A Day In the Life

Beth

Beth, one of our UnFinished kids, outside her home in the village.

Recently, I was upstairs in the office, working on about ten different projects at one time. I have been blessed to take my work home during this quarantine, and along with my dissertation, taking a course through the college that employs me to become certified to teach fully online, and running UnFinished. I’ve been busier than ever. Not to mention sharing the office with Christine as she too works from home and also on her various projects.

On this particular day, I was deep into dissertation work, when Christian, our five-year-old, came upstairs and crawled up into my lap. This is not an uncommon occurrence. He’s a bit of daddy’s boy. However, this time, as he wrapped his arms around my neck, he began to cry.

This is an uncommon occurrence. Christian prides himself on being pretty tough and being able to handle situations. He’s a five-year-old attempting to function on a 30-year-old’s operating system. (The WWE is not going to let cry babies main event Wrestlemania).

I asked him what was wrong and, letting the tears flow, he told me he missed his friends. He said he missed his friends from church, and he missed his friends from school. While I’ve tried to be cognizant of him being under quarantine as an only child, I’d not really thought about how hard it is on him. He’s an only child. I try to recognize that, and I play with him as much as my 46-year-old body will let me. We’ve let him FaceTime his cousins, my mother, my brother, and he’s had Zoom calls with his classmates and Sunday School meetings.

However, Christian, like his mother, is a social butterfly. He longs to be with his friends. He tells me almost every day that he wants to go back to church and school. While he does not let on very much, it became clear to me that day, this has been harder on him than I realized. I never thought about the fact that his mother and I can escape a little. We will make quick runs to H.E.B., the bank, the post office, and other places we simply have to go. However, other than walks around the neighborhood, Christian has not left the house in over a month.

This caused me to think – if being locked up in a nice home, with Netflix, Disney+, all the other streaming services, an iPad, PlayStation, and more toys than he should have, what is life really like for the children of UnFinished? I’ve been to their homes, I’ve seen what life is like for them. They live in mud huts with no internet, no T.V., no running water, and many – no electricity. How stressful and lonely must it be for them, already living with a disability, back home again, locked away after months or years of finding freedom through the support you’ve given them? It must be heartbreakingly sad.

We continue to do welfare checks on the kids. But much like we all do, the caregivers tell us they are “fine” and “doing well.” It’s been our mission to restore hope to our children and their families, and we find ourselves now dealing with the effects of the Coronavirus. I’m sure our kids are more ready than Christian to return to their schools, their friends, and once again escape life in the village.

Please continue to pray for our kids. Honestly, they are safer from COVID-19 deep in the village than they are pack into schools. It is also reassuring to know they all have medical insurance should the need arise.

So, please pray. Also, it has been amazing to see our child sponsor continue their faithful sponsorships. We still have ten children who need sponsors. We have committed to refrain from bringing on new children until all of our current kids have dedicated, reliable support in their endeavors. I can attest to the joy of being personally involved in the life of a child in UnFinished programs.

We have incredible potential for growth. We have a proven plan that works and produces results. If your church or business is looking to impact the world through a federal 501(c)3 program, we would love the chance to talk (at a socially respectable distance, of course).

Thank you for your continued love, prayers, and support.

Five Things…

I recently finished reading the YouVersion Bible plan, “Praying For Vulnerable Children – Human Trafficking.” It was a fascinating devotional by Compassion International that discussed five things that, when present, better protect children from people trying to hurt them. I was moved by the publication of this plan as it addresses many of the activities that make up the bulk of the work we do at UnFinished. I wanted to share some of what is covered by Compassion in this plan as it applies directly to working with children with disabilities.

With Giving Tuesday just around the corner, giving you a better idea of what UnFinished does seemed appropriate. Since most of what is written below was lifted directly from the devotional by Compassion International, I am obligated to give them writing credit. Very little of what comes was written by me. The italicized portions are from the Compassion International devotional. Below is the link to the plan. I encourage you to read it. There is much more to the devotional than I include here, and I believe you will be blessed by participating in the actual plan. Compassion International is a fantastic organization doing an incredible work of God.

https://www.bible.com/en/reading-plans/15664

A Tight-Knit Community

“A tight-knit community can keep watch over those who are most vulnerable and speak up when they see injustice. God calls us to rescue the weak and the needy and deliver them from the hand of the wicked. He challenges us to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves and defend the rights of the poor and needy. God has put each of us in a community, and we are called to speak up and defend those who are being treated unfairly.”

The children in UnFinished programs are often hidden away, either in homes or institutions. They live lives of abandonment and abuse. UnFinished enrolls them into schools where they begin to make friends and find out they are not alone. Also, we work to bring the caregivers together into a supportive community. This helps the mostly grandmothers also feel they are part of a community and not alone.

A Loving Family

“There are always those who are pros at deceiving families. They tell caregivers they can offer their children with a special need a better life. Instead, the children are used or often sold into child labor. Children work for little to no pay, far from their home, completely hopeless.”

We’ve met many families who’ve been swindled of what little money they have with promises of help. “Organizations” that tell grandmothers if they pay a fee, the organization will evaluate the child and determine eligibility. These people take the only money the family may have and offer false hope. We include the family in every aspect of our process, never charge a fee, and do what we can, within organizational protocols, to help the entire family along with the child. Supporting a family environment, providing a home, only enhances the life of the child and helps to restore real hope.

Education for the Community

“Be devoted to one another in love. That’s the challenge Paul gives us in Romans 12:9-13. These verses are paired with a list of commands that, when taken together, paint a picture of a Christian life fully sacrificed to God. The unifying theme shares that we’re to set ourselves aside in order to effectively love and serve the Lord”

Our mission involves more than just educated children with special needs. We seek to change social stigmas related to the abuse and oppression of these kids. We involve the schools, teachers, administrators, churches, pastors, and government officials to change values and laws to prepare a better future for individuals with disabilities.

Holistic Child Development

“(UnFinished) also chose to care for the neediest using a holistic model. Our method develops minds, bodies, and spirits to help children with special needs. All of our programs provide opportunities that encourage healthy development in four areas—spiritual, physical, social and economic. That means we don’t focus entirely on physical needs. Instead, all aspects of poverty are addressed in an effort to break the cycle of poverty and stigma for that child. Children are lifted out of the stigma that entraps them and makes them vulnerable to exploitation.

Prayer

“God is aware of stigma and oppression and He cares about the suffering of His children. He has not turned a blind eye. Instead, He stirs compassion in our hearts when we hear stories like the ones of children with disabilities in Kenya. As a result, our compassion moves us into action, which creates change.”

This year, Giving Tuesday is December 3rd. You have the unique opportunity to provide these five things into the lives of children with disabilities in Kenya. Again, I encourage you to read the Compassion devotional, be in prayer and support for that organization, and follow the link below to learn more about UnFinished International and the work we do.

http://www.unfinishedinternational.org

Your Nonprofit Should Mean Business

In my time walking with one foot in the business world and the other in the nonprofit environment, I’ve seen a few things. My experience and education in business and nonprofit leadership has shown me some repeated problems in many nonprofits I’ve studied. While nothing is ever as simple as a black and white list of principles (I’m looking at you, business world) I’ve noticed some trends over the years that cause nonprofits, in particular, small ones, to struggle. This is hardly an exhaustive list, but I’ve put together what I’ve seen as the primary offenders if you will.

Lack of Understanding

A common thread through many nonprofit organizations is lack of comprehension regarding the fact that while their mission and methods may differ from the business world, they are indeed a business. Too many times, those who lead, operate, and volunteer for a nonprofit organization get so caught up in either the idea of “nonprofitness,” or so mission-focused, they either lack the ability or refuse to understand the fact they are also a business. This mindset sets up many of the other problems on this list – not realizing that operating not for profit does not mean working outside of core business principles. Without a grasp on this concept, nonprofit boards and executive leadership teams look for and hire the wrong people for the job.

This is especially true for Christian nonprofit organizations. These types of organizations many times not only lack the understanding to see the business side of the industry, but they also latch onto this idea that they are a “church.” Many Christian nonprofit organizations are founded either from within a church or by well-meaning, mission-minded Christians. They then set out to run the organization as if it is a church. While churches also need a business focus (that is another discussion) running a church is not the same as running a business. To be successful, nonprofit organizations have to run themselves in much the same manner as any other for-profit business.

Lack of a Strong Leader

The lack of business understanding often, but not always, leads to this problem. Too often, when nonprofit organizations on are the search for a leader, they are looking in the wrong places. Most of the time, the primary concern centers around fundraising. Organization boards and leadership are looking for the person who can bring in the most money. There are many problems with this, but we will only look at a few.

First, let’s address the rebuttal. Yes, a nonprofit organization needs to hire a leader that can get in front of individuals and groups and convince them to give money. That is a vital component of the job. However, the problem I’ve seen in my time within the nonprofit environment is not money, its leadership. Too many nonprofit organizations are worried about hiring someone who can fundraise when fundraising is not their problem. I’ve seen nonprofit organizations that have full-time, professional fundraisers on staff bringing in more than enough money. However, the inner workings of the organization are all over the place. The organization is not growing, there is too much drama between the staff/volunteers, the programs are outdated or ineffective, or the mission just needs to be more focused.

In these cases, fundraising is not the problem. I personally know of nonprofit organizations bringing in plenty of money, but their use of that money is anything but efficient. The problem is not cash flow. The problem is the person at the top. Too often, nonprofit boards and leadership look over people who have not worked in the nonprofit field or lacks “adequate” fundraising experience because they’ve spent their careers in for-profit businesses. Often, this is the exact person those organizations need. They need someone who can come in and straighten out messes, put out fires, balance budgets, better allocate funding, and exercise strong leadership.

This situation is many times exponentially worse, again, in a Christian nonprofit organization. These organizations often take and even further step. I’ve seen too many times Christian nonprofit organizations looking for an Executive Director and INSIST this person must be a pastor. Required qualifications often look like, “a seminary degree and fifteen years in the pulpit.” I am not here to speak ill of pastors. However, pastors are called to do one thing, pastor. I try not to stereotype anyone, but few full-time pastors make excellent businessmen. That is not to say there are none, but they are rare. If you look at any thriving large church, you will almost always find an executive of some type running the operations side of the church.

Pastors are called to shepherd. I can give you real-life examples of nonprofit organizations that have gone under almost solely on the fact that they refused to hire someone who was not a pastor. There are more than enough Christian business people in the world who can lead businesses. In my retail days, I knew a lot of managers who would only hire people with retail experience. They did not want to add the extra work of training people on cash registers and such. This was a mistake. When I hired, I looked for someone who was a good fit on our team, could fill the role I had vacant and could move the mission of the organization. I could train a monkey to run the cash register (from the systems I often had it would seem as they were designed by monkeys so getting them to run them didn’t seem too much of a stretch) Secular and religious organizations alike need to get out of this cookie-cutter leadership mindset.

Lack of a Strong Foundation

Most nonprofit organizations start off small – it’s the nature, and the beauty, of the beast. An individual or small group of people see a wrong in the world, and they set out to right it. Many times, none of them have any experience in the nonprofit, or even business, environments. Sometimes, none of them even  possess any business experience. However, they get together and decide, “You’re going to be the Executive Director, you can be the Business Manager, you can handle communications,” so forth and so on. You have a group of friends on fire to change the world and its awesome.

However, this strange thing happens – the organization takes off. Before you know it, this ragtag group of friends has a significantly sized and thriving organization on their hands. However, that same group of friends who were having fun and figuring things out, now find themselves working for an up and coming business in roles they are not qualified to hold. They don’t know anything about finance, or budgeting, or planning, or implementation of strategic goals. This is a big problem. But the more significant issue is they don’t know that they don’t know. So, instead of hiring people with experience in these areas, they trudge along. When they do need to hire someone, they look for individuals who will meet friendship goals instead of those that can help develop and push the mission to the next level. There is not a clear understanding as to what is required in the roles, and qualified business-minded people are passed over. This becomes particularly problematic when new leadership is needed due to people moving on.

Lack of Accountability

All of the above issues lead into this one and, again, Christian nonprofits are the main offenders. Let me start off by saying holding people accountable is tough, especially firing people, and that’s what I am talking about here. While they are so many levels of accountability or should be, before firing, for brevity’s sake, I am cutting to the chase. That being said, most people I know, including myself, who have spent time in the business world hate doing it. Sure, people like to act all tough and tell horror stories about making people cry and kicking people out, but inside, they hate it (or they should). I get more worked up inside waiting for that person coming to the office to be fired than they do, I promise you. However, it has to be, must be, done.

Do any sort of Google search on the topic, and you will find article after article on the necessity of firing people. I don’t need to rehash that here. However, too many nonprofit organizations, and for-profits ones also if we are going to be completely honest, fail in this area. It flows from what we’ve looked at above – weak leadership, the “friendship factor,” and just a general lack of business principles within the organization, particularly the leadership.

Now, I’ve always said that I have never fired anyone. Individuals have decided to terminate their tenure with the organization due to their actions or inactions. However, when push comes to shove, someone has to have the gumption to pull the trigger. That is not to say one needs to be cold, or mean, or rude. I’ve always tried to send someone out the door as gracefully and respectfully as I would want to be sent walking. But the fact is, too many nonprofit organizations, by their nature of heart and help, don’t believe in letting people go.

Again, when you get into the Christian nonprofit world, it’s worse. Not only do you have that caring and loving nature of the nonprofit environment in general, but you also have the issues of grace and forgiveness. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for grace, mercy, and forgiveness. No one on earth needs both more than me. However, Jesus was also all about accountability, tough love, and flipping tables when they needed to be flipped. When looking for leadership, nonprofits need someone who can fundraise, but also internally handle the best interest of the organization and the team when that time comes.

It is necessary for the leadership, the Executive Director in particular, of a nonprofit to understand that while it is crucial to have a passion for the heart and mission of the organization, it is just as vital to operate under the leadership and principals that drive successful for-profit businesses. Missing this will cost you at the least growth and at the most your organization as a whole. These two are not opposed to each other, but like a good marriage, bring the best of each to a successful and organic unit.

Maybe she’s born with it – but probably not…

“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” – John F. Kennedy

I know you’re looking at this thinking, “Another discussion about whether a person is born with leadership skills or can they learn it? Hasn’t this been discussed enough? Why should I read this…again?” I would counter with yes, it has been argued to the point of exhaustion, however, with each experience we learn new ways of looking at situations and discover different ways to discuss them.

As said, this has been covered, and there are views on either side. However, when one peruses the literature on the topic, it is not difficult to see it leans one way. Most people interviewed on the subject assume that leaders are born. These people believe that some enter into the world possessing a natural ability to lead, and all others do not. Further, they think that there is not really much you can do for those who are not born with it.

Truth be told, most studies on the subject over the years show there really is more of a bell curve on leadership capability. Some people indeed are “born with it.” Others, on the other side of the curve, are just not going to lead the troops into battle. However, the majority of the people out there fall somewhere in the middle, and that’s where the potential lies.

There was one point in my career I lost nearly my entire management staff. We were going into a busy season, and I had to fill those positions quickly. Additionally, my part-time pool to pull from was made up of fresh faces who barely knew how to do the essential functions of the job. Having no other choice, I consulted with my assistant, and we made the hard decisions of whom we would bring onto the management staff.

We felt both of these ladies had the potential to work well as leaders within the business. One from experience in the educational system, and the other from her attitude and willingness to jump in where needed. What we found were two completely different views on what it meant to take on a leadership position.

The individual we had the most hopes for due to her background in education turned out to be the bigger surprise. While we had high expectations for her ability, we were mistaken. This person was a fantastic employee in a lesser role. She was great with customers, helped her younger co-workers, and worked hard on day-to-day tasks – all the reasons we promoted her. However, once put in a leadership role, all of that seemed to end.

She maintained a great relationship with the others, continued to help customers, but show little to no interest in advancing. Any occasion we used as an attempt to teach her thinks left us frustrated. As soon as we began teaching, she tried to cut us off, “Yep, uh-huh, got it,” whatever she could do to move on. It has taken her time to get past a lot of mistakes, but she has gotten to a point where she can function as a minimal manager.

This is in stark contrast to the other individual we promoted. She is a young woman with no managerial experience. We knew this going in, but we saw something in her we thought we could work with. While she struggled with the operational aspects more and had no understanding of how to lead the team, she was and continues to be, teachable. She asks questions, looks for advice, watches what her leaders do, and genuinely cares about those she has been entrusted to lead.

This individual possesses two of the many traits required in leadership learning – the ability to adapt, and the desire to grow and learn. While I cannot deny there are those who are born with skills relevant to leadership, I also believe much of what is needed to lead others can be learned. Even those born with these traits can benefit from being teachable. I know I have, and this is what makes her a benefit to the team.

When we begin our search for members of our leadership teams, we have to look past credentials. Of the two we promoted, one seemed much more apt to perform in the new position than the other. However, what we found was heart was worth much more than experience. When hiring or promoting, we have to remember that the best person for the job is not necessarily the right person for the job. People, born leaders or not, will lead when they are empowered to do so. How they lead will be determined by how much time you invest in molding their leadership. This includes spending in their correction. We as leaders must have the managerial courage to mentor not only the ones with pedigree but those who maybe don’t even believe in themselves.


Unknown Parts

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The news of Anthony Bourdain’s death came to me as I was driving. My wife’s cellphone notified her of a news alert. She gasped as she read the screen and said, “Anthony Bourdain is dead.” I sat there in silent shock. The news did not yet reveal the circumstances of his death, but I suspected what would come next. Suicide.

I knew that would be the report. I did not personally know Bourdain, but I knew his type. A few years ago, my life fell apart. I lost everything that was anything to me, and I did not know how I was going to make it even minute by minute. I was a mess. I was going through counseling at church, but that was only helping me hold onto my faith, not get through the grueling hours of day-to-day life. Don’t get me wrong, I needed that spiritual reinforcement, but it was not enough. A then friend (that’s another story) was a somewhat recovering drug and alcohol addict. He would attend A.A. and N.A. meetings and seemed to get some internal peace through them.

Time went by, and I learned they had these so-called “open meetings.” These were meetings that were open to the public to attend. Most outsiders that joined these hour-long sessions were students and medical types – nurses, psychiatrists, and the like. One day, he invited me along, and I went. What I found there changed my life forever.

I discovered people who were just like me. They were broken, lost, confused, and looking for a way to function, day to day, in life and find their way. Much like Edward Norton’s character in “Fight Club,” I found myself in these meetings. Not only did I find myself, but I also found my relationship with God and people. My church meetings help me to maintain my belief in God, these meetings help me to develop my relationship with Him through my storm. More than that, I learned that these people, this group of outcasts people belittle and condemn, were some of the most loving, accepting, and giving people I’ve ever met.

This company of anonymous train wrecks became my lifeline. They taught me how to build my life back by giving it away. I learned from them that getting out of my own life and helping others is the only way to heal my wounds. The work I do now with UnFinished International was mainly developed within the walls of that little building on Brown Street. I was not an addict or user. I did not suffer from an “ism,” but I was accepted nonetheless because I was broken in other ways, just like they were.

As my life progressed and I began to heal, God started opening not only doors for me, but the world. I met my now wife, and we commenced years of international travel. This is why Anthony Bourdain was somewhat of a mini-hero to me. The guy came from nothing and became a global traveler and raconteur after my own heart. That is not to say I place my rubber stamp on all his beliefs and ideas. I do not, nor do I yours. However, you don’t have to believe what I believe or think like I think for me to respect you. Anthony Bourdain experienced people and places with love and a passion for understanding them. He, at least professionally, was a man after my own heart.

When I heard the news I knew was inevitable, I was heartbroken. That Bourdain took his own life harkened back to my days in those walls with men and women I came to care about who had their lives ravaged by drugs, alcohol, depression, anxiety, and all the other things this world throws at you. My heart went out to a man who lived a life I love to live, and, in the end, it was not enough to save him. He left behind an 11-year-old daughter and many friends who loved him dearly.

Once the news hit, social media did not disappoint in its ability to disappoint. What shocked me the most, and I still do not know why I was shocked, were the comments from people who called themselves Christians. Some of the most horrible remarks about Bourdain’s death came from the posts and comments of fellow Christians. “One less junkie in the world,” “Another liberal blowhard out of the way,” “This guy was a piece of trash,” “Can’t believe people are upset he died,” “He took the coward’s way out.” These are comments from people in the same posts that talked about being a Christian.

I feel there are far too many of us out there that don’t take time to understand what people go through. People just don’t get the “there, but the grace of God go I,” mentality. Mental illness is a real disease. More than that, it is a tool and an attack from our enemy. People want to throw it out there as a gun control tagline or use it to place others in some kind of caste system. This is not how Jesus would handle the broken. Bourdain was an atheist himself, and that too breaks my heart. We as Christians are too often too content to let others suffer and die in their sickness. When I went through my dark place, plenty of Christians came to my aide, but so did a lot of atheists and agnostics.

I am not a proponent of the current level of celebrity worship in our society – even church celebrity worship. But I admired Anthony Bourdain’s desire to make the world a better place by sitting across the table from another person and discussing differences over a meal. As he put it best himself, “You learn a lot about someone when you share a meal together.” So many Christians scream about “making America great again,” when they don’t even know their next-door neighbor’s name. It’s time to care about people again. It’s time to stop judging and name-calling and living in your bubble. Jesus went into Samaria and ate with tax collectors. Country Club Christianity is failing. Bourdain may have hated religion and been resolved to die without it, but your neighbor might not.

Anthony Bourdain may not have represented many of my personal or religious convictions, but I am sad he is no longer bringing the world into my life. I suppose I will now resolve to stop living vicariously through him and just get out there and do it myself. Perhaps I can save a few people along the way. Maybe you can too.