You Were Made For More!

It was a few months to the KCPE exams. The obligatory family prayers were organized to solicit divine assistance for the beloved candidate. At some point during the event, the grizzled, wise grandpa pulled aside the young student for a chat. He asked him what he was planning to do after he passed his exams. The bright, young boy answered without hesitation, ‘I want to get accepted into a prestigious national school’.

grandpa‘And then what?’ asked grandpa. ‘Well, then I’ll work hard in high school, pass all my exams and go to a prestigious college for a business degree. After that I’ll start a business and make a lot of money!’

Undeterred, grandpa asked again; ‘and then what?’ ‘Well, I’ll buy a good house, drive a brand new German car and get married to a beautiful lady. We’ll have three children, and we’ll take them to the best schools so that they can also be successful’.

As more gathered to listen in on the conversation, grandpa asked yet again, ‘and then what?’ ‘Hmmm, and then I’ll make a lot of money and become very famous. I’ll win many awards and recognitions. I’ll be on TV all the time. And then my wife and I will retire, play golf every day and see the world. Once in a while, we’ll visit our children and their families and they can also visit us in our big house when we’re old’

With a twinkle in his eye, grandpa persisted, ‘and then what?’ ‘What else is there to do?’ the flustered boy asked. ‘We’ll grow old together with my wife and one day we’ll die!’

‘And then what?’, asked grandpa smiling gently. This time the young man scratched his head and was silent. He really didn’t have an answer.

createdThe old man’s point of course was that there is more to life than being born, making money, having a family and then dying. As an old preacher said, ‘we were not just created to be hatched, matched and dispatched’! There is much more to life – there is a God-designed purpose in each of us that we were created for.

Your passions, personality, abilities and experiences, both good and bad, are clues about what you are uniquely gifted to accomplish. Your purpose is not just to make you comfortable but to impact others and to leave this world a better place than you found it.

As Paul of Tarsus wrote almost 2000 years ago, ‘we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago’ (Ephesians 2:10)

So by all means, be ambitious. Excel at what you do. Aim for the stars! But in the process, don’t loose sight of the fact that your life is not a random accident. There’s a unique role you were created for. And you owe it to yourself to discover what it is.

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Why Marriage May Not Be For You!

After 20 years of marriage, I’m convinced that marriage isn’t for me! Before you jump to conclusions, please read on.

weddingBack in the day, finding a spouse was not a complex proposition. Your folks shortlisted the suitable candidates and chose the one who’s family was most complimentary to theirs. Complex terms like love and personal choice were not part of the equation! But in our very different world, many people struggle with the question of how to locate the One. “What if I end up with someone who makes me miserable?” The result? Commitment phobic people who are mortally afraid of entering marriage because of the misery they fear it might cause them. And subsequently after marriage when the going gets tough, many end up convinced that their unhappiness is because they made a mistake and married the wrong person!

Recently, I read an article by author Seth Adam Smith who made the same discovery I made when I faced the same fears, years ago. His commitment-phobia came to a head as he was planning his engagement to his high school sweetheart and best friend. Was he ready? Was this the right person to marry? Would she make him happy?

wedding 2In his confusion, he decided to confide in his dad about his fears. His dad’s response floored him. Instead of empathizing with him, he told him that he was being totally selfish because marriage was not for him. “You don’t marry to make yourself happy; you marry to make someone else happy. More than that, your marriage isn’t for yourself, you’re marrying for a family. Not just for the in-laws and all of that nonsense, but for your future children. Who do you want to help you raise them? Who do you want to influence them? Marriage isn’t for you. It’s not about you. Marriage is about the person you married.”

Seth’s blog post received 2 million views in 36 hours and when I last looked, that had jumped to 24 million. As countercultural as his message was in our culture today, it evidently struck a cord. You can read his original article here.

wedding 3One of the biggest problems in our lives today is caused by our expectation that the people around us are there to make us happy. Life is after all, the pursuit of happiness. Whether it’s our spouse, our friends, our boss, or our workmates, we only want to hang out only with people who contribute to our personal bliss. But this is a selfish extractive approach that is based on not on what I give to others but on what I can get from them. It turns us into net consumers and not net contributors.

So the next time you find yourself wondering if you married the right person, turn the question round and ask ‘how can I be the right person for the person I married?’

Christmas Traditions

christmas5Did you know that Jesus was most likely not born on December 25th?

The story behind this widely accepted date is a fascinating one. The most likely date of Christ’s birth is thought to have been in the autumn, around the time of the Jewish feast of Tabernacles. The earliest records of a feast in honor of this birth are from a church in Alexandria, Egypt in 200AD, although the celebration only became widely accepted in the third and fourth centuries.

christmas6As early Christians spread across Roman Europe, they found widespread celebration of the feast celebrating the Roman god Saturn. In northern Europe, they were exposed to the Feast of Yule, a widespread solstice celebration for many tribes and clans. In the East, the Festival of the Invincible Sun was the major winter celebration. Along the way, in order to communicate their faith in a way that was relevant to the cultures they were in, they decided to take over these traditions and turn them into a celebration of Christ’s birth. The celebration thus moved into the winter season.

christmas10In the process, many customs and traditions associated with the older festivals became part of the Christian tradition. Many homes today still celebrate Christmas with decorations of evergreen wreaths, holly, and mistletoe, along with Christmas trees and colored lights. Santa Claus or Father Christmas, caroling throughout neighborhoods, exchanging presents, and attending parties are other ancient traditions assimilated into the celebration of Christ’s birth.

All these are examples of contextualization – which has been referred to by some as ‘the genius of the Christian faith’. Biblical faith should not force you to abandon your culture. Rather, it embraces the best parts of culture as having been placed there by God since creation as signposts to and indicators of God’s existence. Consequently, there is no culture that is superior to others. Each culture uniquely reflects the beauty of God’s creation!

Most churches in the East began observing the feast on January 6th while Western churches observed it on 25th of December. By the end of the fourth century however, almost all Christian churches had accepted the December date. It was not until the 11th Century, that the word ‘Christmas’ was first used, from the Old English phrase ‘Cristes Maesse’, which means “the Mass of Christ.”

christmas11Across the world, different cultures have added their own twist to Christmas celebrations. Coptic Christians in Ethiopia and Egypt celebrate Christmas on 7th of January. In India, they decorate banana or mango trees, while in Ghana, palm trees are laden with candles. In Finland, people visit graves of their relatives to light a candle on Christmas Eve.

christmas12In the Philippines, children leave their brightly polished shoes and washed socks on windowsills for the three kings to fill at night. In Ghana, Christmas dinner is not complete without fufu and okra soup while in Liberia, rice, beef and biscuits are what make it happen! Zimbabweans make sure they have plenty of bread, jam and tea to eat along with their goat meat.

christmas9In our own part of the world, the entire region literally shuts down for two weeks as people travel upcountry to celebrate with family members and loved ones. Matatu fares shoot up in the process, and malls and bars everywhere are filled with revelers. Churches throng with worshippers singing Christmas Carols. Goats and chickens are consumed in great numbers.

All this to celebrate the momentous life that changed history!

Opportunities In Disguise

africa2Ever heard the little story about the shoe salesman who was sent to Africa? Before I repeat it, let me say by way of disclaimer that I’m always intrigued at the ignorance of those who think of Africa as one large mystical troubled country! Not wanting to throw the baby out with the bathwater, I’ll tell the story anyway.

So, two shoe salesmen were sent to ‘Africa’ to see if there was a market for their product. After a few weeks, they sent back their sales reports to headquarters. The first one reported back, “There is no opportunity to increase sales here; no-one here wears shoes.” The second one however had a different view of the same situation. “Wow, this is a fantastic business opportunity to grow the business; no-one here wears shoes!”

As a nation, we certainly are great at identifying our problems. A casual scanning of our daily newspapers or our online conversations will quickly confirm that we love to discuss and vent about our issues – whether it’s our traffic or the state of our roads, our school system or the corruption in our country, and of course our favorite, our political leaders! We all know what they did wrong and what we would have done better if we were in their shoes. And often we’ll shrug our shoulders and say knowingly or despairingly depending on our situation, ‘only in Kenya’.

africa3

As we complain, its easy to miss out on the fact that others across the world are waking up to – that Africa is the world’s last frontier, with huge opportunities for all who are willing to see them. The world’s governments and multinationals are beating their way here to exploit these opportunities. They can see the vast untapped mineral wealth in this part of the world, and the increasing investments in infrastructure that are making it more accessible. They can see the huge market that is our growing middle class, as well as our bulging youth population. They can see the maturing of our institutions that is making business a whole lot easier. While all we see are the problems, they see the opportunities!

The good book teaches that in the beginning, God created an orderly and beautiful universe out of darkness and chaos. And then He created humans ‘in His image’. In other words, we too were created to invent solutions and create beauty out of darkness and chaos. We were created to be the problem solvers for our society!

God's image

It’s been said that ‘average people see difficulty in every opportunity but great people see opportunity in every difficulty’. As citizens of this great nation, we need to learn the truth of the simple saying, ‘don’t vent, invent!’ It’s time to stop seeing the ‘half-empty cup’ of what’s going wrong and start to focus on the ‘half-full cup’ of the opportunities presented to us by our many problems. Because every problem is an opportunity in disguise!

Heroes Wanted

heroes1At 2.49pm on April 15th, two hours after the first runners crossed the finish line, the first of two bombs went off just meters away from the finish line of the Boston marathon. The bombs killed 3 people and injured 282. I happened to be visiting the US at the time and with many across the world, my prayers went out to the people of Boston for the trauma, heartache and loss that they experienced. Watching the drama that unfolded for several days afterwards and resulted in the capture of the two brothers who carried out the act, I thought there were several things that I and perhaps my countrymen could learn from the way the Americans responded. 

heroesThe first lesson was how the typically liberal US media regulated itself. Despite the fact that many of the injuries were grievous, involving mutilation, shrapnel wounds and loss of limbs and that the site of the bombing reportedly resembled a chaotic war zone, you’d hardly have known that from your TV!

Just like in the 2011 twin tower attacks that kiled over 3000 or the 2005 Hurricane Katrina disaster that killed over 1800, the media shied off from televising dead bodies and gory injuries. heroes93Instead they showed what was clearly a sanitized picture of the bombs going off after which they quickly moved on to pictures of candles, cards and flowers placed on the site by mourners to commemorate the victims. The reports focused not on the carnage but on the investigation and the determination of their leaders to bring the perpetrators to justice.

I marveled at how different this was from our own approach, which has in the past tended to display uncensored bloody pictures to a gleeful international media that then sensationally splashes them across the world. Such pictures indelibly shape the world’s perception about us and of course negatively impact tourism and foreign direct investment. Or put in layman’s terms, they cut jobs and reduce the food on our tables!

heroesThe second impressive thing was how quick the Americans were to humanize the victims. Far from faceless bodies, their names and sympathetic biographies soon filled the airwaves and revealed them to have been the girl next door or the bright child with a great future. The media interviewed the families of the victims with great sensitivity, allowing us to identify with them while being sensitive about their need for privacy.

In many of our own disasters, we have instead tended to dutifully upload to the watching world pictures of nameless, suffering Africans. The net effect is apathy by those watching, and a lowering of dignity for our people as a whole. On this count, I am encouraged by recent outraged campaigns by Kenyans online against biased international journalists and media houses.

heroes3But by far the thing that stood out the most for me was the heroic portrayal of law enforcement officers and others who played a role in the whole process. Right on cue, the media was running segments with titles like ‘The Heroes Of Boston’, and the story of the investigation and subsequent arrest of the suspects began to sound suspiciously like a Hollywood thriller! This intrinsic American ability to create heroes of its citizens started with the Wild West cowboys and has gone on to define the staple fare of movie theaters across the world. No wonder children everywhere including here often wish that they were born or lived in ‘the land of the free and the brave’!

My own observations based on my travels are that Americans are no more or less heroic than any other culture. They just know how to create and celebrate local heroes better than the rest of us!

heroes8This is a skill that we too must learn and nurture. Heroes abound around us, from our fearless KDF troops that liberated neighboring Somalia to the regular cops who daily protect our lives. They include our world beating athletes and our Fairtrade teafarmers who grow the best coffee and tea in the world. But there are also many ordinary heroes around us every day, creating solutions for people in our informal settlements and rural areas, providing employment through their entrepreneurial efforts or just serving the public with dedication and commitment despite meagre resources. heroes92

Maybe we as a nation need to spend much more airtime celebrating our heroes than complaining about our villains!

And then as I wrote this, another thought struck me. What if we could learn to act this way even when there are no disasters? Is it possible we will begin to realize the potential of this great nation? Is it possible that our elected politicians will be forced to actually start acting honorably in order to get public attention? Is it even possible that one day in the future, kids around the world will wish they were born or lived in ‘the land of the heroic Kenyans’?

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Something I read online after the marathon…

If we gave more media coverage to every hero of a tragedy than we gave to the person behind it, people would start to realize that attention and validation goes to those who do good, not harm!

Learning From Tragedy

Read this powerful story by John Tiller an inspirational speaker and writer who blogged on Michael Hyatt’s blog (one of my favorite bloggers – the blogpost also includes a video). Thought it was worth sharing!

John has what I call an ‘old fashioned faith’. By that, I mean in the best possible way, that he is one who has faith in God regardless of the inevitable storms that life hurls. We always have a choice when life happens. In words spoken a couple of thousand years ago but still as fresh and relevant today, Jesus said… ‘in this world you will face trouble but take heart, I have overcome the world’.

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On January 9th, 2003, my life was going according to the plan that I had envisioned. I was thankful for many things. At the top of the list was my healthy three-year-old, Eli. I had no idea that everything could change so quickly.

On that day, our precious toddler pulled a little red Playskool chair across his playroom under an open window. He then climbed upon the chair, hoisted himself over the window sill, and pushed out the protective screen.

Just moments later my wife went searching for him, noticed the empty room and the missing screen, looked out the window and witnessed our only child laying lifeless on the asphalt driveway thirteen-feet below.

Eli had suffered a severe head trauma and was med-flighted to the nearest university hospital. For the next three weeks, no matter how hard I pressed, doctors could not tell me if he would survive.

He did survive, but our lives would never be the same. Here are three leadership lessons that I’ve learned through this life-altering event:

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