This month I’m saying goodbye to a four year oddesey which has transformed the DNA of myself and my family. I’ve literally been all over the world doing a job that I’d do for free. It’s been a dream. As with any transition, it’s natural to reflect. I’ve been doing a lot of that lately and thought it would be fun to list my top ten moments of my time at FMCUSA in no particular order. There have been so many moments which would be too difficult to quantify. But here are a few that come to mind.
A month in Africa for work, friendship and some fun is probably the single most important thing that has happened to our family in this four years. It was in Burundi that we were able to spend time with dear friends, the Millers. There we learned how to slow down the pace. We also shared time with the Reynen family in Nairobi. This was a huge blessing and unexpected gift in friendship as well as mission. We enjoyed time together, worked together, but also we developed a heart for Africa through time with them. Finally thanks Rogers family and Empowering Lives International. The biggest surprise was sharing a week at ELI and seeing what it did for our family. Sure I was able to produce a few videos for them, assist a bit with their magazine, and help with some basic infrastructure issues. But seeing Micki come alive in the classroom and Grace find her fit and calling were the best parts of this trip. Africa = transformational.
In just under 18 months, we had transformed the staff, vision, resources and direction. We were rolling out a brand new magazine in two languages, a wordpress platform with multiple sites, apps on two platforms and live streaming of our General Conference in several languages. We had basically embodied Jim Collins’ “big hairy audacious goals”. Despite not being ready, the team worked late into the night for months before and even at the conference for many evenings eating New York style pizza and wings, ice cream and fresh coffee. We met our goal and rolled all of it out successfully. It was a huge moment for the team and for the denomination.
As I write this I’m flying home after my last E2 Conference. E2, or “Equipping for Excellence”, is a leadership equipping event with the Board of Bishops. I was privileged to give a keynote on developing communication strategies for local churches as well as unveiling a platform/portal for the denomination. I also led a workshop where we did more hands on activities. These kind of events are life giving for me because I’m able to share time with the people I serve and understand at a deeper level what they need. It’s also a privilege to travel with the bishops and their wives to these events and serve together. One of the great surprises of this season was meeting Jason Morris. He is a new leader in the FM movement and arrived just at the right time to inspire and encourage me.
I said yes to this role because of the mission but mostly because of three men. Simple. Our bishops are people I’d foliow to the end of the earth. They’re men of integrity and grace. They’ve taught me a ton about leadership, love and grace in this season. I owe much of my success in this role to their investment in me. I count it a privilege to call them friends. But I’m inspired at a deeper level as I think about how excited I’ve been to follow them as they are my spiritual leaders. Thank you is an understatement, gentlemen.
Sharing apartments, hotel rooms, and cramped cars for long roadtrips
Culture is huge for me. And because I’m so relational, I loved building culture outside of work. Because the team lived in four states and six cities, we needed to connect at times to be together. For a year I rented a low-income studio apartment in Indianapolis to provide a place to land and stay when I worked there. As I added new team members, it was fun to bring sleeping bags and air mattresses, cook meals together, and share small spaces together. I loved the season with Michael and Peter as we built some really cool things as well as a healthy and vibrant culture. I also loved the season where Jay and I were able to spend time talking about the important things in life beyond our work as we bunked together, traveled together, and worked together. I’m thankful to share time with Ben at UofM and that amazing trip to Oakland. For all of those “in-between” times, I’m thankful.
I’ve been to Haiti twice. The first time was oppressive. It was just after the earthquake and felt like a war zone. I met many people who inspired me. Rick Ireland left a church in the US to help on the ground and help bring order to chaos. He spent time with me and helped me understand what the real needs were and how we could help. I met Jean Marc Zamor, a leader who is building a university in Haiti which will – over time – literally change the culture of Haiti. And I met Superintendent Devariste. His wife was injured in the earthquake and had been in Miami for months in recovery. His home was demolished. He lived in a tent. And when I met him, he was one of the best dressed and most joyful men i’ve met. Haiti was heavy. But it was also hopeful.
A few months before I came, the table was being set to help clean up a lot of internal messes culturally as well as from an IT perspective. Mark Johnson’s company, Computers in Ministry, had tentatively been contracted, pending hiring me. When I arrived, we didn’t have a central email system, no cloud-based computing, no shared calendars, two general ledger financial platforms and an over ten-year old phone system using old technology. We needed to streamline everything and needed a partner. Mark was the perfect fit for us. He and his company helped us get up to date with hardware, software, and infrastructure in about 18 months. CIM has been an integral part of our success in building a Microsoft Sharepoint portal for the denomination. The thing I love most about Mark is he’s a servant leader. When we were building out the new FM wordpress network in preparation for General Conference in 2011, Mark was right there with us working into the morning. It was there that we learned about his insatiable appetite for ice-cream and sweets. It was also there that we nicknamed him “sprinkles”. I remember saying to him that he’s eaten enough ice cream that if he were to cry, he’d cry sprinkles. It stuck. I’m glad you stuck with us, Mark.
The Golopali Family
While I was in India in the fall of 2013, I met some of the most amazing people on the planet. The Golopoli family. Bishop Golopoli and his wife Teeba, started COUNT nearly 30 years ago. COUNT is a ministry to unreached tribes in India. Bishop Golopoli was himself orphaned. An FM missionary took him in and gave him food, clothing and education. He started COUNT to do this for others. His son, Dexter, (named after that missionary who adopted him) is now taking on a larger leadership role in COUNT. If we lived in the same town, Dexter and I would be good friends. One of the most powerful stories I remember was from Teeba. Years ago they were caring for 101 orphans. One morning, the staff came to her and said that they had run out of money and food. The children were hungry. Rather than make phone calls or take action, she went to her room to pray. For four hours. Her prayer was, “Father, you say if we pray, you will hear us and take care of us. I’ve done my part. Now I expect you to do yours”. Bam. Four hours later she came out of her prayer closet and the staff told her that miraculously some food arrived and the children were now fed. She wasn’t surprised. She expected it. Wow. I’ll never forget the Golopoli family.
Town Hall at Indy First
Early into the rebuild of the team in 2010, we recognized early on that this group of bishops were accessible, friendly and were great communicators. In an effort to begin to get the vision for where they wanted to lead, we developed a livestream event model where people could ask questions live online and the bishops would answer. We did it at the Indianapolis First Free Methodist Church. The cool thing about the Indy First church is that it’s a city church with many different kinds of people. I speficially remember calling the pastor to ask if we could have the bishops and key leaders come to his church and broadcast the first ever live event for the denomination. He said, “Are you sure you’ve got the right church? We have some homeless people and prostitutes. Would they be welcome?” I told him that’s precisely why we wanted to do it there. It’s part of our DNA as Free Methodists. It makes the most sense to do it there. The first live town hall was a fantastic evening and important for the trajectory of how we would communicate to the denomination. It sent a clear message that there’s an actual conversation going on.
Being the youngest executive we’ve had at FMCUSA, I knew I needed help. When I started I read the Timothy in the Bible a lot. Everything I’ve read on leadership pointed to having people in your life who can coach you and mentor. you. I’m thankful for Reed. The past four years he’s been a loyal confidant. He’s helped me through some very turbulent waters. One crucible he walked through with me was the first time I fired someone. I was so nervous. I didn’t want to do it, but I knew it was the right thing to do. He helped craft the message, organize the day, talked to me just before to encourage me and called me afterward to affirm me. As I’ve been on a path to leaving FMCUSA, he’s been a trusted friend and mentor to help me navigate the waters of leaving well. I can’t stress enough how important mentors are. For me, I have several. Thanks Hal Conklin, for taking me under your wing. Thanks Dr. Beebe for your time and your amazing book. Thanks Kelly Soifer for your coaching and tough love. Thanks Rob McKenna, for your energy and encouragement. But most of all, thanks Reed for your steadfast belief in me as well as your level headed and Godly counsel. I don’t get here without you.