Responding to institutionalized corruption

One of my observations from my recent stay in Zimbabwe is the difference between how I first respond to an injustice and a typical Zimbabwean response. Our immediate response is influenced by our cultural background and we can learn from each other.

As a product of my culture, my first response to injustice is to push against the wrong. For example, if a friend is being unfairly bullied by a bribe-seeking policeman, my first thought is to fix the system that allows, even encourages, this kind of corruption. On the other hand, the first thought of my Zimbabwean friend is, “How can I get out of this situation with as little damage as possible?”

A casual cultural observer might be tempted to judge either my friend and Zimbabwean culture or me and my culture. However, a deeper look will conclude that both of our responses are acceptable and logical in light of our cultural conditioning and that we can learn from each other.


Discussion under a banana treeDiscussion under a banana tree

I grew up with an expectation that policemen protect the public. Policemen are the good guys and their presence provides a degree of comfort. Individual policemen help me feel safe, and moreover, I generally trust the law enforcement structure. If I observe a rogue policeman behaving poorly, I trust and expect that the police hierarchy will appropriately deal with him or her. So, in the case of a police-bully, my first thought is to complain to his or her supervisor.

Zimbabweans have a different set of expectations about policemen and their structure. They accept the corrupt system and expect that a police-bully is only doing what he must to generate income for himself and his dependents. In Zimbabwe, policemen are often underpaid, if paid at all. For some (most?) policemen, their livelihood is dependent on “illicit” revenue. So, if someone is being pushed for a bribe, the interaction is a negotiation between two business-people. My business is to protect and preserve what I have. The policeman’s business is to increase what is his. This is not entirely unlike what happens in the market. I want those tomatoes for as low a cost as I can achieve. You want to get as much as you can from your tomatoes. At the market a buyer generally has more power. On the street a policeman generally has the upper hand.

It doesn’t immediately occur to my Zimbabwean friends that police corruption is a wrong that should be resisted just as it doesn’t immediately occur to me that it is natural and logical for a policeman to seek a bribe and it is a situation that needs to be shrewdly navigated.

Cultural differences intrigue me and I enjoy learning from my Zimbabwean friends. I have also discovered that when I humbly present my perspective and values, that I can be an agent of change and an influence for good. I have been able to help some Zimbabweans more clearly understand how systemic corruption is the largest hindrance to economic development in their country. Compliance is more than an expedient solution to a present problem, it is also participation in a system that continues to destroy their country.

Has God forsaken Zimbabwe?

Bulawayo, Zimbabwe  This morning I had a serious conversation with several friends who care deeply for Zimbabwe. Each person in the group left a relatively comfortable life and intentionally moved to this country to help improve the lives of the people here. These friends are discouraged. They have become tired of dealing with obstacles at every turn. They told many stories that illustrate the reasons for their frustrations. For example, one man works to help some of the poorest people start micro-businesses.

This man shared story after story of how the businesses he is helping are encountering extraordinary problems. Like the farm that experienced widespread crop failure even after applying appropriate water and fertilizer. Finally, after eliminating every other possible problem, they tested the water that they use to irrigate. They discovered that the water in the well is salty. Generally, well water is clean, but in this case the water has a high salt content and most of the plants could not tolerate it.

This same man told another story about an emerging entrepreneur who was renting part of his home to students. This was a good strategy because it provided housing to the students and income for the entrepreneur. Unfortunately, the students ran out of money half way through the academic year which made the business unsustainable.

Another couple who sold their home and everything else in the United Kingdom to move here several years ago to establish businesses that would employ Zimbabweans have been informed that their residency visa will not be renewed. Even though they bought a house and are employing dozens of local people, they are no longer officially welcome here. This is heartbreaking for them and the people working in the businesses that they started at great personal cost.

After listening to these disappointing stories for an hour or so, I finally asked, “What is God doing in Zimbabwe? What can we learn from all this disappointment?”

The first response was from the man who is helping local entrepreneurs. He exclaimed, “This is a God-forsaken place!”

I was not content with that answer, but even as I asked more questions, I did not hear anything that convinced me that he was wrong. Could it be that God has removed his hand of blessing from Zimbabwe? I don’t believe so, but sometimes it certainly feels that way.

I Love Africa!

A beautiful tree in a Bulawayo suberb

A beautiful tree in a Bulawayo suburb

Africa grows on you!

Of course, there are many problems and issues that are concerning in Africa, but there is more to Africa than what is commonly portrayed. This is my third trip to Zimbabwe in the past twelve months. I come here with the hope that I will be able to add something positive that will help the people overcome some of the problems and issues that hold them in bondage and poverty. I trust I am contributing, but I feel that I receive more than I give. Here are three reasons why I am optimistic about Africa.

First, Africa is naturally rich. Resources like minerals and land are plentiful. Unfortunately, much of Africa’s natural wealth is controlled by a few unscrupulous people who use it to oppress the majority. If corruption in the mining and farming industries was replaced with integrity, Africa would soon become an economic powerhouse.

Second, Africa is naturally beautiful. Most people know this. The amazing diversity of species, the expanses of undisturbed terrain, and the pleasant climate are unbeatable. Who wouldn’t want to live here?

Third, Africa’s people are wonderful! They are lovely inside and out. They value relationships. They are creative. They love to dance, sing, and laugh. They are industrious and sensitive to the rhythms of life. Most of my African friends have endured horrendous trauma, but they remain optimistic and delightful. They bring me much joy!

Africa is brimming with potential. I see it everywhere. There are hurdles that must be overcome and when they are, Africa will become the exciting place to be. I feel privileged to be here. Even though it is difficult to listen to so many sad stories and to see the ongoing effects of abusive power and corruption, I remain optimistic about Africa’s rise.

Workshops in Zibabwe

This reminder of an important African value dominates the wall in front of one of the escalators in the Johannesburg Airport.

African Proverb in Johannesburg Airport

African Proverb in Johannesburg Airport

Nancy teaches a lesson that brings home this same message in her workshops. She engages audience participation to tell about the farmer who wants to pull a large turnip in his garden. Unable to pull it himself, he enlists his wife. Still unable to pull the turnip, they enlist, one by one, their son, then their daughter, then the dog, then the cat. Still unable to pull up the turnip, they finally call in the mouse to help them. With the entire family working together and with a grand tug, the turnip comes up.

Here is a picture of all the characters working together:

"Farmer" Nancy gets help from her trainees to illustrate the story of the large turnip.

“Farmer” Nancy gets help from her trainees to illustrate the story of the large turnip.

This is just one of the dozens of illustrations Nancy uses to communicate important truths as she teaches teachers. As you would expect, her workshops are very popular. She has stayed very busy teaching in a variety of settings since we arrived here in Zimbabwe a week ago. This week she is teaching the primary school teachers that are associated with an expanding church planting movement. She teaches for three hours each afternoon Monday through Thursday and then five hours on Saturday.

I travel to Bulawayo tomorrow, a couple days later than originally planned. I will lead workshops for a business there Thursday, Friday, and Monday. I also will lead workshops for two different groups of church leaders Saturday and Sunday afternoons.

We appreciate your prayers for us as we serve God and the wonderful Zimbabwean people! We are grateful that so far we have not been sick and we both passed through the jet-lag part of the trip relatively smoothly.

How US clothing donors harm Zimbabweans

About 40 hours of travel. Spokane, Seattle, Dubai, Johannesburg, and finally Harare, Zimbabwe. My wife, Nancy, and I arrived here Tuesday evening. Except for its length, the trip went smoothly. Even our bags arrived on our flight. We hit the ground running with meetings and training events. Time feels like it is passing quickly and we are enjoying meeting many wonderful people.

This evening, after a busy day, our host took us to a local bazaar. It was fun to see all the local products and crafts. Nancy enjoyed bartering for a few gifts and I enjoyed chatting with some of the vendors.

I asked a craft vendor about the large bales of clothing in one of the stalls. With a tone of jealously in her voice she told me that the used clothing stall was the most profitable in the market. Even when business is bad in the rest of the market, the used clothing sells. I asked her where the clothing comes from. She says it is imported from Mozambique. She went on to say that the clothing originates in the USA and is brought as aid to Mozambique. (Due to sanctions against Zimbabwe, this country does not qualify for a lot of international aid.)

I wonder if the clothing donors in the US realize that their contributions could travel to Mozambique, get sold to a middle man who brings it to Zimbabwe, and then get resold to a vendor who runs the most popular stall in the bazaar?

Ironically, while I am here I am scheduled to consult with a couple garment industry businesses who are struggling to survive because their markets have dried up. It is nearly impossible for them to sell clothing in this country. There are too many imports that sell for less than their production costs. And, even though traditionally Zimbabwean manufacturers have been garment exporters, that changed when the country came under international sanctions.

In a round about way you could say that clothing donors in the US are harming the Zimbabwean garment industry and adding hardship to the lives of all the people who used to work in that industry. An unintended consequence of good intentions!

Being an American is not always helpful when traveling internationally

I often feel awkward to be an American as I travel internationally. There are at least three common scenarios that I lack wisdom and/or cross-cultural communication skills to smoothly navigate.

First, sometimes people expect me to defend the American government’s foreign policy. This is awkward because often I don’t understand it myself and I know political conversations are not helpful in light of my larger agenda. Specifically at this time, do I have an obligation to explain the US policy and actions regarding Syria?

Second, sometimes people assume I am much wealthier than I am. In Africa I generally control more material wealth than the people I meet. However, it is not true that I have unlimited funds. For example, it might be hard for them to accept that I have a strict budget that probably does not include expensive purchases or financial assistance for their ill or injured family member. How do I balance my relative greater wealth with my need to stick to a budget?

Third, some people see me as a means to increased opportunities. It is no secret that there are more freedom and opportunities to build personal wealth in the US than in much of Africa. Adventurous young people are particularly interested in finding a way to get to this “land of opportunity.” When they meet me, it is reasonable for them to wonder if I can help them. How do I convince people that I don’t have connections or knowledge that will help them come to America?

In about 48 hours Nancy and I leave to spend a month in Zimbabwe. Our hope is that we will be seen more as representing Jesus Christ than as Americans as we encourage the people we meet by sharing our experience and knowledge about teaching children and leading organizations. Our travel itinerary takes us through an airport in the Middle East. I hope that the international events that appear to be unfolding at this time will not become a distraction from the contribution we hope to make.

Lessons from a dandelion


I am not generally a fan of dandelions. However, as I pulled the one pictured above out of my lawn this week, I realized there are several lessons I can learn from this plant that tenaciously invades my lawn.

First, dandelions survive in the midst of persistent opposition. I do my best to exterminate them. I yank them out, trying to get the roots. I attack them with weed killer. I battle them as best I can, but they prove to be a worthy opponent and continue to reemerge. They continue to show up in my lawn regardless of my best efforts to get rid of them.

Second, dandelions bloom in a wide variety of ecosystems. In the wild I have seen them poking through the rocks near the tops of mountains, in fertile and moist valleys, and everywhere in between. In neighborhoods, they show up in sidewalk cracks, in lawns like mine, and everywhere else.

Third, dandelions send their roots deep. Maybe that is how they accomplish the first two admirable qualities. Look at the specimen I pulled from my lawn above. The root is significantly longer than the part of the plant that was above the ground.

The Bible calls us to these kind of qualities. Consider these verses:

Persistence: Romans 5:2-4 … we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.

Adaptability: Psalm 96 Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples. Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns.”

Going deep: Luke 6:46 “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like. They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.”

I pray that I will be someone who puts down deep roots so that I will declare God’s glory everywhere regardless of my circumstances.

Valley of Identity

I feel enlightened by The friend who sent me the link said it helped him put his years of ministry in perspective. I agree. It did that for me too.

The website says:

The Calling Journey can help you understand how the road you’re travelling will get you to your calling in life. Using stories from contemporary and biblical leaders, The Calling Journey lets you create a timeline that explains the stages and transitions all leaders tend to go through as they move toward their destiny.

I learned about this kind of exercise from my mentor Dr. Robert Clinton and have actually led a number of seminars to help people create life timelines. Nevertheless, I decided to take this fresh approach and map my calling journey according to this process last evening. My expectations were not high as it seemed a bit artificial to cram my life into a template. However, I was surprised and encouraged by the two page report that was generated at the conclusion of the exercise. When I read it to Nancy she exclaimed, “How did they know all that about us?”

My timeline puts me in the “Valley of Identity.” This transitional stage usually occurs 15-30 years into a person’s calling and averages four years in length. It is often triggered by ejection from a long-time role and includes a loss of influence and favor. The focus shifts from doing to being. Apparently, I entered this stage about six years ago, about 35 years into my calling when my “Founder and President” role abruptly ended.

The report lists more characteristics of this stage, suggestions about attitudes and behaviors I should adopt, temptations to be aware of, and foreshadows what probably lies ahead for me as God continues to take me to the fulfillment of his calling on my life.

I was most surprised by the instruction to “take on the mantle of my call.” My report states:

When you come out you are now the person you were born to be. A key task in the valley is learning to believe you are that person and to present yourself in that way. That’s called, “taking on the mantle of your call.” Just as Paul called himself “Apostle to the Gentiles” and Jesus said, “I am the way the truth and the life,” you will need to be able to name who you have become.

At first this seems somewhat presumptuous, but it is actually an act of faith. I need to give this more prayerful consideration. May the Lord grant me wisdom!

If you create your timeline, I would love to hear about your experience. What did your learn?

Teaching Integrity: Honesty in Business

The first topic I have been asked to address in Zimbabwe in a little over two weeks is “Integrity, Honesty in Business.” This topic is much more than an interesting philosophical discussion in a country that endures corruption from the top governmental officials who probably used vote rigging and intimidation to win the election in July to everyday business transactions where bribery is commonplace. I do not feel it is my place to tell Zimbabwean business-people how to conduct their affairs. However, they have asked me to address this topic, so I intend to approach it through a series of questions. Below is a list of questions that follows a logic that makes sense to me. How would you adjust this list to make it better? How can I help these people think deeply and commit themselves to lives of integrity?

  1. What do you think is the number one thing that hinders Zimbabwean prosperity? I expect their answers will include: insufficient education, political corruption, lack of international trade, etc.)
  2. If they don’t mention personal and business integrity, I will introduce this and get their agreement that this is a huge problem. From former experience, I know this will not be controversial.
  3. Next I will ask them to define integrity? As they answer, I will insert these definitions:
    1. the quality or state of being complete or undivided
    2. adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty
    3. doing the right thing even when no one is watching
  4. Next I will ask them to consider what the Bible says about integrity. I will ask them to come up with scripture and I will help them with the following list:
  • 1 Kings 9:4 “As for you, if you walk before me faithfully with integrity of heart and uprightness, …
  • Proverbs 10:9 Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but whoever takes crooked paths will be found out.
  • Proverbs 11:3 The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity.
  • Proverbs 13:6 Righteousness guards the person of integrity, but wickedness overthrows the sinner.
  • Proverbs 28:6 Better the poor whose walk is blameless than the rich whose ways are perverse.
  • Colossians 3:23  Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men,
  • Luke 16:10  “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much.
  • Titus 2:7 In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness 8 and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.
  • Matt 22:16 They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are.
  • 2 Corinthians 1:12 Now this is our boast: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, with integrity and godly sincerity. We have done so, relying not on worldly wisdom but on God’s grace.

Then I will continue the conversation with the following questions:

  1. Describe the most honest person you know.
  2. Why is integrity important?
  3. Why is integrity difficult? When is it difficult to be honest?
  4. How do you feel about people who do not do what they say they will do?
  5. What are some strategies you could use to help a friend who is not living with integrity?
  6. What are some steps you can take to build greater integrity in your life?

I have two hours to cover this material. I will allow the discussion to go or periodically cut it short according to the time remaining.

Do any ideas or suggestions come to your mind as you read through this plan?

Sweet tasting humble pie

The first step in teaching our British friends how to shoot guns was a lesson on gun safety and shooting form at Cabelas with the toy guns in the “shooting gallery.”

Nancy and I met the Green family at Laura and Kagi’s wedding last year. Tim, an athlete and servant of the Church, offered a powerful message during the ceremony. We enjoyed our time with Tim and his wife, Bethan, and hoped that we would be able to spend more time with them. Our hopes were realized this week. They spent four enjoyable and refreshing days with us including two days camping in the National Forest. Much laughter arose from friendly UK verses USA banter.

Mererid Green, the younger of Tim and Bethan’s beautiful daughters, spent several days with us during the last Christmas holiday. A highlight for her was the afternoon we took her shooting. Having never shot a gun before, she was intimidated at first, but quickly warmed up to the experience and made sure her parents included shooting as a high priority activity while they were with us.

The excitement was high by the time I finally got the targets set up and concluded the final gun safety lecture. We were not really surprised that Tim caught on quickly. In fact, his first shot with the .22 rifle was a bull’s eye!

Bethan was a little slower to zero in, but she also shot well for a beginner.

After poking a bunch of holes in the target with the rifle, we switched to the pistol. The learning curve was steeper, but my British friends continued to perform well. In fact, they quickly were shooting as well or better than me.

As we were winding down, it seemed appropriate to conclude our shooting with some international competition, the UK verses the USA. The pride of our counties rested on each of our ability to send a bullet through an empty tuna can from 15 paces.

Tim went first and was skunked. The tuna can did not move during this three attempts.

I went second. The first bullet out of the pistol hit near the bottom of the can and sent it rolling from its stump. I missed the next two, but was not concerned. Bethan had not hit the can during the practice shots.

Her first two shots were clear misses. Before her third shot, Tim increased the tension saying, “One last chance for a draw.” I was confident I would win and prepared to start chanting, “U.S.A! U.S.A!” as soon as she fired.

Before the ring of Bethan’s final shot subsided, I jumped to gloat. Bethan was dejected. Tim was simply smiling and accepting his country’s defeat. The can had not wavered. However, as I was launching my victory dance I happened to notice a hole through the center of the can. Bethan’s shot was so perfectly placed in the center of the can that it passed through without knocking it over! At first my competitors did not believe what I was exclaiming.

Bethan had clearly won the competition with a perfect closing shot!

I feigned much disappointment and pretended to plot revenge, but I could not have been happier with the way the competition ended. What could be more fun that to be part of a story that will be told by our families in the UK and the USA for years?