques Luwaku to use coaching techniques, you can do so at Evergreen Leaders. All contributions are tax-deductible.



Congo: recent trip brings me full circle

I didn’t set out on this journey to become a life coach with a specific direction of coaching missionaries or impoverished pastors in Africa, or training coaches for cross-cultural work. It would have been around this time of year, in 2007, that I took my first short training course in coaching. Eight years ago (I was 33 years old) I don’t know that I had any solid concept of target market. Maybe I still don’t. Along the way I’ve coached entrepreneurs in the arts in the USA. I consider myself one of those (as a novelist). I’ve coached some business people who were working on figuring out or honing their life purpose. I’ve worked with people from quite a few different walks of life in the USA and now I’ve worked with clients or trainees in well over a dozen other nations, too; I’ve worked with people on every continent except Australia. I’ve even coached some penguins. (That’s not true, but if you know any professional hockey players in Pittsburgh who need a life coach have them give me a call.)

That’s not to brag about my cross-cultural exploits; in fact, the point is that it wasn’t really where I saw this whole thing heading at all. I hoped that I would coach some business people in North America at rates that would provide a lifestyle of beyond-adequate means, and that it might mean I could also afford time and energy for pro bono work; I hoped for a nice mix. That hasn’t happened, and at this point I don’t particularly anticipate that it will. It appears that I have come full circle so that the most formative part of my youth leads into the most impacting part of my life as an adult. Which makes complete, logical sense.

Showing up at MPH Guesthouse in September of 2015 was really not so much different than showing up there in June of 1987. I mean that in the physical details of the place much was the same. The open, central dining room with balcony looking over it from all four sides, from the second floor where most of the guest rooms are, the walled-in garden sprawling out behind the building with fruit trees (the mango trees probably a bit bigger than they were) and a tennis/basketball court (much more dilapidated). Everything still in the same place, comfortable in the way a church campground often is in the States. A world unto itself, a place for rest and retreat. A bubble. A place to put outgoing mail for friends in the USA, where strangers might take it by plane and deliver it to a mailbox leading to a functional postal system.

But more telling is the condition of my heart. When I arrived in Kinshasa, Zaire in 87, everything smelled foreign. Back then, it was still quite common for US Americans to embark upon missions as a lifestyle with intent to give decades of service to learning a local language and enmeshing their lives within the context of a village somewhere. We called it living a life of service, we called it living for the sake of the Gospel, we called it becoming a career missionary. But that whole idea was foreign to me, as was Zaire itself, because by the age of 13 one does not think one’s parents are career missionaries. One thinks one’s parents are exactly whatever they have been in the past; with any stability at all from one’s parental experience, one expects the stability to stay just as it is: stable. I wanted stability, not foreignness; but lapped up the experiences like a drunken boxer: slightly off kilter, just ready enough for the punches that they’d only spin me around again, rather than knock me down. A dizzying time, heady. Perhaps one might say I’ve never been completely stable since that moment we got off the plane in Kinshasa, 1987. The bubble that was MPH Guesthouse was our first stopping point, and while still a bubble, it was a bubble floating upon a foreign liquid, and when it popped, it was the last vestige of life I’d known.

As adults we learn that life is not at all static. We see places go through transformation, we see people, as well, who’ve transformed. I have a friend who kicked his alcohol habit and became a pastor. I know people who have gone through nasty divorces; some are the better for it, others still reel with the pain and devastation. Nations change too. In the USA we had the formative moment for our generation 14 years ago this month, on September 11, 2001; so formative, even, that in many ways we think of events during the span of our lives as either before or after 9/11. In Kinshasa they had their moments too — on several occasions Congo’s unpaid soldiers went on looting sprees, the first one was on 9/23/91, 24 years ago this week. Kinois, (as the residents of Kinshasa are known) still remember those days; they lived through several lootings and none of them are remembered fondly. Luckily or by the grace of God, MPH Guesthouse was not looted and remains a place of stability in the midst of relative chaos. By the grace of God, I, too, was not devastated by people or events and still stand to take on what comes next.

Now it seems that our most formative experience in our youth is often the most valuable in our calling, as we discover many years later. To be able to stand in that place where cultures collide and create, even if for an hour, some sort of bubble where people can find refreshment, is to consider my life as a cross-cultural coach is to think of myself in some ways as a living embodiment of the MPH Guesthouse itself: I create space where people who work cross-culturally can come for a moment of reflection, retreat and can prepare to go back out and take on what comes next for them. The reality is that we still have people going to live cross-culturally. Maybe we’re not sending people in the same way we did in the 1980’s, but it still happens. I have close friends about to leave for Central America. Long term. They are rarer birds, perhaps, in a jungle increasingly cut down as the world gets smaller and as people increasingly find reasons to stay where they are, but … these rare birds will need a sanctuary.

And then, too, more people are going into cross-cultural missions from homes outside the USA. The church I visited 8 days ago in Kinshasa was preparing to send a missionary to a country in northern Africa. We haven’t stopped working cross-culturally. In fact, with the advent of the Internet, we’re more able now than ever to work in cross-cultural contexts. The bigger danger is the temptation to retreat to the Internet when we wish we were at home (something I could not have dreamed of in 1987). But the Internet is not a Guesthouse; at least, not unless it is the vehicle taking you to an intentional conversation with somebody who works within your support community.

As for me, I’m making my peace with the idea that I’m a cross-cultural coach, that my calling is to work in primarily pro bono settings and that this is effectively exactly what I was designed to do, from the moment I set foot in MPH Guesthouse in 1987 until now. Coming full circle includes a recognition that the need is there, that indeed I’m already busy with it, and that it is worthy of support in its own right.

Congo: September 7. Day 1 of Training

This morning was full of what trainers do before a training. We set up the room, taking care to think about how to arrange tables and chairs and presentation area.

When we were done, I laughed, because in the States, I knew that the size of the room (maybe 10’x25′) vs. the number of people attending plus trainers (16) would be considered a tight squeeze. Feedback after the training would tell us to find a bigger room, if we were in the States. I’ve had that happen with about the same amount of people in a room twice as big.

At supper last night a missionary was telling a story about how he was on a bus sitting in a row with three chairs, and six people (one of whom was an obese mama who wanted her little boy to sit on the missionary’s lap). People are used to crowding into smaller spaces here, and our arrangement will be more than adequate.

We pulled tables out of storage that had a thin layer of dust on them, black as charcoal. I mean, black FROM charcoal dust in the air. One of the helpers at the Guesthouse (maintenance man) cleaned up the tables.

Charles, Jeanette and I had a long conversation about how to conduct the training. We’ve been circling for weeks, and we finally have a plan — for the first two days. I’ll be presenting Tuesday afternoon; Charles has everything up to that point. It’s now about 1:30 and our trainees are due to arrive in about half an hour. We’ll be sharing our room with Jacques, so we tidied up before he arrives (we had crap splayed all over the place). Grabbed a power bar and some jerky for lunch: our meal plan includes breakfast and supper today, the rest of the week only breakfast and lunch. We are pretty much foregoing one meal each day so that we are eating when the trainees eat.

I still haven’t changed any US dollars for Congolese Francs. I will probably ask Jacques to go with me this afternoon to help me change money. I want to buy some roasted peanuts to have in our room and I’ll need some Francs for that. I’ll probably pay Jacques 1000 Francs to help me change $20, which is to say he’ll get about a 5% fee. I brought 10 baseball caps I’ll give him and ask him if he wants to sell them. An opportunity to clean our closet results in some income for my brother…

IMG_2371 hibiscus.


Training off to a good start. The trainees trickled in from 2 PM until maybe as late at 5 but eventually everyone was here. Tonight my brain is a little like that egg on drugs. Scrambled. I’ve been using my French at my max capacity all day and I can’t even speak anymore this evening without jumbling my words up. Jacques has joined us and I spoke with him for a while here in our room, but eventually I had to tell him I just can’t speak anymore French today. The reality is I’m actually getting along pretty well and I’ve been asked before if I can coach in French. I think I might say next time “yes” because really I feel like if I can follow someone’s accent I should be able to handle 95% of the vocabulary. We’ll see about that later. Perhaps if I coach one or two of these guys after I go home a few times we’ll see how that goes.

We had an interesting conversation about the word “accountability” and its French counterpart. Accountability has usually had a negative connotation in English, but the French word we’re using does not have that. I’m glad for that.

I watched the guys eat at supper. There are some hungry trainees here. I know these guys, who are mostly pastors, are probably feeding others before they eat. Or they may not have eaten all day! I was glad they had a place where they could really chow down. I thought we’d get Congolese food tonight, but instead we had a very American meal indeed: spaghetti (which the Congolese call macaroni) and meat sauce, garlic bread, salad. Supper was really important. Really, tomorrow we are offering to feed them lunch. There isn’t money in the budget for supper so I won’t be eating supper either. We brought some granola bars and jerky and that’s going to be our supper for the next three days. Food is important here. Really I thought that Robert could have eaten twice as much spaghetti. The dude is hungry. Here in the middle of training, guys are hungry. I mean it can permeate your thinking in a way most of my readers aren’t used to. So I’m praying that our lunches will be robust and that they’ll really carry us through the afternoon and evening training sessions.