One of the most stupid things I’ve ever done is to travel 10 whole years into marriage before ever seeking formal post-marital counselling. After the several pre-marital sessions lasting many months in 2006, Anyele and I went in the power of that for a decade until we felt we needed further formal, external help. Why on earth did we do that?
Come to think of it, every 5,000 km or so we were changing the oil in our car and getting it serviced yet not so with our marriage. Doesn’t every marriage need regular marriage maintenance? Why wait till we’re sick before we see a doctor when we can at least do annual check-ups? In fact, I would say we came from a culture where seeing a counsellor connoted there was a pathology; and not so much a maintenance thing.
Friends, I’ve had several conversions since August 12, 2006 that have better aligned and further fortified what I thought were already ‘excellent foundations.’ Sometimes there’ve even been foundational cracks I’ve had to fix (and God knows I’m not done). For time to time I’ve come across new information that has caused me to repent, have a change of mind, and realign our foundations to keep this family building strong and lasting.
EXAMPLES OF FAMILY FOUNDATIONS TO REVISIT
Feel free to say “shame on you Yaw” but I had never heard of a family genogram until barely five years ago! How could such an important tool and exercise not have been part of our foundations when we set out a decade-and-a-half ago? And if you’re asking “what the heck is that?”, then trust me, you don’t even know you need one until you eventually discover it. Afterwards you would wonder how in the world your family had been surviving without one. I say ‘surviving’ because you will then notice that what you thought was ‘thriving’ wasn’t quite so.
Then there are basic tools for connecting with spouse and children on a deep emotional level we only received in the last five years. We learnt the 10/10 from the Pellmans and Temperature Reading from the Scazzeros. “Love your wife,” yes I want to. “Respect your husband,” yes she wants to. But how? The Kraemers also gave us tools for this.
And all this is for a good-looking couple who had a pretty solid family heritage, coming from a few generations of good Christian homes, being smart, leaders of our church youth fellowship who had lived virtuously and gotten married as virgins. We even themed our wedding “a celebration of purpose, passion and purity.” Alas! We who ‘had it all’ have realized there are family foundations everyone needs yet almost no one lays. The very marriage mentors who have been blessing us with these paradigms, praxes and practical tools are passionate about their ministry of marriage mentorship today precisely because they themselves didn’t have these when they were our age!
Family is a BIG deal. It is the basic unit of society, just like the cell is for all biological life and the atom is for all matter. Yet the thing about family foundations is this: just like finances, very little about how to make it work well is taught in school about it. If one isn’t fortunate to have a spiritual community that provides quality family life information and formation, you’re in a hard place. There are many divorces that are preventable, if the foundations could be reconfigured. There are some we’ve been able to help save by God’s grace; and others… well… too bad, too late.
THE MOST IMPORTANT PART
Few will argue against the assertion that the most important part of a building, or anything else that is built for that matter, say a marriage, is its foundation. A ton of things have been said about foundations. Gordon B. Hinckley asserts, “You can’t build a great building on a weak foundation. You must have a solid foundation if you’re going to have a strong superstructure.” Adding his voice, David Allan Coe says, “It is not the beauty of a building you should look at; its the construction of the foundation that will stand the test of time.” The greatest teacher of all time, Jesus Christ, classifies life builders into two categories, wise and foolish, purely based on thee foundations they lay: the foolish build on sand, the wise build on rock.
My beloved mentor Peter Scazzero talks about foundations a lot in the Emotionally Healthy Leadership paradigms he teaches. And no wonder, since like the typical New Yorker he is, Pete is ever so familiar with the skycraping towers of Manhattan. This is how he explains the importance of digging deep foundations if we are to build life’s tall towers of significance:
Manhattan consists almost entirely of bare granite, a very hard and strong type of rock. To carry the weight of a 75 or 100 story skyscraper, foundations known as “piles” are used. These are concrete or steel columns hammered into the ground with a massive crane until they penetrate solid rock.
Some pilings go twenty-five stories under the ground. The heavy weight of the skyscraper is then distributed through each of the deep “piles” in the ground below. Together they are capable of supporting the structure’s enormous weight.
If the pilings are drilled in poorly, cracks eventually appear in the structure. Entire buildings may lean. Then they must be torn down or lifted completely so the piles can be reset – a costly and time-consuming process.
FAMILY FOUNDATIONS MASTERMIND
As you might be aware from a previous blog, “a mastermind group (often shortened to just ‘masterminds’) is a peer-to-peer mentoring group used to help members learn together, solve problems, birth new ideas and gain clarity with input and advice from the other group members.” For eight weekly sessions, from April 4 to May 30, I shall be walking along with a dozen leaders who want to re-examine their family foundations and receive new paradigms, praxes and practical tools to finally fix faulty family foundations. Inputs will include several book chapters, videos, articles, practical exercises, discussions and debates. Two special features and benefits will be FREE membership of an online chest of over 20,000 resources and a FREE DISC Personality assessment with a 37-age customized report!
You can be sure that “mastermind groups are great in holding each other accountable for the goals and outcomes each member comes up with themselves” (see here). Outcomes and outputs of this particular Family Foundations Mastermind are as follows:
- Paradigm Shift on the Prime Place of Family
- Ancient Wisdom Applied
- Current Family Systems Theories Tested
- Practical Relationship Tools (for emotional connection, communication, forgiveness)
- Family Genogram
- Behavioural Assessment
- Emotional Needs List & Action Points
- Family Mission Statement
- Hierarchy of Priorities Configuration
- Integrated Life Exploration & Commitment
Register here and let’s go back to basics. Let’s finally fix faulty family foundations that everyone needs to but hardly anyone does.
Over the last week, somehow this notion of needing to work harder on yourself than you do on your job has come up with two or three different coaching clients. For the CEO of a crucial agro business firm in West Africa, the financial services entrepreneur in Canada and the PhD-wielding academic on the east coast of the United States, the three reasons I’m about to share held true. It is true for you too.
For the record, I work hard and believe in hard work. I also work smart and absolutely promote the idea of brain over brawn anyway. Over a decade ago I came up with the phrase, “brain power pays; muscle power pains.” I subscribe to the Pauline exhortation that “whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord and not for man.” So by all means, work hard and smart on your job, but work even harder and smarter on yourself.
Here are three reasons why:
1. WHO YOU ARE IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN WHAT YOU DO
No matter how hard or smart you work, the instrument for the doing the do is you. If the input into you doesn’t match or exceed the output, that will soon be your undoing. Let me put it in a way one of my staff in British Columbia said it to me a few years ago: “If your output exceeds your input, then your upkeep will be your downfall.” Classic! Not only will you soon not be effective and efficient when your self input is less than your job output, it is unsustainable and you might end up becoming irrelevant. And sometimes, irrelevant not just in terms of knowledge and skills for a context that has progressed because you’re not healthy or even physically alive anymore–you killed the goose that lays the golden eggs!
Consider these sagacious words of educator Palmer Parker:
“When I give something I do not possess, I give a false and dangerous gift, a gift that looks like love but is, in reality, loveless—a gift given more from my need to prove myself than from the other’s need to be cared for…. One sign that I am violating my own nature in the name of nobility is a condition called burnout. Though usually regarded as the result of trying to give too much, burnout in my experience results from trying to give what I do not possess—the ultimate in giving too little! Burnout is a state of emptiness, to be sure, but it does not result from giving all I have; it merely reveals the nothingness from which I was trying to give in the first place.”
Remember, who we are is more important that what you do, because we do whatever we do out of who we are: our identity, character, values.
2. ONE MEANS A LIVING, THE OTHER MEANS A FORTUNE
Classic motivational speaker of blessed memory, Jim Rohn, poignantly put this in a way like nobody else has: “Learn to work harder on yourself than you do on your job. If you work hard on your job you can make a living, but if you work hard on yourself you’ll make a fortune.” This statement, I believe, is a variation of timely advice Jim himself received from his mentor J. Earl Schoaf. Jim had heard him give the reason for why the job only pays the bills but the latter ends in billions: work harder on yourself than you do on your job; your income is directly related to your philosophy, not the economy; and for things to change, you must change.
From a one-year college drop out living from pay check to pay check as a stock clerk at Sears, this advice catalyzed a five-year mentorship of Rohn by Shoaff, encouraging him to develop himself and pursue his dream of a better life such that by age thirty one, Rohn was a millionaire! It was a really sad day when this motivator of motivators like Anthony Robbins, Less Brown, Brian Tracy and Denis Waitley, passed away in December 2009.
Friend, work harder on yourself–from your paradigms through your attitudes to your skills. It’s the software that you carry and apply to a variety of endeavours, not only your job, that will unlock abundant wealth and well-being.
3. JOBS COME AND GO BUT YOU’LL STILL BE HERE
Sometimes people leave jobs; other times jobs leave people. In the kind of post-pandemic economies we have now, more jobs leave people than people leave jobs. Certain whole industries have been wiped out, for crying out loud! I’ve marvelled at how many pilots have been literally grounded and have had to find some other kind of livelihood. What if all you did was work hard on your job and never grew your other interests, talents and skills or even never networked beyond the ‘boys club’ in your profession?
When many years ago I decided to take the path of the risk of entrepreneurship rather than the ‘security’ of a regular paid job, some people who thought I was crazy later found out they had been crazy to think ‘owning a job’ was better than owning a business when in spite of their qualifications, loyalties and skills their jobs were cut. Former Microsoft COO, Kevin Turner, said it best: “The only job security we have is our individual commitment to personal development.” Your job today may not be there tomorrow–in fact your entire industry might not be there–but you will. Work harder on yourself than you do on your job forwhen tomorrow comes, your preparation will meet opportunity. That’s what they call success.
Do the following to ensure you are working hard on yourself for your personal growth and development: set aside a time for YOU, a ME time, everyday. Mine is 5-6am everyday during which I read my personal mission statement, review my goals, read for at least 15 minutes and express my thoughts and feelings in writing.
For all the coachees I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, each was working super hard at their jobs. It is my job to ensure that while they do that, they strive towards working even harder on themselves than they do on their jobs. There’s no great future for anyone without that.
My mentor likes to say, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” This is true but there is something even more fundamental that all leadership itself rises and falls on. I say, everything rises and falls on family first. At least five reasons come to mind why:
1. CREATOR PERSPECTIVE | God is Family
“In the beginning, God…” That’s how the entire holy scriptures begin in Genesis 1:1. I have a theistic worldview as a bonafide African, and a Biblical one at that as an African Christian. My understanding is that everything is created by a Supreme God and that He created human beings in His image and likeness. That tickles my theological senses a lot because according to the Christian view, GOD IS FAMILY. At the centre of the universe is family–Father-Son-Spirit. At the core of cosmos is a love, relationship–Love, Lover and Love itself. Everything rises and falls on love, everything rises and falls on God, everything rises and falls on family.
Of course we could go into how God created the first family after declaring “it is not good for man to be alone,” how throughout scripture and history God chooses a person and their family to work through, the many scriptures that seek to protect, preserve and promote family etc. Even when God decided to wrap Himself in human flesh and move into our human neighbourhood in the person of Jesus Christ, he chose to implant himself in a family–Mary and Joseph’s. Everything rises and falls on family.
2. CRADLE PERSPECTIVE | Parents shape world shakers
Have you ever heard the proverb, “The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world”? That is 1865 wisdom unleashed on the world through the refrain of a William Ross Wallace poem that praises parenthood as the preeminent force for change in the world (see here). Of course, at the time it was written, nearly two centuries ago, the work of raising children was mainly seen as the role of the mother but we know all too well it takes two to tango. Both father and mother have a role in rocking the cradle, even procuring that cradle in the first place. Parents and the wider family, shape the people who would shake and move the world, for good or ill. These two PhDs Barbara Riggs and Cynthia Tweedell don’t mince words in their Marriage and Family textbook: “The strongest influence in your life will stem from family.” Period. Everything rises and falls on family.
3. CELLULAR PERSPECTIVE | Family is the unit of humanity
So yes, “it is the hand the rocks the cradle that is the hand that rules the world” but alas! today, everyone wants to change the world; no one wants to start at home. The irony! Not only does everything rise and fall on family because the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world but also the family is the basic unit of society just as the cell is the basic unit of biological life or the atom is for all matter. Yet somehow we think we can flourish in the corporate world, government and such without adequately addressing the lowest common denominator!
If you think one cell gone bonkers is no big deal think again about cancer. That’s all it is. Cells gone bonkers, multiplying unhealthily–and eventually spreading that craziness (metastasis). Sooner or later a whole monarch or president or parent dies, all because of a cell gone awry. Everything rises and falls on family, that one cell.
4. CALCULATION PERSPECTIVE | Hindsight is 20/20
Today’s C-level executive claims “It’s not the quantity of time but quality that I spend with my family that matters.” This is a fallacy. Family costs what it costs and it doesn’t go on sale! The question is if we are willing to pay the price.
Even for the richest and most popular of leaders, when they assess their lives, doing a calculation of all they’ve spent their talents and energies, time and finances on, the truth remains that, “There’s no one who on their deathbed has been heard to say, “I wish I had spent more time at work.”” What folks should’ve known first, they only find out last: Everything rises and falls on family.
5. COVID-19 PERSPECTIVE | The only place to be/go has been home.
When our all-important selves on our all-important endeavours were brought to a screeching halt by the latest Coronavirus pandemic, where did we all head? Home! When literally every economy and society locked down, where did we stay put and be safe: with family! I’ve never seen so many advertisements on primetime television asking people to stay home in my life! Heroes, according to the World Health Organization, stay home! Ha! Who would’ve thought that day would ever come!
Even high-flying pilots have been grounded, literally, at home. I haven’t flown in a year–that is crazy considering that there were times in the last few years when I did as many as 70 flights in the year! My VIP airport lounge passes and platinum airline and hotel statuses have been rendered useless. The only thing that has mattered most has been the people many of us paid the least attention to prior to COVID-19: family. Of course, some families have turned at each other and self-destructed because of the very forced proximity that should’ve been a blessing!
Crucibles reveal what’s most important. After this pandemic is over, we would need insignia to remind us, lest we forget, everything rises and falls on family.
THE MILLION DOLLAR QUESTION
So why then do many, too many, in our generation tend to put family on the backburner? What if we all invested in our families the same degree of seriousness we put into our professions or in climbing the corporate ladder? I’ve been amazed at how many C-level executives are executing vision and mission statements and strategic foci for their organizations but have not given a thought to forging a simple family mission statement yet alone execute it.
Granted, some people really want to give their families their best shot but they just don’t know how or don’t have the tools to. Since Anyele and I welcomed our seventh child into the world, we’ve had so many puzzles and questions thrown our way that we’ve decided to hold a free online session from time to time for various folks to share our hearts, heads (ideas) and hands-on stuff (skills) about family, theirs and ours! Would you believe after our first 2021 15 Laws of Growth Mastermind through January and February the one thing that made all these participating professionals vote for an extra/bonus Mastermind session, which I obliged to facilitate for free, was family?
In one of the quarters of each year, my coaching company will run a 60-day journey through powerful principles of family foundations in a paid mastermind group for healthy family growth, based on ancient wisdom, current family systems theory and practical tools that work! This will be targeted at C-level executives comprising weekly 90-minute online sessions for eight weeks with lots of readings, video clips, assignments, inspiration, encouragement and accountability throughout the weeks! Each week, a unique practical skill will be learnt to better our relationships.
Family: everyone has one–no matter how dysfunctional or atypical. Even if we don’t form one of our own (family of procreation), everyone comes from one (family of orientation) that we didn’t choose. I confess that being a very goal-oriented, high achiever myself, I never thought the day would come when I would see and treat family with the sort of ‘first placeness’, centrality and reverence I have for it today. Perhaps if others also had a paradigm shift that everything rises and falls on family, everything would change too.
What do you think?
There has been such an overwhelming response (over 80,000 reached!) to a social media post I made regarding a misconception about the essence of family planning that I felt it might be useful to document that write-up on this blog.
On Tuesday, March 2nd our seventh child was born. The rather long boy descended down his mother’s birth canal at the Montreal Jewish Hospital in all his 3.895kg glory. The posting of this momentous occasion on social media sparked a flurry of responses, almost 100% affirmative but I won’t be fooled. Not everyone thinks my wife and I are smart, planet-friendly, trendy, progressive, modern and such.
Just a couple of weeks earlier I had been on a Zoom call with a just-married pastor in Ontario who hopes to have a family of three children. Upon hearing that Anyele and I were expecting again, our seventh child for that matter, he unwittingly asked, “why so many?” To which I responded, “why so few?” The blushing of his face and awkward laughter revealed his embarrassment.
I have mentioned before how people have made it very clear to Anyele and I that they would rather raise pets than have children. Generally our human selfishness/self-centredness doesn’t allow us to do the parenting thing (at all or well) because children are an inconvenience, suckers, an unwelcome reflection of our marred selves, among a host of other postmodern reasons. See here.
“WHY SO MANY?”
We have met people who are proud DINKS–Double Income No Kids. In many circles we’ve been in, this has been the ‘in thing’ or at best two is the most ‘decent’, ‘smart’ and even ‘cute’ thing to do. As I heard one preacher humorously quip, “a boy for me and a girl for you, and praise the Lord we’re finally through!” A year ago, I shared here some of the reasons why Anyele and I have chosen to have “so many.”
Having children or not, many or few at the end of the day is more of a worldview issue than a socio-economic or even climatic one. I share our Christian theist view in this blog. In summary, “There is a higher Being than our selfish selves that beckons; a higher purpose than the painful inconvenience that compels; and a deeper fulfilment of something (and someone) that outlives making merry today and just dying tomorrow.”
THE INTEGRATED LIFE
At our executive education firm, YAW PERBI, we strive for LIFE in all its fullness—#Leadership, #Integrity, #Family, #Entrepreneurship. I personally find it curious that many in the corporate space ignore, even hide, family (and faith) until occasions like Christmas. All of a sudden families come out of the shadows, whipped out and splurged on Christmas cards. You can go on LinkedIn right now and see how it is so ‘professional,’ meaning, almost family-sterile.
I’m super proud of my Wonder Woman Wife, Economist-Entrepreneur Extraordinaire, for the safe delivery of our seventh. We thank God for the privilege of a full quiver of seven lethal arrows for life’s battles, conquests and such. This baby, like the preceding six, will change our lives no doubt—rescheduled meetings, halted plans, budget increases… but what else could life be about?! True success, as my mentor succinctly puts it, is “when those who know you the best, love and respect you the most.”
At Yaw Perbi, we promote people and cheer on companies that seek leadership authenticity by making the integrated life the way to go. Call it life/work balance or whatever you may, our corporate folks, especially C-level folks, must find a way to bring their whole selves to family and same to work. My favourite MBA teacher on this, Bill George, says more about this more eloquently than I could here. Cheers to the #integratedlife, where marriage is not an inconvenience, children are not a nuisance and family is not an afterthought, only receiving the crumps of our time, talent, treasure and efforts.
FAMILY PLANNING ISN’T NO/FEW CHILDREN
Why do so many people wrongly think ‘Family Planning’ means having few/no children? Family Planning is “the ability of individuals and couples to anticipate and attain their desired number of children and the spacing and timing of their births.” Although it was clearly a quote (inverted commas and all), a lot of people on social media were giving me a pat on the back for this spot-on definition without realizing it isn’t something I cooked up to justify my number of children, but actually a World Health Organization (WHO) definition. Of course they add contraception as the means to achieving this desired end of number, spacing and timing.
Even before we got married 15 years ago, Anyele and I purposed and planned to have seven children. There were no guarantees; God ‘engraced’ us. Don’t judge us for having “too many” (in your opinion); we shan’t judge you for having “too few” (in our opinion) or even none.
Your purpose and plan may be different from ours. The most important thing is to ensure that it is God’s unique plan for your unrepeatable family that you are following and not just “comform[ing] to the patterns of this world.”
We hope your Family Planning excites you a lot and scares you a little—just like ours!
It is always an honour to get to name someone or something, especially a seventh biological child. The historic and prophet names of the other children have been explained in the past here.
Our seventh, and final, child was born on March 2, 2021 at the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal, Canada. In accordance with our Akan (Yaw’s) and Ga (Anyele’s) traditions of Ghana, we named him on the eighth day, the same day of his birth, Tuesday, a week later. Like all his siblings before, the 3.895kg champion, whose 54cm height excited the obstetric staff because it’s over the 97th percentile, has been given a name pregnant with historic and prophetic meaning. And his name shall be called NII AJORWOR AMPA PERBI. Here’s what each given name means:
All the older six siblings are called Nana, an Akan title meaning prince(ss) and also signifying God as King. Nii is the Ga equivalent of Nana.
Over a dozen years ago, with inspiration from the life of the patriarch Abraham we felt called out of Ghana: “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.” So we did, leaving a great life in Ghana to start from scratch in Canada. The commission came with a commiserate blessing though: “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:1-3)
It’s been nearly a decade-and-a-half since our being called and sent forth and we feel we’ve really and truly been blessed by the LORD in every sphere of life–physically, spiritually, socially and academically (which was the original door open in Canada). Ajorwor means “we’ve been blessed” or in context, “God has blessed us!”
And we are blessed not just qualitatively but quantitatively too! We had one child at the time of the promise, now we have seven times the number of children! Every child is a blessing, a reward, a heritage from the LORD and an arrow for waging life’s battles and extending the glory of the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in Heaven. Indeed our quiver is full, and the Psalmist says we are blessed for having a quiver full of arrows!
Ampa is the baby’s maternal grandfather. When we felt it would be appropriate to name our last child after this noble man we didn’t know Nii Ajorwor would be born so close to Ghana’s Independence Day, March 6. You will soon understand the significance of this. Initially called Kwame Patterson, great grandpa changed his name to Nii Ampa Sowa. He left to study Industrial Management at Leeds Polytechnic, United Kingdom, in 1958, a year after Ghana’s independence from British colonial rule.
Asked by his cousin Ebenezer Ako-Adjei, one of the ‘Big Six‘ founders of Ghana, to come back to help him run his Ministry (Foreign Affairs), he returned to Ghana and became his Personal Assistant in 1960. In 1963 when Ako-Adjei was arrested in a political frame-up, Anyele’s grandfather was arrested too. He was released from Usher Fort and Nsawam prisons after six months detention. He left the civil service.
In 1965, he joined Parkinson Heward (builders of the Tema industrial municipaity) as a bookkeeper. In February 1966, when there was the coup d’etat by the National Liberation Council that ousted Kwame Nkrumah’s government, Parkinson Heward was asked to leave the country. He vowed never to join politics again… hence Anyele’s dad’s aversion to politics! Nii Ampa Sowa passed away in 1980, while Anyele’s dad was pursuing his graduate studies in Canada, where Anyele was born.
Interestingly, Ajorwor (“we are blessed”/”we’ve been blessed” in Ga) combined with Ampa (“true” in Akan), Ajorwor Ampa means “truly blessed!” So we have been blessed indeed; but blessing is a mountain with no peak. There’s so much more where these blessings came from and we trust that Nii Ajorwor not only represents blessings past but is a divine sign and a symbol for many more blessings to come to our Perbi family and through us, to all nations! Welcome, Nii Ajorwor Ampa Perbi! Akwaaba!
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.
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.”
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.
Often we’re quick to run to faith, which is “confidence in what we hope for,” but hope in and of itself is pretty powerful; especially in a crisis of the sort we’re stewing in, a pandemic pot.
Hope is a powerful thing. I remember walking through bookstore after bookstore in New York City, scrambling. Scrambling not for hope per se but for the Audacity of Hope, both literally as in Obama’s book and figuratively. The year was 2008. I was on a short break from my service with the United Nations Operation in Cote d’Ivoire to attend a seminar at The Aspen Institute and to visit my wife pursuing her master’s at McGill University. And hope was rising as it seemed possible, plausible, that the United States of America could very well have a Black president in a few short days. H-I-S-T-O-R-Y. The hope was palpable as I walked on Broadway on Election Day and mingled among the crowds at Times Square where CNN had pitched camp. Hope became faith and I couldn’t believe my eyes later that night as faith became sight!
Hope is often treated like the ugly step sister of faith; but no. Hope per se is very beautiful and powerful and can hold her own. It may not get the same ‘likes’ as faith but I would say hope actually is the mother of faith, no matter how unimpressive. Without hope it is impossible to have faith. But forget famous faith for now; let’s just look at raw hope.
Everyone is waiting for the COVID-19 vaccine. I say it has already been found. It is hope. Hope in this time of crisis. One of my greatest encouragements during this COVID-19 pandemic has been a reading Fellows of the Africa Leadership Initiative (ALI), of The Aspen Institute, mulled over last month: Václav Havel’s “HOPE.”* Soak this in:
” . . . [T]he kind of hope I often think about (especially in situations that are particularly hopeless, such as prison) I understand above all as a state of mind, not a state of the world. Either we have hope within us, or we don’t. . . . Hope is not prognostication. It is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart. It transcends the world that is immediately experienced, and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons. . . . I feel that its deepest roots are in the transcendental, just as the roots of human responsibility are, though of course I can’t – unlike Christians, for instance — say anything about the transcendental. . . .
“Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed. The more unpromising the situation in which we demonstrate hope, the deeper that hope is. Hope is not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out. In short, I think that the deepest and most important form of hope, the only one that can keep us above water and urge us to good works, and the only true source of the breathtaking dimension of the human spirit and its efforts, is something we get, as it were, from ‘elsewhere.’ It is also this hope, above all, that gives us the strength to live and continually to try new things, even in conditions that seem as hopeless as ours do, here and now.”
Think about those powerful words. Let them sink in. Let them strengthen your state of mind and bolster you in this crisis. Hope is powerful for any and every human alive with a beating heart, even if with lungs struggling from the stranglehold of SARS-CoV-2. Powerful; just powerful.
But unlike Havel, I as a Christian can say something about the transcendental roots of human nature and responsibility and hope. There is One who has the patent for the powerful vaccine against the COVID crisis: GOD. One of his accolades is ” the God of Hope.” And as a doctor-turned-preacher, I join the lawyer-turned-preacher who said “faith is confidence in what we hope for” to pray thus: “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…. May the God of hope fill you with joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:5-6, 13). Amen.
Now try that vaccine!
*From Disturbing the Peace: A Conversation with Karel Huizdala, 1987.
PS. The Ghana fellows of ALI are making hope real by raising money to provide much-needed PPEs for our frontliners in this ongoing COVID fight. Kindly go to our #MASKUP campaign on GoFundMe and give a dollar or two to keep hope alive. Together, “we shall overcome.” Thank you already!
Almost all of us know more about our fields of study or specialization, from Archeology to Zoology, than we do about ourselves. Most doctors know more medicine than they know themselves; marketers more about brand identity of stuff than they understand about themselves. Why is that? That’s SO wrong!
I recently had a conversation with a 67-year old CEO of a booming business who had never done a personality/behavioural assessment in her entire life! How on earth do most people know more Medicine or Marketing (or whatever their professional field is) than Meology, the study of Me? This blog was provoked by a certain young lady I’ve known for the last 15 years. Between high school and university this gal worked at NEOwarehouse, a book/motivational media store my wife (Anyele) and I owned and run at a busy intersection in Accra, Ghana. All we saw was potential; and over the years she’s proven us right. We saw her leadership blossom as she took a cue from us and began an investment club in her university days and even served as admin. to The HuD Group in Ghana. I was not surprised when she rose through the ranks in the marketing world, working with global brands. Even when she had a stint in the USA while her husband was pursuing his PhD, her entrepreneurial nature led her to pursue one venture after the other, including online merchandising.
Recently she has been a great help with the branding and marketing drive of Perbi Cubs Library Services as we seek to raise a new generation of enlightened people of African descent who are a product of an enviable national culture of leisure reading. To appreciate her for her kind services, pro bono, we rewarded her with a gift of a DISC Personality Indicator assessment. After taking the assessment we were both eager to meet and debrief via Zoom and then I got this email on the morning of, requesting a re-scheduling of the appointment to meet herself. What? Was she not prioritizing this? On the contrary! These were her words: “My goal is to read every page and every word of my report before we meet. Yesterday was super packed for me so I couldn’t finish it. Looking at my day today, I wont have a “quite time” to finish the content and answer the questions before our scheduled time.”
I was so impressed by her commitment to be thorough about knowing her strengths and weaknesses better, her motivations and fears, her best working environments etc. that it provoked this blog. I generally do not see that same zest for Meology as the quest for other arts and sciences! In fact, I dare say that in the last couple of months many of us have even learnt more about a certain Coronavirus than we know about ourselves! Whose idea is that? How on earth does that happen? How could a near-70-year-old have lived that long, had a decent career and be running a profitable company without much Meology. How come that person knows more accounting than their personality?
THE RUSH TO DO & ACHIEVE
When a bunch of nine of us started The HuD Group 17 years ago, we were in our roaring twenties and hungry to shake the world. We were big on mission and purpose. We wanted to help everyone who would listen discover and fulfill their God-given purpose and achieve their full potential. We still do but now we know better, that IDENTITY COMES BEFORE PURPOSE. In fact, who you are is more important than what you do in many ways; but especially who you are totally affects what you do and how you do it. In fact, many of the ancients insisted that we must know ourselves in order to know God.
My friend and sage Carson Pue, demonstrates how self-knowledge and God-knowledge (since we’re made in the image and likeness of God) is the start and core of all true and lasting achievement (see below).
Honestly, a lot of times I cringe when I watch President Donald Trump. He’s achieved what is arguably the highest post on the planet but I wonder how much of himself he isn’t even aware of! These days, there’s a whole field of leadership studies known as Psychodynamics of Leadership. It is becoming clearer and clearer that the best schooling and even being a genius isn’t enough for leadership success that lasts. There is a certain degree of Meology that if not known, blindsides us and strikes us where it hurts most–not just hurts us but all in our circle of influence.
I have been fascinated about meeting me. I don’t make apologies for spending quality time learning about what it means to be a High D and High I, as I discovered a few years ago from taking the DISC assessment. And I’m happy to be giving one of the best gifts anyone could ever give to another human being: the gift of knowing themselves! Every investment of time, money or whatever resource in Meology is worth it, whether you’re as young as our mentee or as old as the post-retirement age CEO.
Taking the DISC is one sure, wise and practical step in this direction. Don’t do life without meeting you; don’t die without ever living! If there is one gift you should give yourself under the quarantine and lockdown circumstances in these COVIDic times it is this: DISCover you. Email me (email@example.com) if you need coaching. I’ll measure how serious you are by only doing it for a fee.