OPEN HANDS

The moment I stepped off the plane in Kenya, there was a pure sense of welcoming.  From the smiles that greeted us to the “Jambo” signs overhead, there was not a moment that made me feel like an outsider.  I had been told about the contagious joyful and hospitable spirit of Kenya and I was so excited to experience it for myself.

The second day of our trip stands out to me because I had the joy of experiencing something that would forever etch itself into my mind.  Our team arrived at the church where we would be attending a Sunday service, walked inside, and were quickly seated in front.  We were a little early and the pastor was leading the pre-service service - yes, they have these.  After the children were shown to a smaller room and the worship portion of the service began, I stepped out for a moment and was pulled aside by one of the center staff.  He explained to me that the children felt left out because all of the “Muzungus” were in the sanctuary and invited me to spend time with the children and bring a lesson to their Sunday school class.

Before we left for this trip, I promised myself I would step out and be bold.  So, feeling nervous and unprepared, I stepped into the small room full of expectant children. The teacher introduced me and I began racking my brain and teaching them a few songs. We sang “Jesus Loves Me”, “This little light of Mine”, and “I’ve got the Joy”. Then, I got to learn one of their songs “I am fearfully and wonderfully made”.  This song is interactive and it was so much fun to see the children sing those words while smiling and being silly with one another.  When I realized the children were receptive to even my singing voice, which I can promise is nothing anyone wants to hear, I gained a sense of comfort and realized I had so much I wanted to share with them.  We went on to memory verses, bible lessons, and discussion and before I knew it our time together was over. 

We took a short break and the teacher passed out a snack to have before we joined the rest of the congregation.  During snack time, I was talking with the teacher and in the corner of my eye, i saw a group of the children standing up and waiting for my attention.  When I looked to them, i was left speechless.  These children, many of who had empty bellies upon arriving to church, wanted me to have one of their cookies. The next meal isn’t always guaranteed for these children, however they were lined up waiting to give me some of the only thing they had as a token of their appreciation.  One little girl leaned over to me and said “Thank you for coming to our country” and reached her arms wide for a hug.  I was left teary and overwhelmed with emotion as the children exited the room, I just couldn’t wrap my mind around how sweet and pure their hearts were. It was at this time that I realized how unblemished love could be and how Jesus is a common thread for all of the word.

As I opened my hands to what God had planned for me in that Sunday school room, the children opened theirs and showed me a degree of generosity that I have never seen in my life.  I will always remember that morning and I hope I will never forget how saying yes to being bold for Jesus brought me one of my greatest blessings. 

Opening Doors

Knock and the door will be opened for you.
— Jesus Christ

Recently, I've noticed a door theme in the CARE for AIDS model. It becomes apparent in our church partnerships, the home visits, and in the spiritual side of our counseling program.

Very often in the communities we work in, church doors are closed to people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA). They are told that they are living with a curse, or with consequences of their sin, and that they have no place in church. Our church partners are literally opening their doors to PLWHA on center days, and for empowerment seminars during the week. They are also opening their doors figuratively as the pastors and church members interact with and get to know our clients and make their church a place of welcome and community for PLWHA.

During home visit days, our center staff walk through the community opening the doors of homes which have been closed off to community. Often our clients shut themselves off from community because they are afraid of people finding out about their HIV status, or they feel like they don't belong in community because of their status. Our staff open doors and remind our clients that they are loved, that there is no need to hide, and that they belong in community.

In the spiritual counseling, our counselors help our clients open the doors of the hearts to the love of God that is offered through His Son, Jesus Christ. 

The door theme culminated the other day when I gave an impromptu motivational talk to our clients. I was at the Launch of Program ceremony at our center in Sinai. This day is the kick-off of the program for a new set of 80 clients, and is basically an orientation day. I was given the microphone, and couldn't help myself. This is what I told the new group of clients: 

Imagine that I invited you to my home. It is put to you whether to not to accept the invite. When you arrive, and I open the door for you, you will have to choose to walk in. When I offer you a seat and a cup of chai, you will have to choose to sit down and take the cup of chai.

The same is true of this program. We have opened the doors of this church and invited you in to learn, to be counseled, and to be empowered for the next nine months, but it’s up to you to work hard and apply what you are learning. At the end of this nine month program, if you have seen any positive change in your life, you will now that it is because of the hard work that you did.

Thank you for reading, and for joining us in the business of opening doors. 

GLS 2016: Performance Measurement

This year was my 10th Global Leadership Summit, and it did not disappoint. The CARE for AIDS story was featured in a Grander Vision video that will reach a global audience of 300,000+ people. But also, the content was probably the best of any GLS I have attended. One theme that stood out to me was the emphasis placed on performance measurement. This is not a topic commonly addressed among church and nonprofit leaders, so I’m glad it had a prominent place in the program.

First of all, why are measurement and data so scarce in the nonprofit space? Here are a few ideas:

  • We’ve been told to value people over performance, so we avoid holding people accountable and having difficult conversations.
  • Good performance (lives transformed) can be hard to define and even harder to measure, so people don’t even attempt it.
  • Nonprofits don’t always feel the pressure from clients, competitors, or contributors to create more effective or efficient operations, so they stop striving to improve.
  • Activities (served x number of clients) are easier to measure and satisfy most donors while impact and outcomes (created x amount of transformation) are harder to measure and less valued by donors.
  • Many nonprofits aren’t willing to take the time and money away from programs to monitor them effectively.
  • Measurement means that poor performance will be exposed and there will be a strong organizational resistance to that.

These and other reasons keep nonprofits from investing the energy and resources on measuring employee performance and ministry impact. But, it does a disservice to your vision and your stakeholders to continue providing services with uncertain results.

At least four presenters spoke at some length about employee and organizational performance measurement. Here are some highlights:

Bill Hybels – People desperately want to know the answer to the question, “How am I doing?” Every department at Willow is evaluated every 6 months and assigned a rating of 1) Thriving, 2) Healthy, or 3) Underperforming. The processes for measuring performance will have to constantly be evaluated and adjusted.

Melinda Gates – “At Microsoft, we had data about our clients. When we started in the not-for-profit world, we were blown away at how decisions were being made with no data. The data is what allows us to move forward on behalf of women around the world.”

Alan Mulally – When he took over as CEO of Ford, the company was projected to lose $17 billion that year. In his first meeting, he asked each business unit to present their projects in a color-coded format- red, yellow, or green. Despite the company recording historic losses, every single chart was colored green, implying that everything was healthy and on track. Clearly, no one wanted to deliver bad news to the boss. Alan praised the first person who brought a red chart to the meeting, and the team was shocked that this person wasn’t fired. Before long, more charts slowly started turning red. These honest performance conversations may have saved the company.

Chris McChesney – Chris had four important insights into performance measurement. The first is to “narrow the focus” on the Wildly Important Goal (WIG). The more goals you attempt simultaneously, the fewer you will accomplish. There will always be more good ideas than your capacity to execute. The second principle was to “act on the lead measures.” He defined a lead measure as having two main qualities: 1) it is “predictive” of your progress towards your goal and 2) it is “influence-able” by the team members. Thirdly, he challenged us to “keep a compelling scoreboard.” He said the #1 driver of high morale is a sense that you are winning. Lastly, we must create “a cadence of accountability” to keep engagement high.

The big takeaway for me from Chris’ presentation was the question- Are my people playing a high-stakes, winnable game?

I believe measurement can unleash more potential from our teams and our programs. I don’t think it is distracting or dehumanizing. The opposite it true. It actually focuses teams and gives dignity to the people you are trying to serve.

 

Joseph

Born in 1953, Joseph Oduol is now the only surviving member of his family. But he is not alone.

In 2005, Joseph was diagnosed with HIV. He later joined a CARE for AIDS program, where he received holistic medical, spiritual, and emotional care for his disease. After losing his first wife, Joseph met Sela in 2007. One year later, they were married.

Sela, who was also HIV positive, struggled with her diagnosis. But Joseph proved to be the support system she needed in order to survive.

“I was taught from day one to adhere to the [drug] regimen,” he says of CARE for AIDS. “And that if I took my medicine correctly, I would be okay.”

Because of the program, Joseph was well equipped to teach his wife how to take care of herself. And even though she was bitter about the suffering she had endured, Joseph’s faithfulness to her – and his faith in Christ – provided a foundation upon which they would regain their strength…physically, spiritually, and emotionally.

“We have each other for support,” Joseph says. “And I have learned there is nothing more important than being open and sharing with one another.”


 Joseph and Sela's stories are two of 100 stories captured in the CARE for AIDS coffee table book. Learn more about the project here

 

Susan

Susan Wambura is one of the lucky ones.

At the time of her HIV diagnosis, she was also pregnant with her first child. As would be expected, Susan was flooded with fear about the health of her unborn child. Would the baby suffer? Would it also have to live with the virus?

Miraculously, the answer was no. In 2008, Susan gave birth to a healthy, happy baby.

I had thought my life was finished,” she says of her pregnancy and diagnosis. “I understand now, after coming to the CARE for AIDS center, that if you take your medications as prescribed, you can be safe.”

And thanks to CARE for AIDS, hundreds of lives are being saved, just like Susan and her baby.

When I came to the center, I met others like me,” she says. “And I see that life can be the same as it was [before HIV]. There are other diseases out there, and people live with them normally. HIV is the same.

Life is not that bad,” she continues. “And I have the strength now to keep on living.”