It’s a hot day in August. We packed our car the night before, and the next morning at 4 AM, we buckled our sleepy daughter in the back seat and got on the road, picked up our easy-going, cool Debi, and drove for 12 hours to Fužine, Croatia.
Thus we spent 18 days with the most diverse group of people, brilliant accomplished speakers, inspiring storytellers and knowledge givers.
I reluctantly went to this mysterious Gathering. I thought it was too long, and too long of a drive to get there. But nothing was withheld from us that could be shared. Because of my love for adventure I found it perfectly reasonable to experience and discover things as I went. Renewing Our Minds (ROM2017) Ambassadors for a Better World, Changing the World through Transformative Leadership. All these are big words, but the richness that I have experienced is beyond this summary.
I came to the table hungry, dehydrated, discouraged, and then I was served clarity, encouragement and wisdom in the most unexpected ways.
I was in a room with seventy people from 16 countries, most of us journeyers. Some were refugees or asylum seekers who have settled—or are trying to—in Croatia and made their new country proud by their accomplishments and successes, others waiting to be processed, in limbo.
Others making a difference in the political world through their integrity, courage, and determination to be a light in the world; not shying away from standing up for the Truth, even when wrestling with the darkness and in the dirt. I have often been put off by politics, especially lately, but my mind and heart about politics has been changed. One cannot fight alone. It takes solidarity, along with leading by example, letting the truth roar and unceasing prayer to make a difference everywhere, even—and maybe especially—in politics.
Another University professor talked about leadership, and how we shy away from acknowledging our own potential and influence, because it’s easier to sit in the back, quietly. But “leadership is a process of influence. Always when we want to influence thinking, behavior and development of people towards specific goals in their personal and professional life, then you are taking the role of a leader.” Blanchard K. Hodges.
A pastor from Seattle shared the wisdom of a professor of his, whose course topic was most controversial, and things could have gone awry often, but the rule this professor had was that when expressing an opposing opinion, one has to first articulate the other side’s point of view, clearly enough until the opposition could affirm “yes, you understood my point”. Once you take the time to truly understand the other, inevitably you attitude clarifies.
Another wonderful leader and successful business man, with a lifetime of experience of dealing with people spoke about conflict and disagreeing well. He reminded me that conflict is good. We grow from it. I do it all the time in the safety of my family and thus we grow, but I don’t like to disagree with any and all. It’s dangerous. It’s exhausting. Yet I found this doable in work environments, when we are stuck together and we resemble a sense of professionalism and respect. But here is what we can do to handle conflict:
• show that conflict is healthy and natural
• ensure that everyone is included in the diagnosis and decision-making
• encourage the group to move to decision-making (without suppressing feelings)
• maintain a neutral/nonjudgemental stance.
Before we jump in to assess, judge or tell anyone what and how they should do things, a traveled speaker brought light early on, over the reality of our subtle yet strong cultural differences. Cultures are based on our assumptions about how things are done. Her personal life stood as a testimony and gave weight to her talk. What stuck with me was another chart from a book quoted by her “cultural intelligence”.
Equality vs. Hierarchy (leadership)
Direct vs. Indirect (communication)
Individual vs. Group (oriented)
Task vs. Relationship
Risk vs. Caution
This is a simplified overview of the deeper differences of the way we approach life in general. We are all predisposed to be or act in certain ways in different areas of our lives: friends, family, business etc. based on where we lived (country or area), our families predispositions etc.
“Culture is the totality of socially transmitted behavior, patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions and all other products of human work and thought… we can further consider culture to be what people think, what they do and how they feel.”
Culture: “A relatively stable set of inner values and beliefs, generally held by groups of people in countries or regions and the noticeable impact those values and beliefs have on the people’s outward behaviors and environment. “
I have been a traveler through cultures from a young age, first diversity found me in my comfort zone, at home, then I went to seek it and marvel at its power.
Here is where this journey of renewing my mind found me. Two and a half years ago we moved from California to Romania. I left behind a job that I loved, a leadership position at Apple, with a clear vision, a specific context and passionate smart followers. I had tools and experience, drive and I wanted to do a lot moving to Cluj. Some goals were better defined than other. The better defined ones we fulfilled. We started a business, we adopted, we even got involved in leading a young group of christ followers in a challenging church context. Without going into details, we built relationships, we served, we invested, and had a year of richness and plenty. But we did not replenish. We lost our balance. The adversity encountered was steady and harsh, on multiple levels. And up until now I couldn’t clearly contain this season of pain. I felt that I had failed. I put it out of my mind that I am a leader. I waited discouraged and detached to refocus. To rest. To let myself be loved and replenished. Thus far the hardest part has been not knowing till when will I have to wait. Well, this ROM2017 has been the jolt of revival in me.
“Leaders are people who don’t compromise their values to gain approval, who live up their own inner sense of things. And for this reason, leadership is often different than success. Success is culturally defined. When you give the culture what it expects, the culture will reward you. But a leader is someone who gives the culture what it needs, not what it expects. A real leader heals the wounds of their culture.” Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen.
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together!”
When friends and family would ask me where I’m going exactly, I would say it’s a christian conference with attendees from around the world, with a majority from the Balkan countries. This forum for reconciliation started after the war in ’91, war fueled by misguided nationalism (think former Yugoslavia). Neighboring countries would harbor ill will, and fear and hate would be passed on as an heirloom. But bringing people together to you put a face and a personal story to a country, your perception changes.
We heard stories of reconciliation, of forgiveness which doesn’t happen overnight, especially if you’ve been personally wronged, but it’s a process.
A wonderful guy from South Africa shared about forgiveness. So powerful. It is necessary and healthy to understand first and foremost what forgiveness is not, because trying to forgive by stuffing thing down below is not doing anyone any service. So forgiveness is not:
• denying that evil was done
• pretending it never happened
• glossing over the pain you suffered
• removing all consequences of evil
• overlooking criminal behavior
• approving of evil
• condoning abuse
• acting as if sin never happened
• letting other continually abuse you
• pretending you weren’t hurt
But forgiveness is possible and it is true freedom.
So I mentioned how I thought that christianity was an underlying theme of this conference/camp, but I must clarify. The director of the ROM organization had a few powerful messages, and he spoke from the heart, intertwined with a clear understanding and vision of Jesus. This conference is meant to awaken, form and strengthen leaders, points to Jesus, as the ultimate example of leadership. Servant leadership. Resilient, loving, peacemaking. Righteous, built on friendship, community and integrity. But one can not summarize Jesus’s way. To truly learn from Him we ought to KNOW Him. Spend time with Him. Read his stories and truth.
What I loved the most about this conference is that not every attendee was a christian or even a Christian. If we don’t dine with the nonbelievers, when will we witness to them? I loved the way there was room for respect and conversation, understanding and love at the table. Prayer was not regularized, so we would converse with God personally and silently. At times we had a common reason for prayer and we all joined in, with sincerity and depth.
It was so refreshing to discuss without judgement the idea of organized religion, and the burdens of tradition. Oh, the frustration with church (because we do care), though in essence we are the Church and we are His bride; or the variations of hurt by the church which is so common even (or especially) among people who love Jesus. Yet despite it all, to break down the walls and let Jesus shine.
Like a gentle sound of water spring, Jesus was present and refreshing, intertwined in every teaching, a strong foundation for true change, and true leadership.
We are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are we free to abandon it.
And one more note, before I wrap up this overview of what stuck with from ROM2017, a very inspiring guy pointed out the three roles of a leader:
• Show the way
• Accomplish a task
• Develop people.
True. I could listen to him for hours on end. Hearing him talk energized me. He breathed joy.
Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and do it. Because the world needs people who come alive!