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.

 

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Madman

The madman walks past stiffly, quickly, down the broad avenue of packed dirt, (we are in the middle of the middle of Africa) and he is talking to himself,

invo-

invo-

invoking the Creator.

“Bonjour,” I say, being as friendly as I can. Twigs in his hair, eyes bloodshot, perhaps he slept in the forest, where he may have spent the insanely hot night

invo-

invo-

invoking the Creator.

His eyes see me for a moment, a flicker of recognition crosses his face (there’s one of the whites who is crazy enough to be in the middle of the middle of Africa). But

The fool does not reply, he simply goes on his way

invo-

invo-

invoking the Creator.

 

 

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: The Ancient Villagers

The joke in Congo is always “Chef du Village” which sort of refers to the village chief of course, but might be used in context of who is first in line to wash their hands before the meal or some other insignificant thing where you’re sort of the boss.

One of our trainees told a story about a time when a villager asked him a deep probing theological question he couldn’t answer (he is a theological bigwig.) When he used the word “villager” he apologized, and in the USA he might have been apologizing for calling the guy a “redneck” or perhaps a “bumpkin” or “hillbilly”. So his point was not to denigrate the villager but actually to commend his insightful question, but he didn’t have another word to describe the person’s living condition but to say “villager”.

That’s the backdrop upon which we found some pretty important contextualization for coaching in Congo: I described and demonstrated the technique where, listening carefully, I repeat back to my coachee word-for-word what he said. Not adding any analysis or interpretation of what they said, simply repeating it back: “If I understood you correctly, you said _______”.

When I was done demonstrating this technique, Jacques pointed out that the Ancient Ones (Elders) in the villages had this skill down pat. In fact, it’s an aspect of oral culture that they’ve lost. It was easy for the Congolese guys to see the value in this aspect of coaching, because it’s something that, at least in the past, had value in their culture. There are aspects of wisdom that village elders have had all over the world that have been lost, or nearly so. Interesting that modern leadership techniques might revive the value for them. Something to chew on as you become a better listener today. Perhaps you’ll even become such a good listener that they’ll call you “chef du village” without any irony!

Congo Follow up — Culture Shock

On the plane ride into Chicago on 9/14 I talked with a young Congolese woman, 21 years old, on her way to the States for the first time to study at Northern Illinois University (crash course in English) with a goal of landing at Bethany Lutheran in the Twin Cities to study environmental science, with the hope of going home to give her government some ideas for how to clean up Kinshasa (smog and trash everywhere). It’s a daunting task.

Even before she lands the culture shock begins. She is given a meal but isn’t hungry. An hour later she hands the tray, untouched, back to the flight attendant. She turns to me and says “they’ll give it to the next person, right? Or will they throw it in the trash?” Sorry, kid, they’re going to throw it in the trash. In fact, you’re going to see so much waste it’s going to sicken you. We don’t leave trash all over our cities the way they do in Kinshasa, waiting for the rains to wash it down and out to the Atlantic through the Congo River, but we do waste a phenomenal amount of food. There’s no concept here of taking what’s left on your plate and giving it to a sibling or neighbor to make sure nobody goes hungry.

But after beating myself up for a while on all the crappy things Americans do (I’m grieving for her ahead of time thinking of all the ways she’ll find American hubris to disgust her) I realize that we’ve got a lot going for us, too. “I’ll get a very good education here, won’t I?” she asks; this is paramount for her. Yes, I concede, you will get an excellent education! As we cruise into Chicago I point over to the roadways, I-90 and I-294 around O’Hare airport. Immediately she sees that “they’re very well organized!”

A trip to Congo affords me the opportunity to see clearly those things in our culture that are good and bad, even though it’s only 10 days, and though it mostly entails stuff I already know.

Congo Day Whatever, Intensity Deepens

It’s Wednesday already, and we’re about half way though our training.

We’ve done The Heart of a Coach, Biblical Precedence, Active Listening, Powerful Questions, and bits and pieces of some other stuff. Generally as questions from the trainees come up we just address them. Perhaps we ought to be asking our trainees first what they think when a question comes up but usually we are simply answering the questions. I mean there’s still a discussion format, but its such a huge paradigm shift, and then too we’re working in a second language or through translation whenever our words escape us, so this default is perhaps a little easier.

There hasn’t been time for much else since Monday at noon or so when people began arriving. I was so tired last night that perhaps I was a llittle relieved that they internet wasn’t working and I couldn’t Skype with my family, or blog or anything.

Robert and I took a taxi last night over to a market to find bananas for the group. That was an adventure in itself. The traffic here is some of the worst you’ll find in the world, it’s a constant snarl at any intersection. Driving anywhere is a constant negotiation for the driver, but the passengers also shout out encouragements to drivers of other vehicles, etc. It can take an hour at rush hour to go six kilometers. We did get bananas for the group.

I’ve been leading the demo coaching sessions, which means that I’m listening in French and even attempting to formulate great questions in French. Happily, the guy I’m coaching in those demos is also our key translator, so if I’m stuck I just revert to English. Of course this means that he has to not only be coached but also switch mentally over to translating. It’s pretty wild. Basically we’re both doing double cognitive duty. It’s fun but mentally exhausting.

I have an hour for a nap and feel that I should use the time for exactly that.