“Stopping Trump is a short-term solution. The long-term solution, and it will be more difficult, is fixing the educational system that has created so many people ignorant enough to vote for Trump.” (Andy Borowitz, a satirist)
Let me begin with a disclaimer: I do not subscribe to the notion that everyone who voted for Trump is ignorant. That would be an unfair characterization. Politics is more nuanced than that. I say there are at least 3 Ps that go into one’s choice, none of which is perfect in any political party and hardly are all three aligned with what is Biblical: the PERSON (as in flag bearer), the PARTY and the POLICIES.
Having said that, how did the most powerful nation in the world end up with such a leadership crisis? I’m not just talking about the nail-biting U.S. electoral college vote count last week and the current situation where a winner has been projected but the incumbent hasn’t gathered what it takes to concede and congratulate. I speak of four years ago when America had to choose between two wannabe leaders of the free world both of whom the electorate had serious reservations about! America was caught between the red devil and the deep blue sea.
And the last four years have portrayed nearly everything I’ve been taught that leadership is NOT exhibited by the man in the White House. Is it competence in inspiring confidence about the Coronavirus pandemic and quenching it or a character of what is good and right and true or care and respect for ‘the other’? Competence, character and care constitute the DNA of leadership. Of course Trump did do some good things. I have even admired his non-political-correctness and tough skin in forging ahead buoyed by the courage of his convictions (no matter how misinformed I think they might be sometimes). By and large, however, I have had to repeatedly tell my children too many things about Trump that leadership is NOT.
THE VAN JONES MOMENT
When I saw Van Jones weep on television that as a parent the defeat of Trump and the elevation of Biden is a testament to the fact that character matters in life and leadership, I very much identified with that. Character matters. Truth matters. Decency matters. And one would think the white evangelical church in America would know better than a journalist.
If the one country that has produced the most world-impacting heads of states, Nobel laureates (390 of them; the UK which is next is at 135), stellar entertainers and astounding professional athletes could face such a gaping leadership crisis then the rest of the world had better watch out. In my Twi language from Ghana, there is a saying that when you see your neighbor’s beard on fire, you had better quickly fetch a bucket of water and place it beside yours (well, hopefully after you’ve helped him doust his!)
OF SHITTY STORIES & SHIT HOLE COUNTRIES
The S word is one that isn’t in my vocabulary. Permit me to get into the gutters in this little stretch so we both appreciate the abyss leadership sunk into these last four years. When Trump was elected I was hopeful. My family’s explanation to a United States border agent that we were crossing over from Canada to upstate New York to check on our investment property had been described by this kid in the border cage as “Such a Shitty Story.” When I wrote about that in January 2017, I was hopeful that a Trump presidency would catalyze the noble dreams Martin Luther King Jnr. had for his four little children (and my six) and not turn into the nightmare many feared. The latter has happened. Blacks still can’t breathe in 2020, George Floyd’s slow slaughter being the epitome of that.
As one born and raised in Africa I have long experienced firsthand that “everything rises and falls on leadership.” Whether as a young medical doctor in Ghana seeing patients die who shouldn’t have or as a United Nations peacekeeping soldier in Cote d’Ivoire beholding with my own naked eyes the ravages of war, there is no other one word that summarizes all that’s wrong with my continent as ‘leadership.’ The sad socioeconomic state in the midst of abundance earned us the disparaging title of “Shit hole countries” by President Donald Trump who ironically has gone ahead to look, sound and act in the very manner people who have misled, unled, disled Africa have.
Leadership is a sacred trust. Twenty years ago I was so concerned that leadership knowledge and mindset, character and skills be acquired early that I co-founded The HuD Group to intervene at the youth level and change the African narrative. Nearly 20 years later I am still convinced that leadership development and training must start early but even earlier: with children. And it begins by calling them “cubs” who will grow into lions and not “kids” who will grow into billy goats gruff (or the trolls in that fairy tale, for that matter LOL).
While at my executive education company that bears my name, YAW PERBI, we’re intervening at the C-Level, Perbi Cubs Library Services is beginning from the very roots: with children and from our homes and schools. I’ll tell you why we launched the Lions In Training (LIT) Track at Perbi Cubs only a couple of weeks ago (although we’ve been dreaming about this for a long long time).
LIT is the collective attempt of Perbi Cubs and parents who are preparing the next generation to meet the great challenges and opportunities of the twenty-first century and thrive! The LIT track is to help groom our Cubs into holistic Leaders (Lions). The Perbi Cubs reading community knows that the future of our reading Cubs is promising because of the world of opportunities opened to them every day as they open books to read. For sure, readers are leaders.
Reading, however, is necessary but not sufficient.In this light, Perbi Cubs desires to partner parents to nurture Cubs in relevant soft skills that will take them places and form them into young well-rounded leaders of great impact. Research shows that a leader is developed over the entire course of their life: from womb to tomb. It is never too late to start teaching, learning and applying leadership skills to everyday life.
*NB: YAW PERBI serves as consultant, coach and trainer for Perbi Cubs and is not involved in the day to day management of this groundbreaking social enterprise. If you require YAW PERBI’s assistance in executive coaching, management consulting or leadership training reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sixteen years ago I subtitled my ‘Youth Power!’ book, “unleashing the potential of the most powerful people on earth.” This pandemic year is giving us ample proof.
The recent George Floyd protests in the United States of America and around the world and current #EndSARS campaign in Nigeria against notorious police brutality have reignited my convictions about Youth Power!, well-documented in a 2004 book by that title. “This [#EndSARS] protest has been largely driven by young people,” I just heard from a CNN report.
YouthPower! is a revolutionary paradigm which seeks to start a fire in Young People for them to get their act together and do something significant with their lives…Now! For the last 16 years I have “been preoccupied with looking for evidence of Youth Power! all over the world and in all spheres of human endeavour since introducing that paradigm-shifting concept” in the mid 2,000s. Some other books that I have written to document such stories have included 15 Inspiring Young People and 15 Successful Global Businesses Young People Built, from Amazon to Time magazine.
Young people have a lot going for them; youth have a lot of power! First, the numbers–there are more young people on earth than ever before in the history of the world! And that is power. But wait, there’s more. Young people have influence, the ability to control people and situations–even holding governments to ransom. That is power. Young people have incredible talents and special abilities which peak at this time of their lives. We have seen how they have utilized their tech savviness and power of mobilization to literally get the government of Nigeria to dissolve the said Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) they’re protesting against on 11th October 2020. Shall we talk about the sheer passion, strength and energy of youth? Throughout the history of the world, young people have touched, shaped and shaken the world in politics, academics, business, sports, arts/entertainment etc.
More often than not, though, all this power is stored in the form of potential. The rest of the book Youth Power! is full of keys to unlocking all this power in terms of principles, the proto principle, purpose, planning, preparation, people, places, practices, pruning puny behaviours and ultimately how all of this results in pay.
YOUTH POWER! IN AFRICA
In 2005, the year after Youth Power! was published and widely distributed in Ghana, I was on a break in South Africa, after failing my final year medical school exams in Surgery. A pilgrimage to Soweto inspired me to write “a historical and tourist account of how Youth Power! that broke the back of apartheid in South Africa.” That sequel is entitled “Youth Power! in Soweto.” For the whole year I served as a doctor-captain with the United Nations Operations in Cote d’Ivoire, it was my joy and pleasure to walk scores of Ivorian Young People at the Université de Bouaké through the paradigm and practice of Youth Power! They even run a contest, translating the book into French.
Today’s protests remind me of the eternal words of one of the young student protestors back in apartheid South Africa in the late 1970s. You can see those words becoming flesh in today’s young protestors also, from Washington to Lagos:
“Our parents are prepared to suffer under the white man’s rule [or any form of injustice and brutality for that matter]. They have been living for years under here laws and they have become immune to them. But we strongly refuse to swallow an education [or whatever] that is designed to make us slaves in the country of our birth.”
As I participate in hash tagging, donating and encouraging the strong network of The HuD Group (publishers of the original Youth Power!) in Nigeria and around the continent of Africa to keep pressing for positive change, I look forward to adding to the thick annals of Youth Power!, yet another sequel: the contemporary history of Youth Power! in Nigeria.
What a year for Black folk! From police brutality in the United States of America (USA) to same in the western region of Africa, White on Black, Black on Black, what a year! One would think that having commemorated 2019 as 400 years after the first Black slaves set foot in what is now the USA the news wouldn’t smell of Black beatings and lynchings and treatment as less than human any longer but here we are. In this season we’ve had the luxury of both time (thanks to COVID-19) and technology to etch these news clips into our consciences and reveal to us not only where we stand but even more deeply, who we are.
On the last day of this year’s Africa Impact Forum (February 26-29) for fellows of the Africa Leadership Initiative, a part of the Aspen Global Leaders Network, my heart was really stirred by Olara Ottunu, Ugandan diplomat, lawyer and politician. He was Uganda’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations from 1980 to 1985 and was the United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict from 1997 to 2005. Olara Ottunu minced no words in the final plenary that there can be no African prosperity without Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo doing well. These ‘big boys’ are the most populous Anglophone and Francophone nations on the 55-state continent of Africa. I have since not looked at Nigeria the same way. Nigeria is too important to fail.
If Black Lives Matter, then the most populous Black country on earth matters immensely. Altogether the over 200 million Nigerian people of 300 tribes matter; individually, each person matters. And by the way, Nigeria will overtake the United States to become the third-most populous country in the world by 2050, surpassing the 300 million people mark, according to a United Nations report. The current seventh most populous country in the world is not only rich in people but also oil and other natural resources. This goes without saying.
Boasting of one of the most vast African Diaspora populations in the world, I have personally had the pleasure of forging deep friendships with Nigerians at medical school in Ghana and as president of International Students Ministries Canada today, delight to see them shine among the top 10 sending countries of international students to Canada. If Africa is the most numerically Christian continent in the world today, it is significantly in part due to Nigeria’s over 90 million strong Christian population.
When Africa’s largest market of 200 million people (twice the size of Ethiopia’s 110 million or Egypt’s 102 million) surpassed South Africa to become the continent’s largest economy as well last year, the business experts had to admit, “Now It’s Too Big for Businesses to Ignore.” Why do you think the United States and United Kingdom have over $55 billion in foreign direct investments in Nigeria, with the Chinese following close after France? Not to mention Italy, India, South Africa, Singapore and Switzerland.
NIGERIA IS WORTH SAVING
When George Floyd was slowly slaughtered before the eyes of a watching world and protests erupted all over the United States and around the world, one of the most profound things I heard was that if Africa had upped her socio-economic game many African-Americans would’ve rather returned ‘home’ than suffer such indignity in the U.S. Even then for some, freedom and dignity matter more than economics, so have responded to overtures from governments like Ghana’s to ‘come home.’ “We want to remind our kin over there that there is a place you can escape to,” said Akwasi Agyeman, chief executive of the Ghana Tourism Authority. “That is Africa.” Now, if I may ask, what is the sense in Blacks escaping police brutality in America, crossing the expansive Atlantic, only to come ‘home’ to the same police brutality, Black on Black?
I am very proud of the display of Youth Power! that has called for #EndSARS and indeed has succeeded in the dissolution (on 11th October, 2020) of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigeria police which has meted out unspeakable crimes against the citizens of Nigeria. Now some protests are deteriorating into rioting while law enforcement is metamorphosing into death squads firing live ammunition into crowds. As Global CEO of The HuD Group, with HuD Nigeria as one of our strong networks, we demand that elected officials as well as the teeming youth be response-able (responsible) and remember that they hold the dignity and prosperity of the entire Black race in their hands.
All nations matter but not all nations are equally strategic. You would think some of the reasons given above why Nigeria is too important to fail are rather carnal but once upon a time when God Himself wanted to save a certain nation from destruction His reason for sending them a prophet to save them from themselves was pretty intriguing: “And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?” (Jonah 4:11) The numbers of humans matter, the natural resources matter. Nigeria is too big and too important to fail. #PRAY FOR NIGERIA!
Love is an attitude (head), affect (heart), and action (hands). Here’s a way to get a handle of it, literally!
“LOVE” might very well get the vote for the most used and abused word, ever! It’s a good thing that languages like Spanish and Greek help a little by having different words to mean different kinds of love, from a ‘strong like’ to ‘brotherly/sisterly love’ to ‘unconditional love’ to sheer ‘eros.’
If truth be told though, the hardest part about love isn’t so much understanding it; it is showing it. I have a mentor who likes to say that the biggest gap in the world is the gap between knowing and doing. But sometimes we just don’t know how.
The Community Temperature Reading (CTR) by my mentors Pete and Geri Scazzero (an adaption of Virginia Satir’s work) has helped me practically love my spouse, children, friends and team members much better and I suspect might be of use to you too.
1. APPRECIATIONS | “I appreciate…”
Call it thanksgiving or praise, even God loves to be appreciated! I suspected having created us in His image and likeness makes us love being appreciated as well. Learn to say, “I appreciate…” eg. “I appreciate washing the dishes last night when I was too tired to.” Like me, some people, cultures and families are very stingy with appreciations. I tend to verbally appreciate only, almost exclusively, extremely high performance but I’m learning to be much more generous in saying, “I appreciate…”
You may have come across Dr. John Gottman, “the guy that can predict divorce with over 90% accuracy.” According to him, for every one negative feeling or interaction between partners, there must be five positive feelings or interactions. How is your appreciation:criticism ratio? The last I checked, I didn’t like my ratio with my children. I’m working on that.
2. PUZZLES | “I am puzzled…”
My most frequent exercise is “jumping to conclusions,” especially in situations in which I have little information yet strong opinions and a big mouth. And it doesn’t help at all that my ‘high D’ personality makes me unafraid to confront people and situations! I often come across as judgemental, even when I have the best of intentions.
I’ve learnt that “puzzle is a loving word.” Now instead of being super upset and angrily asking one of my staff, “Why didn’t you reply my email?” (with all sorts of assumptions lurking) I’m learning to rather say something like, “I’m puzzled as to why you didn’t reply my email.”
Peter and Geri Scazzero share in their Emotionally Healthy Relationships course, “instead of thinking, No one washed the dishes last night. I live with a bunch of slobs! you can say, “I’m puzzled as to why you left your dirty dishes in the sink last night.”” Try it. You can appreciate me later.
3. COMPLAINTS WITH POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS | “I notice… and I prefer…”
If you adopted this one, I would feel really loved as my personality cannot stand whining but loves solutions. No doubt, as long as we are imperfect humans in a broken world we will all have concerns and complaints. Many of us tend to suffer in silence though on one hand or unproductively complain about everything without taking responsibility for anything, not even suggestions for improvement.
The panacea to this, how to love well when there are things you don’t dig, is to use the words: “I notice… and I prefer…” eg. “I notice our clinical meetings start late, and I prefer we start at the agreed upon time.” This gives voice, a respectful voice, but also gives the other ears to hear, especially coming with a clearly stated alternative. Even if the ‘possible solution’ preferred is merely the opposite of the complaint, like in the example above, verbalizing it as an alternate proposal will be taken better. Give it a try.
4. NEW INFO | “My new information is…”
True, “love does not keep a record of wrongs;” but true love keeps news up to date. I wise man once told me, “It isn’t distance that keeps us apart; it is silence.” If you know me well as a public speaker and prolific writer you might find it hard to believe this but I tend not to be as communicative at home as I am in public. The CTR tool has given me a reason to consciously say, “My new information is…” It could be about an event, decision, appointment, achievement, opportunity, activity, whatever! As the Scazzeros put it, “relationships can only grow when people know what is happening in each other’s lives, both the trivial as well as the important.”
5. HOPES AND WISHES | “I hope…”
I found out rather late in my marriage how much Anyele feels loved when we verbalize our hopes, dreams and plans for the future. No wonder!, for “hopes and wishes offer windows into our unique souls, revealing significant parts of who we are” (Pete & Geri Scazzero). eg. “I hope we can get to visit the Caribbean next year.”
“LOVE ME THIS WAY”
The people in our lives are crying out, “this is how I want to feel loved, would you please love me this this way?” If we all regularly practised any of these five skills the people in our lives would feel loved; if we did more than one often they would feel much loved; if we made a habit of all five they surely would feel very much loved. Don’t just say you love somebody; don’t just feel the feeling, do it these five ways! If you didn’t know how, now you do!
Post Script | Great Commandment vrs. Great Commission
For those who are Christ followers, it may be worth noting that the Great Commandment (to love God with your all and love your neighbour as yourself) comes before the Great Commission (to make disciples) in sequence and in rank (Jesus said the greatest command is love). Besides, the Great Commission includes teaching the Great Commandment if we are to teach folks to do everything Christ commanded. The first of the fruit of the Spirit is love. Remember God Himself is love. “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” There’s no way getting round love as a Christ follower.
One curious thing about the Great Commission is how many of us have read it to mean that making disciples of Jesus is by teaching them stuff that Jesus commanded. Meanwhile, a careful and slow re-reading of the text shows the essence is to train or teach people how to obey the stuff Jesus commands. Jesus said “teach them to obey everything I have commanded you” not just “teach them everything I have commanded you.” No wonder there are so many Christians who know ‘everything’ but do nearly nothing the Scriptures say! This understanding of the Great Commission has made a world of difference to me and those I walk/work with. The Community Temperature Reading (CTR) tool above, teaches you how to obey the command to love. Try it!
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)
VERTICAL AND HORIZONTAL RELATIONSHIP DYNAMICS
Of course the usual point drawn from the Mary and Martha anecdote is importance of “slowing down for loving union with Jesus,” “being with Jesus rather than doing for Jesus” et. And that is all true. In fact, I have a mentor who suspects that even “if Martha were to sit at the feet of Jesus, she would still be distracted by everything on her mind. Her inner person is touchy, irritable, and anxious” (Peter Scazzero). Granted, this account is about our vertical relationship with God (spirituality) but what about the possibility that these two sisters were wired differently in relating to people (horizontally)?
MARY IS A PEOPLE PERSON; MARTHA IS A PROJECT PERSON
I just finished re-reading the story of Mary and Martha and couldn’t help noticing that these sisters of Lazarus must’ve had very different personalities. Before we assume Mary was spiritual just because she sat at the feet of Jesus listening to him or that Martha was unspiritual just because she was running around choring and checklisting, think again: both were friends of Jesus. They had invited Jesus into their home (if you like, even into their hearts) to sup with them. They were both spiritually connected, so-to-speak.
Martha most likely was a high D or high C, highly task-oriented; while Mary in all probability was a high I or high S, highly people-oriented. Personally, knowing that people are wired differently from me, personality-wise, has ‘cut my sinning in half,’ in the sense that many things I’ve wrongly judged in people as a moral, ethical or even spiritual issue have now proven to be just different, not a matter of right or wrong.
My mentor asked, “in what way(s) did your to-do list, distractibility, or perfectionism keep you from loving and enjoying Jesus or the people around you?” That is is when I noticed I hardly keep in mind that time for tasks often means no time for people (or Jesus for that matter). “Opportunity cost,’ that’s what the economists like my dear wife call it. I’m finding that I need to set fixed goals and fixed hours for tasks and whack them like Martha, so I’m also able to make quality time for people with the rest of my time (not necessarily ‘surplus’ time), to be fully present with Jesus and with people, like Mary.
In fact, often über project-oriented people have to set making time for relationships as a task in order to make it happen. Meanwhile someone needs to tell people-oriented people to also get some work done!
DISCOVER YOUR DISC
Scottish Olympic medalist Eric Liddell said, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.” People-oriented and project-oriented folks can both bring God pleasure; they both can impact people for good. Both their being and their doing can please God and bless people.
Everyone reading this has done the DISC personality assessment, I hope. If you haven’t, may I suggest it’s one of the first steps in knowing yourself better so you can have healthier relationships and deeper fulfillment leading a life of significance–and all the while just being yourself. If you need to take it, drop me a note ASAP (email@example.com).
So these medical students recently caught up with me and did a fun interview. Hope it’s as much a fun read for you as it was hanging out with them! I pray they catch God’s heart for calling them and become missional medics!
Read here, from page 40.
The pray-er of this now-famous prayer might be unknown; but the truth of its content, many of us must be quite familiar with. At least I know I am.
“I asked God for strength, that I might achieve, I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health, that I might do greater things. I was given infirmity that I might do better things.
I asked for riches, that I might be happy. I was given poverty, that I might be wise.
I asked for power, that I might have the praise of others, I was given weakness, that I might feel the need for God.
I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life, I was given life that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for — but everything that I had hoped for.
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am, among all people, most richly blessed.”
Prayer by an unknown Confederate Soldier.
So I just came on sabbatical. The best gift of week 1 was sleep–day time sleep! It was good for the body, really good. Then the next week came and its gift really took care of my soul. I got re-connected with my teenage friends from around the world, from every continent! Many of them I had lost touch with for 24 years!
THE END FROM THE BEGINNING
I started life backwards. Sort of. Usually people fool around in their teens and when they are all grown up–mature (whatever that means), prim, proper, and seasoned–become ambassadors of their countries. I became an ambassador for Ghana in my late teens, a youth ambassador, together with 50 other World Vision Youth Ambassadors from 50 different countries! As a strapping 18-year old, that experience would irreversibly enlarge my heart; and it has never been able to shrink back into being merely Akan or just Ghanaian or even only African. Never. I’ve been a global citizen since the mid-90s, or a ‘world class Christian’ as my mentor Paul Borthwick would put it, and yet at the time I did not even yet quite understand how much God is a global God on a mission, as I do today.
Connecting the dots, it might no longer come as a surprise then that a couple of decades later I’ve been to 45 countries and lived for a year or more in three, worked with the United Nations, founded and expanded The HuD Group to two dozen countries on each continent, pastored an English-speaking Chinese church in a French city (Montreal) in North America (Canada) and spent my last seven years as president of International Student Ministries Canada, empowering international students to impact the world through Jesus Christ. WVYA was my second experience as an international student, the first being as an exchange student from Achimota School in Accra to Ballard High School in Louisville (Kentucky, USA), the year prior. Being a World Vision Youth Ambassador in 1996 is a gift that keeps giving, like this last couple of weeks!
THE CHANG CHALLENGE
How I got selected as the World Vision Youth Ambassador for Ghana was a miracle, divine. I will leave that story for another time, lest I digress. WVYA was a phenomenal idea birthed by Dr. Jerry Chang, then World Vision Taiwan CEO to bring together 50 young people from 50 different countries to pursue and promote life’s common grounds, universal values. We would study conflict prevention, justice, peace, unity, reconciliation etc. and embody all of this as we constitute a choir travelling the world with this message of unity in diversity. For six weeks this group would live together as global community doing all the philosophical as well as musical studies, and then for the next six weeks tour Taiwan (the host) and other countries. 1995 was the debut year. In my year, we got to tour Taiwan, the USA (New York, Washington DC, Los Angeles, Seattle), Mexico and Canada. The 1997 cohort’s countries were Taiwan, Japan, USA and Guatemala (I got to do that tour too, as I’ll explain shortly below). In all, the programme run for five years–1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999 and with a combined finale of selected previous ambassadors in 2000–resulting in 245 youth ambassadors from 61 countries in total.
A couple of weeks ago I was contacted by Claudia Sofia, who was the ’96 Colombia Ambassador in my cohort, that the 1997 year group was planning an online reunion and had requested her and me to co-facilitate. She, together with a few of them, did such a splendid preparatory job that I didn’t have much to take care of, really. The thing about Claudia and I is that we were the two out of our group of 51 in 1996 who were selected by the WVYA staff and invited back as staff interns for the following year’s programme so we are very familiar with both 1996ers and 1997ers. Claudia and I reunited about eight years ago when her family temporarily relocated to Canada where I’ve been living and serving with my family since 2009. We have not only been in touch since but have for the last five years worked together on leader development globally and in Latin America in particular through The HuD Group.
It was amazing seeing all these WVYA ’97ers on the Sunday July 5 call; and the cherry on top was the presence of Mama Chang, the 94-year old matriarch, wife of WVYA founder. Inspired by the 1997 gathering, Claudia and I got to work on a WhatsApp group to rally the 51 youth ambassadors of 1996. To cut a long story short, in the last two weeks not only have we found (with CIA, Interpol and Scotland Yard skills) 48 of the 51 Youth Ambassadors and corralled everyone into the same WhatsApp group we have also held two online Zoom reunions (July 11 and July 18), affording everyone to reminisce the past, provide a current update and begin a conversation about re-imagining the future. At the time of writing this, all the other year groups have already met except 1995 (in the offing).
WHY NOW? PANDEMIC BLESSING
The various year groups have had mini reunions here and there over the last two decades; and even in 2015 I was privileged to be part of a cross-cohort mini reunion in Prague but never have we been able to gather this many people together all at once. What’s the difference? COVID-19!! As Rodrigo (Mexico) and Li-Hoon (Singapore) put it bluntly during the first 96ers reunion call: “THANK YOU COVID!”
So why and how come this significant reunion at such a time as this? In the first place, we’re all no longer busy bigwigs criss-crossing the planet about our all-important affairs. We have every one’s attention and no one’s going anywhere. Secondly, the lockdown’s making many of us begin to feel lonely; we are seeking community, even if it’s online. Thirdly, COVID-19 and its ramifications is making us more contemplative and asking what really matters in life. We’ve been glad to pick up memories and rekindle friendships we inadvertently dropped. Fourthly, this pandemic has changed the way we think! Hitherto, we would’ve been seriously planning a ‘big’ physical reunion with all the limitations of time, air travel expense, visa drama, hosting logistics etc. How come it’s never occurred to us in 24 years to hold an ONLINE REUNION?! How hard is that?! But it just wasn’t in our mental framework. And don’t forget, in 1996 when we were teenagers and formed these relationships, smart phones didn’t exist and the internet and email had barely become available to us commoners. Our brains may have only associated each other with snail mail and a fine opportunity for stamp collection.
But the last reason may be the most important of all. The world has turned pretty ugly in the last little while with bigotry, racism and a certain brand of unrestrained nationalism. All of these have been heightened during this pandemic, coming to a head with the unjust death of George Floyd and the mass protests that it sparked all over the world on every continent, calling for racial equality and justice. As I mentioned on the WVYA ’97ers call, it seems to me that although we all knew our mission of peace, love, reconciliation and unity in the world was important back in the 1990s (after all my sweetheart Duda, for instance, took solace in playing piano among the bombs blasting in the Bosnian war), I still feel Papa Chang had so much vision that WVYA rather is an idea whose time has now come, 25 years later.
It was at WVYA that I learnt not only in song that “we teach the young our difference but look how we’re the same” but lived that reality among 50 other nationals for three months. My conclusion as a (maybe precocious) teenager was: we have much more in common than we are different. In fact, it wasn’t until about six weeks into the programme that the thought first even crossed my mind: I am Black. It hadn’t mattered. At all.
BACK TO THE FUTURE
Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard aptly said, “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.” As I reconnect (in order of recent rediscovery and rallying onto WhatsApp) with Claudia (Colombia), Tom (Uganda/currently domiciled in England), Isobel (Ireland/France), Nayunda (Zambia), Carolina (Hong Kong/UK), Li Hoon (Singapore), Ivyn my roommate (Sri Lanka), Henrietta (Zimbabwe/USA), Isariya (Thailand), Esther (New Zealand), Panha (Cambodia), Ginger (USA), Jeffrey (Costa Rica), Nashipai (Kenya), Joyce (Lebanon/Canada), Wilge (Bolivia/USA), Greg (Taiwan), Lara (Canada/USA), Nino (Georgia), Haime (Philippines), Nelson (Papua New Guinea), Duda (Bosnia & Herzegovina), Yayoi (Japan), Janneke (Netherlands), Arnold (Honduras/Mozambique), Anielka (Nicaragua/USA), Rodrigo (Mexico), Mirjam (Germany), Carlos (Ecuador/USA), Derese (Ethiopia/USA), Sinara (Dominican Republic/Bulgaria), Ariel (Chile), Luis (Guatemala), Pamela (India), Cornel (Romania/Canada), Annie (Malawi), Fikile (Swaziland/South Africa), Pierrick (Switzerland), Young Suk (South Korea), Simon (Bangladesh/Canada), Mpho (Botswana), Davi (Brazil/Uruguay), Romed (Tanzania), Ghassan (Palestine), Angelina (Russia), and Rytha (DR Congo), I’m also connecting the dots.
I believe Bobby Clinton was right, that “God develops a leader over the entire course of their lives” and He sure lays down “sovereign foundations,” like WVYA, for His purposes in each of us in every generation. I could never have chosen this life, but I love it! More importantly, I love the One who did and all these nationals He has brought my way! Again, my heart expanded and has never been able to shrink back since.
Guess who else was right? Papa Chang. Today we are the wives and husbands, fathers and mothers, professors, CEOs, homemakers, celebrated performers (choral, gospel, jazz, opera), members of parliament, government ministers etc. of change, “doing our little thing in our little corners” as Mama Chang exhorted on the July 11 call. But guess what? Now that COVID-19 has brought all these little embers together, who knows what worldwide bonfire may start. World, watch out! for as Victor Hugo once remarked: “You can resist an invading army; you cannot resist an idea whose time has come.”
As I embark on a four-month sabbatical (July 1-October 31, 2020 DV), I find this poem inspiring me in the sense that the time taken off–and what a time not to engage!–will be worth it. For even fire needs breathing space to be more of what it is meant to be: fiery!
F I R E
What makes a fire burn
is space between the logs,
a breathing space.
Too much of a good thing,
too many logs
packed in too tight
can douse the flames
almost as surely
as a pail of water would.
So building fires
to the spaces in between,
as much as to the wood.
When we are able to build
in the same way
we have learned
to pile on the logs,
then we can come to see how
it is fuel, and absence of the fuel
together, that make fire possible.
We only need to lay a log
lightly from time to time.
simply because the space is there,
in which the flame
that knows just how it wants to burn
can find its way.
Judy Brown, from ‘The Sea Accepts All Rivers’
Those who know me well will tell you I have an addiction to D.V.; no, not T.V., D.V. And it’s the smartest ones who ask me, sometimes after an unsatisfactory Googling spree: “what does ‘DV’ mean?” Let me spill the beans today.
Today is not as I had planned it. Some six months ago, Anyele and I had imagined a family road trip across the North America continent (we’ve done it once), from where we live in Montreal, Quebec (East Coast) all the way to Pasadena, California (West Coast). Yes, the trip in itself would be enjoyable but the icing on the cake would be today, my graduation from Fuller Seminary with a Master of Arts in Global Leadership. Unless you are a stranger on the planet, there’s no need to tell you why we’re stuck at home in Montreal (incidentally the Coronavirus epicentre in Canada), watching my Commencement from a laptop screen instead!
I’m not complaining; just telling my version of a story almost everyone of us can relate to. Whose ‘solid’ plans haven’t changed this year due to a certain ‘invisible’ Coronavirus? Most of us had the year quite well-laid out and then… BAM! COVID-19 hit. Tell me: how are your new year plans going?
D.V., THE WISDOM OF JAMES
It is a well-functioning human being that recognizes it is a good thing to plan one’s life, year, month, day etc. It is also a well-functioning Homo sapiens that recognizes it is human to have limits–we cannot, and do not, control everything. We get to make some things happen under our control but some things also happen to us beyond our control–like the season, the weather. We are only human (ouch, why does that hurt so much?!). God is Omnipotent (all powerful); we are mini potent. God is Omniscient (all knowing); we are mini scient (how much is your science?). God is omnipresent (present everywhere at the same time, including the future); we are mono present and can only live in the now.
Besides, God is eternal, everlasting, but not so with us–we each have an ‘expiry date.’ God is God; we are not. (S)He has no limits; we do. My mentor Peter Scazzero is spot on that “embracing our limits humbles us like little else.” In fact, the word for human in my Twi language is Odasani, literally meaning, one whose days finish. James the brother of Jesus Christ exhorts then:
13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. 17 If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them. (James 4:13-17, emphasis mine)
D.V. then isn’t Digital Video, Domestic Violence, Daily Value, Double Vagina, Dependent Variable, Diversity Immigrant Visa (DV lottery) or … whatever else people find when they Google it after I send their minds reeling with those two alphabets at the end of my email, SMS or social media sentences? D.V. is Deo Volente, Latin for “God willing” or “if it is the Lord’s will” as St. James lays it out so beautifully in the aforementioned Scripture.
In my few years on the planet I must say that I have found my Muslim friends take the spirit and practice of Yakubu’s Scripture above much more seriously than my Christian brothers and sisters. The former often are quick to add to their futuristic statements and plans, “Insha Allah,” God willing.
HOW I GOT HOOKED
By now you’ve probably heard me tell the story of how God miraculously saved my life during this fatal car accident (picture above) on 21st July, 2008 on the Yamoussoukro-Abidjan highway in Cote d’Ivoire while serving with the United Nations Operation there. What you most likely don’t know is that I clearly bouncing up and down in my military boots as I enthusiastically went to our Radio Room at our base in Bouaké (about the middle of the country) that crisp morning and confidently said to the operator on duty in Ga (the language of the people of Accra; my wife Anyele’s tribe), the equivalent of: “We are off to Abidjan. We will be back.”
No. “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will…”I’m getting goosebumps even right now recalling my shock the moment I realized that out of the three of us who left our U.N. hospital base that morning, two of us never returned as they died in the said car crush en route to Abidjan and even I did not come back the same man who left.
Since then, I have become an extreme addict to ‘D.V.’, humbly attaching it to virtually every futuristic statement and plan I make, sometimes to the chagrin of others who haven’t died like me before. For me it isn’t only the right thing to do because Scripture says so; I’ve experienced the wisdom and reality of it several times, the epitome being July 21, 2008. To me then, to not add ‘D.V.’ to my plans is sin (James 4:17).
EVEN ROYALS ARE NOT EXEMPT
Arthur W. Pink tells a D.V. story from his perspective in his book, The Sovereignty of God, something that occurred twenty years prior:
“Queen Victoria was dead, and the date for the coronation of her eldest son, Edward, had been set for April 1902. In all the announcements which were sent out, two little letters were omitted, D. V.-Deo Volente: God willing. Plans were made and all arrangements completed for the most imposing celebrations that England had ever witnessed. Kings and emperors from all parts of the earth had received invitations to attend the royal ceremony. The Princes proclamations were printed and displayed, but, so far as the writer is aware, the letters D. V. were not found on a single one of them. A most imposing program had been arranged, and the late Queen’s eldest son was to be crowned Edward the Seventh at Westminster Abbey at a certain hour on a fixed day. And then God intervened, and all mans plans were frustrated. A still small voice was heard to say, “You have reckoned without Me,” and Prince Edward was stricken down with appendicitis, and his coronation postponed for months!”
A NOTE TO ONE WHOSE DAYS FINISH
The point is not that God is some Supreme Heavenly Killjoy, eagerly looking out for whose parade He can rain on today or tomorrow but rather that we accept we are only human and humbly add ‘D.V.‘ to our plans, great or small, as long as they extend beyond this very second. Deo Volente. “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” My days haven’t ended (yet) but my Commencement plans surely have.