Congo Reflections Part 5: Liberty

The end game of leadership training in Congo is freedom.

This idea of “liberty and justice for all” we speak of in our pledge of allegiance hasn’t included people in our own country at all times, and it certainly hasn’t included Congo. I’ve addressed in earlier Congo Reflections posts the CIA meddling and even attempting assassinations in Congo. The arrogance of the idea that our military and covert ops ought to “protect our national interest” within the boundaries of other sovereign states is despicable to say the least.

But to focus on the positive: how does leadership training invite freedom in Congo?

Freedom, bravery and heroism are nebulous terms and the US Government, like most governments, control the message of those words. Facebook blew up in the past months with juxtapositions of (nee) Bruce Jenner against images of wounded warriors as examples of bravery. Jenner went through national criticism for the sake of his own comfort. But warriors themselves recognize that they serve a “national” interest driven by big government and (if possible, whenever possible) even bigger corporations.

This government, and these corporations, attract top level leaders, for whom money isn’t even the biggest attraction. It’s power. Power corrupts.

What is it to have a leadership style that lays down power and washes others’ feet instead? It is a leadership style that ultimately results in martyrdom, but its power ends up lasting much longer. Lumumba may have been, as I’ve mentioned, on his way to an absolute power, and who knows if it may have corrupted him? But I believe he was attempting to lead collaboratively – Congo for the Congolese, truly free from imperial influence. The cost was death. The Congo had a chance. The Congo deserves more chances at Liberty. The Congo needs leaders trained to give themselves up. An army of them. A horde. Not so that we invite them to die physically, though that may happen for some. But we invite a view of leadership that carries a vision of death to self. Death to self for a brother’s sake, Jesus said, was the greatest love a man could bear. That’s great leadership, and that frees the people. It is one of the greatest truths known to humanity.

This is truth that sets us free.

Help reverse the trend of imperialism and partner with my trip to Congo to train leaders here!


June 30 is the Last Day of my Kickstarter Campaign

I raise money for lots of projects, but I don’t use crowdfunding campaigns too often (the last one was in 2012). Today’s the last day of my campaign so I’m pulling out all the stops. I only need $412 now to complete it, so I’m 100% certain it will happen.

This project, a non-fiction book titled “The Art of Motivational Listening” is exciting because I get to bring what I have to share with the world, and it’s not a how-to book. It’s not listening-for-dummies. The essays I’ve been writing expound upon the art of listening as an art form — that means rather than talk directly about it, I’m using lots of metaphor to describe what I’ve learned in the last eight years. You don’t explain a poem or a joke directly or it loses its punch. To explain the art of listening requires the same finesse.

If you want a preview of the book, just peruse the archives on my blog. Some of the blog posts will be edited and others will be eliminated. Some of the content won’t see the light of day on my blog.

The campaign, which you can find here, ends at midnight, Eastern time, on June 30. Everyone who contributes will get at least one copy of the book.

Many thanks to those who’ve already pledged!

Being Fish in an Estuary

Walked into my local coffee shop. My friend was waiting, smiled at me through the window.

After we talked, I sat to write blogs. The internet makes almost everyone a tiny fish in a huge ocean. It’s easy to fit, just find the shoal where your kind hang out and join the school of thought as an equal.

The coffee shop (MY coffee shop, as I think of it) makes me a known fish in a pond where it doesn’t matter how big you are. In Goshen, you are an equal. You drink from the same pot of coffee at this shoal, where the common thoughts include “it’s raining here and now” or “it’s sunny here and now” and especially “it’s really good to see your smile, here and now.”

Later on, a guy walked in. Used to coach him years ago. He said his daughter will give birth any day. Wasn’t that the case last time we talked? Yes, it was! Good to see you. I’ll drop by your business next week, see what you’ve been up to.

Surfing the shoals of the internet from the estuary of my local coffee shop is the best of both worlds for a little fish. You get to be in a big ocean, surrounded by and impacting schools of thought where you’re wanted and appreciated. And you get to be in a smaller part of that ocean as well, where you’re appreciated for your smile and nobody cares if you’re big-time. Blogging from the coffee shop allows me to be an individual and a part of the crowd at the same time.  Neither are bad, both are needed for good balance.

The Main Resource for Listening

Keeping natural resources like lakes pure — and even in existence — requires leaving them alone to allow them time to replenish. You cannot dump trash incessantly or constantly siphon off water for irrigation without destroying the lake. One destroys the lake from within, and the other from without.  A lake has boundaries that cannot be violated without damage. There is a boundary for listening as well, and it is called time. If you fill all your time with junk activity, or allow all of it to be siphoned off — even for the sake of good activity — you will ruin it. Listening requires space for thoughtfulness. Thoughtfulness is NOT the same as thoughts. Thoughtfulness is a state of being, thoughts are only a byproduct. Spending time in thoughtfulness is rowing a boat and dropping nets as collecting thoughts is to gathering fish from a lake. Thoughtfulness is evaporating like the Aral Sea. Great listeners engage thoughtfulness and are therefore able to catch fish that might elude the speaker.

What is most important to you? That is where you put your time. There are things which can be done in a small amount of time. Put a load of laundry in the drier. Answer a text message. If listening is important to you, then you also need time for thoughtfulness. Not something done quickly to fit into your day with all the other tasks (because it won’t happen. Something else will invade it). Don’t pollute it, don’t siphon it all into canals, or there won’t be any water left. Give thoughtfulness the time it deserves if you value it. This time and the resulting thoughtfulness is a key resource for listening well.

Kickstarter Ending Soon

Dear Friends,

I’m hard at work on this book, a bit more every week, and I’m more and more excited about it as time goes on. Several of my colleagues have joined the project to collaborate with me; each time that happens I think this will only be a richer project.

There’s only 8 days left, so if you’re inclined to help, or to share this with someone, please do it now!

Congo Reflections Part 2: Hope

Congo doesn’t lack for spaces to grow food, catch fish; nor does it lack the natural resources needed for cottage industries. I’m not saying it’s not poor — I’m just saying it doesn’t need to be.

When I was in Thailand a few months ago talking with a couple missionaries, one said

–you will always have the poor with you,

and the other said

–yes, but that doesn’t mean they have to be hungry.

The idea to teach coaching principles in Congo is fraught with a variety of cultural pitfalls. One of the biggest challenges is translating a skill set for use by peers or equals into a society steeped in a tradition of hierarchical social structures. From the chief down; from the dictator down, from the bishop down, everyone has to be very careful what they say to those above them, and to preserve their status, also to those below. Creating an atmosphere of authentic sharing among brothers is a cultural challenge. Still, we hope that the ideas we can share in Kinshasa will give pastors a new paradigm, which leads to a new kind of accountability — one the leaders seek eagerly, rather than avoiding.

Yet even to say “This is what we think you need” has an air of arrogance about it. I know Africa in general and Congo in particular needs leadership. But I approach the gift of training pastors there with a great deal of fear and trembling. It’s humbling to be invited to provide something that holds out hope to such a hopeless place.

As we plan and prepare, I reflect more and more on the first experiences in Africa. I find my year in Zaire (Congo) 27 years ago the most difficult year of my life to write about. It’s not that I’m shy about the psychological and social challenges I faced as a boy, the culture shock that was the bedrock of forming my identity in adolescence, it’s just that this particular experience was so powerful. Perhaps it is the hopelessness that permeated it. I am not by nature hopeless. I will rise above, and so will Africa, one day.

What hope did a man have that he would journey 50 miles on foot with a silver French coin minted in 1853, saved who knows how many years in a secret place, to bring this anachronistic remnant of colonialism to try to sell it at our house? Hope that it may be worth some sort of fortune? And what happened to his hope when my father sent away to determine an appropriate value, and the man waited three months, only to find out that the coin might retail at $10 in the States, and was generously offered the equivalent in rapidly devaluing Zaires? To wonder if he was being robbed, as is practically traditional in an exchange. A large sum in a country where people earned a dollar or two a month on average, but certainly no great fortune. A disappointment, that European cash.

What hope drove people to journey from the forest, knowing there were “whites” in Wembo Nyama, hoping we might buy monkey meat captured three days before and dangling in the 88-degree heat and 95% humidity from the back of their bicycle, an entourage of flies, what disappointment when we didn’t take the microbiological risk on their delicacy?

And I will be delicate with you about the hopes of those with open wounds who traveled to our stoop hoping for a miracle cure. Some medicine or perhaps a treatment. Even a prayer.

There’s the thing. There are no miracle cures today for Congo. There is not enough wealth we can offer for antiques or delicacies that could heal this nation from the many ways it has been wronged, by Belgium, by the United States, by the United Kingdom, by Big Corporations, and even the leadership training we might provide this fall contains no miracle cure in itself. So how do we hold out hope that this thing is the thing? This Leadership, the idea of coaching? But I am not by nature hopeless.

When I think of Lumumba and two others executed with him, I wonder what America might have been if Washington, Jefferson and Franklin had been abducted and executed in 1778. But rewriting history in such a fantastic way is the stuff of novels. Rewriting the future is something we can still hope to do. Dream of a future with me where Congo leads central African nations to a new way of doing leadership that takes Africa back for the people. And when it happens, expect your cell phone to cost more because someone digging near Lubumbashi is getting paid a living wage. Dream of leadership and fair-trade electronics.

As of this writing, I still need $4,000 by August 1 so I can go to Kinshasa and offer hope, however small. That is a fortune in Congo, but it’s doable here. It’s a small amount, much smaller than the hope it offers; at least, the hope in my heart. Reach out to me at to know more about how to give.

Congo Reflections Part 1

You may need Google Earth handy…

Charles Buller, my former pastor, now with Africa Inter Mennonite Missions (AIMM) asked me to go to Kinshasa with him in August. Or September. Maybe October. “I can’t do November,” I said. The idea is to do some very basic coach training for Congolese Mennonite pastors.

I began reflecting on Congo (formerly Zaire) seriously when I went to hear Charles talk about his last trip to Congo, when he and a Congolese pastor rode motorcycles 1000 km from Tshikapa on the Kasai River, through Kikwit and back to Kinshasa. Do you have any idea how dangerous this was? Charles went thousands of miles from decent medical care, and no such thing as a med-evac even if anybody knows where you are, if you wreck, which they don’t. Charles talked about frequent incidents of getting lost like he made a wrong turn going to Kroger’s for some avocados. (But he did get some avocados.)

When I left Zaire in 1988 I thought “I may never see this place again.” Now the opportunity presents itself, I have to ask this question first: “Am I really needed?” Charles says yes, so I am in. And second, “If I got the chance, would I also take a motorcycle trip through the bush?” I say no.

What does a leadership coach trainer have of value to take to the slums of Kinshasa? If I had kept up with my nursing career (LPN from 1994 to 1996) I might be able to bandage wounds, give some shots, save some lives. But if Congo needs anything, long-term, it is leadership. Coaching is a key to options. Options are a key to infrastructure and an economic middle-class. An empowered middle class is a key to balanced leadership. Leadership is a key to the sustainable liberty of a people. And if anyone needs liberty:

King Leopold II’s personal exploitation project (and by extension, all Belgians, and everyone who used rubber tyres in the early days of automobiles) pillaged Congo for somewhere around 80 years from the 1880s to the 1960s. One of my literary heroes, Mark Twain, spoke out against it in his pamphlet “King Leopold’s Soliloquy”, a piece of political satire that set the stage for American comics like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. This pocket-lining set the example for Mobutu, Congo’s .

Maybe you’ve heard of Leopold, and Mobutu. But do you know the name Patrice Lumumba? Lumumba was (perhaps) Congo’s greatest hope for quality leadership. I won’t say that power wouldn’t or couldn’t have corrupted him, but it’s hard to say when the CIA makes you poisoned toothpaste. It appears that Larry Devlin, the CIA operative in Kinshasa at the time stalled. Perhaps he knew that Lumumba’s days were numbered. Lumumba, an African for Africa, was dangerous. It is said that when the USA ignored his pleas for help, he went to the USSR. He didn’t really care who helped him: he cared about Congo.

Lumumba met his end by firing squad in Katanga, that ever-dangerous provincial center of raw wealth in the southeast.

In my boyhood, I visited Lumumba’s birthplace with my brother. We went by bicycles because it wasn’t more than 6 or 8 miles from where we lived. I cannot find it on Google Earth: Onalua, near Wembo Nyama, in Katako-Kombe province. In today’s ultra-connected world, Onalua is still the middle of nowhere. It’s like it doesn’t exist. I doubt very much whether more than a dozen living Americans have been there. After all, Charles recently went through villages where they haven’t seen an American missionary for two decades.

–To be continued June 9.

You’re a candidate! (For a wax job!?)

Some time ago the woman who cuts my hair tried an up-sell on me. “Around your age,” she said, “I have a lot of customers who have me start waxing their nose hair and eyebrows. And … you’re a candidate.”

When I got done laughing about her skillful — even political — use of words to inform me that my nostrils and uni-brow were less-than-sophisticated, I relented and allowed her to place piping hot firebrands covered in molten wax up my nose. I even agreed to pay extra for this. And you know, the pain isn’t really that bad. But the hair keeps growing. It seems I’m a ‘candidate’ for life.

Today Megan and I had a gut-level conversation with Jonathan. Jonathan’s not a coach, per se, but we’ve been meeting with him and (because coaching is my milieu) I’ve been thinking about him in that capacity. Since we all value honesty, I admitted to him that I was a little dissatisfied when seeing him through that lens. So we talked about what it is exactly that he does, how it differs from coaching, and Megan and I decided upon the term “oracle”. (Which made him delightfully uncomfortable. I mean, it gave him the creepy-crawlies. He has this little freaked-out boogie dance he did. It’s going to become a classic story, larger than life. Already is.)

In the course of this conversation he reminded me of something I’ve known all along: I’m really nice about it, but I’m bull-headed and though my marriage is good, I still need someone who has permission to call me on my bull and help me stay on track even when it isn’t my top priority for growth! In other words, even though I’m pretty happy with a lot of things right now, I’m a candidate for the oracle. In fact, I’m a candidate for life.

If you want a life of growth but know that those nose hairs have to be cleared away like brush in dry season before a fire breaks out, if, in short, you’re a candidate, then get a coach. Or an prophetic oracle. Or a pastor who’s not a puppet for what the congregation wants — someone to whom you are willing to abdicate your considerable power of independence. You may or may not pay this person for their role in your life, but you can never terminate your friendship with them. Maybe it’s a mentor who expects you to exceed their own success, and who will challenge you when they see you getting slacker-y or bull-headed, who pushes you even on the stuff you’re really good at. Find someone you trust, and let them wax whenever you wane.

She Burns My Ears!

Some time ago I encountered an elderly Amish man in our local coffee shop. He was eager to talk to strangers, which is rare for an Amish man, and I struck up a conversation. I sat and listened.

I learned that his two children were grown and had left the state; people don’t realize how much the Amish are on the move, taking rocky ground in Missouri and upstate New York and making something of it, starting new communities. But they do use Amtrak and hire vans so they can visit each other. I discovered that this man’s children didn’t come visit often and there was some estrangement, learned that his first wife had died, and that he’d remarried against the advice of his community. His second wife was a long-time bachelorette, and he was her first husband. Therefore she was a good deal more independent than a normal Amish wife, and even though “they warned me,” he said, “She burns my ears.” Suddenly, I understood why he was talking to strangers.

My father-in-law sold agricultural products, fertilizers, etc., in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, (densest concentration of Amish in the world) all his life. He’s 78 years old, and he’s never heard an Amish man talk like this. He was never an insider, as far as the Amish are concerned, but he wasn’t enough of an outsider for them to open up that way. After all, he knew them and knew their neighbors. He might have kept a secret if asked, but he wasn’t to be trusted. He was “English.”

What allowed this to happen? I wasn’t too busy to listen. That’s the first piece. You have to slow down if you want these sort of encounters. The second remarkable thing here is that the man lived in a “we-told-you-so” community where there was not a single empathetic ear for his problems with his second wife, so he took it outside the community. I was far enough outside his community that word couldn’t travel back. I asked his name at one point, and he wouldn’t give it.

If you want to develop authentic community, you have to refrain from creating a “We-told-you-so” culture. When people take their problems away somewhere, going “off to town” to find an outlet, it makes restoration and reconciliation difficult. For an Amish man to share his story with me seems rather harmless, but there’s potential for a much darker side to this phenomenon.

The Pileated Woodpecker

Whatever catches my client’s attention is a jumping off point for a line of questions, an analogy to their situation.

Today my client turned and looked out the window. “There’s a pileated woodpecker outside,” he said. “I haven’t seen one for many years.”

I don’t want to over-spiritualize the idea of getting “a sign” but it’s a place to be creative and play. We began to relate the pileated woodpecker to his situation.

Where’s the Pileated Woodpecker in your context?

He recognized an item he hadn’t been working on for a long time but had been an aspect of his organization’s past that he was thinking needed to be brought to the forefront again.

What makes a Pileated different from other woodpeckers, the normal ones?

–They’re bigger. More rare. Something seen before but very distinctive.

What is the distinctive thing your organization needs right now? He identified a certain type of person who could help his organization.

The client developed some things he thought related. In fact, his energy level increased as we spoke. Finally, I said, “What are your binoculars for keeping a lookout for someone like this who could help you?”

He spoke for a while and eventually said “I need to share about the Pileated Woodpecker with my team.”

“So, the team is your binoculars? They help you see a depth of field that you couldn’t otherwise?”


I like to play off my client’s surroundings, especially things they take special note of. Use them as creative places to ask weird, off the wall questions. See what happens, and trust the process.