Wednesday, September 19, 2012


I've been thinking a lot about leadership lately as I've reflected on past experiences with leadership and my responses to those time has gone by and we're in a better position now, I think I'm better able to evaluate those experiences and see them more clearly, for good or for bad.

And now that I'm a little more aware of leadership issues, I think I'm seeing leadership crises everywhere!  On top of that, I'm now much more aware of my own leadership style and recognizing that I need to try to understand what it means for my own life so that I can lead in a way that honors God.

The other day I picked up a book that Miguel is reading called Journeys to Significance by Neil Cole.  I wasn't really looking for a book on leadership, but once I thumbed through a few pages, I was rather hooked!  This book isn't like any other book on leadership that I've ever read (not that I've read that many, but let's be honest, most books on the topic of 'leadership' just sound like they will be boring!).

The author writes from the perspective of "Charting a Leadership Course From the Life of Paul" and again, his book is intriguing because he has an angle on the different journeys that Paul made that I'd never considered before. In the author's words, "This book offers strategic missional lessons that can help you be more fruitful; but, even more, it focuses on the leadership formation that Paul went through." The author goes on to outline each of Paul's mission journeys and how each reflects his growing maturity in leadership.

This quote towards the beginning of the book really caught my attention and I've been camping out there for a few weeks now...

"In its basic essence, leadership is not hard to define. In fact, you can literally sum it up in one word: influence. It is not hard to find books about good leadership, but finding someone who leads well is not as easy.

Many have defined leadership as getting other people to do what you want them to. That is influence, so I guess it is a form of leadership, albeit one that is selfish and manipulative. Even when we convince ourselves that we are readily only doing what we know to be for the good of those we are manipulating, it is still an insult at best and deceptive at worst. It tends to treat everyone as a child incapable of making a good decision. It also leaves the people being influenced unprepared to eventually grow on their own and lead others.

The best leaders are not those who have the most followers but those who develop and deploy other leaders. The true test of a leader's influence is to look at what is left behind once the leader is gone. This lesson, however, is not something that one learns in an introductory course on leadership. It comes with the maturity that develops over the course of many struggles, setbacks and seeming failures.  

Perhaps this is why so few leaders today actually empower and release others but rather corral them in ministry contexts with the promise of services and entertaining productions. I wonder if our leaders have not fought through the lessons necessary to their becoming leaders who finish well and, as a result, have ended up simply casting their own vision and peddling their own influence. Instead of new leaders, the product of such influence peddlers is a growing congregation of consumers who beg to know "What have you done for me lately?" Or, as my friend Bob Logan says, "They're all tuned in to the same radio station--W-I-I FM, What's In It For Me?""

I think this quote has really struck deep with me because we're in a situation now where (praise God!) we have a leader who 'leads well' (we are so blessed!). Our experience with this type of leadership has been in stark contrast to our experiences with previous leaders. We really do feel empowered and like we're being encouraged to grow in our own leadership skills.  We don't have to be afraid of disagreeing with our leader for fear that he will be angry or upset or chalk it up to us being rebellious.  We aren't afraid to make decisions and we don't feel like we're being micro-managed. We are not afraid of being labeled as 'not team players' (I agree that there are those who are loners and stubbornly independent, but just because one member of the team has a different opinion than the rest does not mean that that person is wrong or not a team fact, it could mean the opposite, that they are more in tune to God's leading than the rest!).

In fact, every time we have a meeting with our leader, either over skype or in person, at the end he lets us know how much he loves working with us! He tells us how he appreciates us and the way our hearts want to serve God and how open and honest we are with him about our ministry. He prays over us and thanks God for the opportunity that he has been given to work with us, as if the privilege is his to work with us, not ours to work under him.

When I hear him say things like that, I can't help but feel uncomfortable and then cry because I'm not used to receiving that kind of affirmation from a leader (I have to admit that I'm so jaded that at times I even wonder if he's being sincere...does he really mean those things or is he just saying that?!).  Because to tell you the truth, we've been in ministry for quite a few years now and I can honestly tell you that no leader has ever said those kinds of words to us before and that is just really, really sad.  Maybe there was a compliment here and there, but nothing on this level. How sad that we can't naturally just take his words at face value...but I think we're becoming confident enough to accept them. 

I think it has something to do with the basic assumptions of leadership in a mission agency (and I speak about mission agencies, because that's my context).  Many agencies seem to have the philosophy of "How can you help us do what we do?", which tends to reduce members more to the level of 'playing pieces' to be moved about the 'game board' at the convenience of leadership. Thus, once the members are no longer considered as useful in a certain position, they might be vulnerable to pressure by leadership to move into a different ministry even though it might not be where they really want to be (being asked by leadership to consider filling this or that position might even be seen as 'the will of God' when leadership has such power over the members). In short, this style of leadership allows for a dangerous level of dysfunction to arise, IMHO and in my personal experience.

In contrast, there are those agencies who have this view, "Where is God leading you and how can we help you get there?" This implies a certain humility by leadership as they view themselves not so much as leaders, but as helpers who come alongside the members to guide them into the place where God is leading. This dynamic tends to create an environment that actually discourages dysfunction on the part of leadership (not that there might not be dysfunction, but it is much less likely to exist simply because of the leadership structure itself).

So, lots of stuff going on in my head regarding leadership as I reflect on past and current experiences and my own leadership style.  Am I trying to exert the wrong kind of influence (control) over those under my leadership (as in, my kids)? Or am I looking to come alongside them to empower, to raise up and release them to God's leading on their lives?

Good question...

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Smallest Volcano in the World

Did you know that the smallest volcano in the world is located in Puebla?  I didn't either!  Now the smallest active volcano in the world is the Taal Volcano in the Phillippines, but it's huge compared to the Cuexcomate Volcano in Puebla.

The Cuexcomate Volcano in Puebla is only 13 meters high (about 43 feet)  and for the price of 10 pesos (80 cents USD) you can actually go down inside it!  We were surprised to find out that it's right in the city...even though it's inactive, apparently some people worry that if the Popocatepetl volcano were to really explode, then Cuexcomate might explode as well, since it's connected to the same system.

Popocatepetl erupting in April of this year.

Last week we had the chance to help take care of some other MKs (Missionary Kids) whose parents came to Puebla to attend a worldview course offered by Worldview Resource Group (I highly recommend it!).  Miguel had already taken the same course online, so when we heard that these families were coming and didn't have childcare, we offered to help out.

We took them to several different places, such as the ruins in Cholula, a fort where the Battle of the Cinco de Mayo was fought, a train museum and to the Cuexcomate Volcano, of course!

Here is the whole group (minus Miguel) in front of the volcano.

Going down!

There wasn't a whole lot to see at the bottom, except for this spring.  They say the water has a bit of sulfur, but it didn't smell bad and we even saw a fish in there! There was also the end of a tunnel, which apparently connects to an entire tunnel system that exists under the city of Puebla.

They say that ancient peoples used to throw live human sacrifices into this was kind of creepy and sad to think about that.  As you can see, it would be impossible to get back out of their without that staircase!

So now you know...the world's smallest volcano is in Puebla!  What a fascinating discovery!

Baked Plantains

Since we came home from Veracruz with quite a few plantains, as you can see from this picture, we needed to eat them rather quickly before they went bad.

Gabriela helped me peel yucca root one day
for some yummy beef stew (plantains pictured
in the background)

Miguel wanted baked plantains with cheese, so we made this recipe twice and everyone really loved it!

First, we peeled the plantains.  Then we split them open, set them in pans lined with tin foil, slathered them with butter and lined them with cheese.  We used manchego cheese because that's what we had, but any kind of cheese would probably work as well. I added some water in the pans to keep the plantains from drying out too much.  This is a recipe that works best with riper plantains.

Alternate recipes would be to cover the plantains with butter, cinnamon and brown sugar or use guayaba paste along with the cheese.

Trip to Veracruz

About three weeks ago, we had the chance to go visit some Totonacan communities in Veracruz.  This particular part of Veracruz is on the western edge of the state very close to the border with Puebla state and small Totonacan communities are located all throughout this area.

As you can see from this picture, this part of Veracruz is at a lower elevation with rolling hills rather than the steep mountains just a bit further to the west. It is a very fertile land and we were amazed at the variety of fruits and vegetables that the ranchos (gardens) here produce. And see all those clouds?  Those were the remnants of Hurricane Ernesto that was moving through that weekend!

Our purpose in this trip was to participate in a children's activity that was to be held in the town of Poza Larga that Saturday.  Miguel shared a story about friendship with the kids involving three butterflies and three flowers.

There were also games and a meal of tamales, horchata (rice/cinnamon drink) and cake.  Our kids were a little shy at first, but then they started making friends and participating in the games. It is always a joy to see our kids making connections with the Totonacan kids!

We stayed with a Totonacan family while we were there, Lorenzo and Juana and their four children.  They fell in love with Gugui and he really had a good time at their house! He loved all the chickens and turkeys wandering around and how they cooked over an open fire!

On our way home, we decided to take some time to visit El Tajín, a place where they have restored some ancient Totonacan ruins.  The neat thing was that Lorenzo and Juana decided to join us, along with their entire family! They live just about 40 minutes away from El Tajín, but they had never visited there before. That made it a really neat experience for us to tour the ruins along with a Totonacan family! We also had our friend Gabriela from Chihuahua along (pictured just to my right).  Here we are as a group getting ready to watch the voladores (literally 'flyers') do a Totonacan ritual where they tie themselves to the top of a tall pole and slowly circle down to the ground as the ropes unwind.

El Tajín was really an impressive place!  Even knowing that most of the ruins have been restored doesn't take away from its impressiveness and it made me wonder what it looked like during the time it was built.

Then it rained for a while and we all got soaked!

Micah with his friend Josué.  Josué is the son of one of the pastors where we visited and he and Micah really hit it off!  We actually brought him home with us after this and he spent a week visiting us in Apizaco.

And then, of course, we had to play around with the camera angles...but since it was our first time to try this, they didn't turn out as good as we wanted!  Still lots of fun, though!

Here is nice picture of Miguel and I (pre-rainfall)...Miguel bought that shirt in the market in front of El Tajín, it's Veracruz-style (which happens to be very similar to Venezuelan-style!)...I love the way he looks in his new shirt and cowboy hat!

We brought a couple of extra family members home with us, since Jojo decided to ask a friend there in Veracruz for some chickens!  We brought them home in a box and they only escaped once on the way home (unfortunately depositing some undesirables in the van) and now they have their own cage out in the garage.  They spent a couple of weeks in the dog's kennel, though, until we got them a cage.  The kids are already counting the chicks they think this pair will give them!

Here is a picture of all the things our friends gave us, including some things not pictured, such as plantains, vanilla, and pepper pods. Pictured below are oranges, yucca root, squash, bananas, squash seeds, avocados and sweet potatoes.

We can't wait to go back!