Thursday, March 29, 2012

My New Job

I'll get to be a serious player again really soon. For the past several months, I've been writing my dissertation on the concept of serious play. A serious player is someone who is able to use their skills (their training, their background and/or their exposure) in conjunction with their passions in a way that is meaningful (or has purpose) beyond just the scope of the person's own needs. Serious players can typically say that at least 80% of their week is spent doing stuff they love, and they typically don't even really mind doing the remaining 20%.

It's not that I've not been a serious player in recent years. I enjoyed the two years in early childhood education, doing research for my writing. I also enjoyed this year of being a full-time student, working on completing my research and my dissertation. But I am thoroughly looking forward to being in a job once again where I can wholeheartedly use my skills and my passions in a purposeful way!

Forty months. That's how long it took from when I left my job in Kenya till I signed the contract for a great position with Compassion International, an amazing group that works in 27 developing countries around the world. My role will be with their Leadership Development Program, which focuses on college students. I'll be working closely with our offices in Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

I couldn't be happier about the new job!

The journey over the past 40 months has been one of "doing the next thing," of believing that God is at work even when I didn't understand the process, of trusting him even at times when I thought that an opportunity before me might be a good one, only to watch the door close.

It's been 40 long months, and every month of the process have been worth the wait. I don't believe the role I'll be in could suit me any better! In my new job, I'll get to use my academic training in leadership development. I'll get to incorporate my faith values as well as my passions, working with the poor, seeking to make a profound difference in the lives of young people. I'll get to learn from amazing coworkers all over Asia, and I'll get to keep traveling, writing and taking photos. I'll get to share stories from around the world not because I'm required to, but because I love doing it.

In the next three months, I'll be in Utah (visiting my sister and her family), in Indonesia (for the launch of a new leadership class), in Iowa (packing up my stuff), in Korea (for meetings), in Thailand (to look for an apartment), in Seattle (for graduation), in Colorado (for training) and then in Thailand again, since that's where I'll call "home" next. Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Walking with God has never been a boring journey.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Sneak Preview: One of My Case Studies

Lize Albertyn-du Toit: Farmer and Small Business Owner

Lize with Poppie and Sophia, two of the Pêpa ladies
When you walk into Lize’s farmhouse, you immediately feel at home. Perhaps it’s the welcoming sound of footsteps on the wooden floors. Maybe it’s the rays of sunlight breaking through the little shutters in the solid wooden doors. It could be the laughter of friends busy in the kitchen, a room filled with things that say, “Life’s been lived here.” Old-school kitchenware, not for the show, but for use.
Everything and everyone—including the farmer and his wife—says, “Make yourself at home. Stay a while.” I had planned to visit for a day. I stayed a fortnight.
Lest anyone fears ever inviting me over for as much as a cup of coffee after this, I should point out that Lize's (LEE-zuh) and my friendship goes back to 1988, when we were freshmen at the University of Pretoria and lived in the same dorm for four years. In many ways, over those critical four years as young adults, we grew up together.
With me living overseas, we hadn’t seen each other since 1995, though. My visit to their farm happened in 2012, and we had a lot of catching up to do. Plus, the farm turned out to be an amazing place to do what I had to do: write.
You cannot help but be inspired when you fall asleep to the sight of the Southern Cross peering in through your bathroom window from a sky filled with stars. And you wake up smiling if, from the comfort of your bed, you see the sun poke out its red head directly behind the mountains on the edge of the farm. But I digress…
Over many a cup of tea, we talked about issues of faith and family, work and worship, pain and pleasure. I learned about Lize’s free-range egg business (called Ethical Eggs) and laughed out loud at her farm stories—like the one of how Lize had had it with the cocky rooster after he had kicked her yet again (this time, while she was fully focused on feeding some calves). So she chased him around the roost and showed him who’s the boss. Never had an issue with him or any of the other roosters again. Not once.
And I learned of Lize’s other business called Pêpa, a Sesotho (se-SOO-too) word meaning to carry someone. (Pêpa sounds like pepper, but with and ah sound at the end.) At some stage or another, all kids in South Africa are pêpad on someone’s back or on their hip. It’s part of growing up on the continent.
Lize had started the business partly because she had turned 40 and, having spent the most recent quarter of her life focused on raising her boys, she felt like she wanted to do something new.
The real impetus for starting Pêpa, however, was that Lize knew something bigger than the egg business had to be started. Farmers in South Africa receive absolutely no government subsidies, so it helps to have a side business that is not dependent on just the right amount of rain at just the right time of the year, or affected by a drop in wool and meat prices. If the farm goes under (not unusual under the current economic climate, nor with the weather being unpredictable), it cripples all the farm workers. Hence, Pêpa was born, to carry the women of the community.
Lize and her husband Stefanus (Stuh-FAH-niss)—along with their two sons, two dogs, several cats, chickens, sheep and some cattle—live on a wheat farm in the Swartland, a lush region just north of Cape Town. Stefanus’ ancestors have worked this land since the early 1700s. They have a great staff on the farm, but while they don’t grow fruit like many of the other farms in the region, the farm workers’ wives don’t have jobs. Few are educated and thus they cannot get good jobs in town.
Lize wanted to change that. She wanted the women to have something they could work for, something they could be proud of. She wanted them to have a way to be able to contribute to sending their own children to school.
In partnership with Liesl, another college friend of ours, Lize decided to start a small business. It had to be something fun and creative, they figured. Something beautiful yet practical. The quality had to be high. The style had to be both chic and distinctly African. And it had to be something that would inspire the farm ladies to be more than they ever thought they could be.
So, with Lize’s cadre of farm ladies, they started making the most beautiful girls’ dresses from shweshwe, 100% cotton in earthy hues of red, blue, brown, orange and green. (This fabric has been used in Southern Africa since the Dutch landed here in 1652. It’s especially popular for traditional ceremonies among the Xhosa people.) They had hardly launched Pêpa when they got an order for 100 girls’ dresses from an upscale safari company in Namibia.
Although very careful not to grow the business too fast, my friends are elated at the effect the business has had on Lize’s community. “There’s so much joy on the farm, Adéle,” she told me while cleaning up from kneading a huge ball of dough that stood covered cozily in a warm corner, getting ready to be baked.
Sitting down for some freshly-brewed coffee, she shares more stories of how much the Pêpa ladies love what they do. A great photographer to boot, Lize’s got photos up all over the kitchen and work areas of the ladies laughing while they’re working. Not only are the dresses made with loving care; they’re made with joy. And part of that joy is that all the hens on the farm are working hard, honing their skills, changing their world—one dress at a time.
To see photos of the Pêpa collection, visit

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Walking in Faith

This week, I get to fly to a city here in the US to have an interview for one of two positions in Chiang Mai, Thailand. It's with an organization that I have nothing but the highest respect for, and either position that would combine my passions, experience and education in an uncanny way. 

It simply seems perfect, and I have a profound level of peace about this.

But at the same time, as a person who puts her faith in things unseen rather than that which is seen, I know that I know that this is in God's hands. Though I will prepare all that I can to have the best possible interviews (I've already had three so far), I know that whether or not I get either position is not up to me. It's in God's hands. I simply have to follow his leading.

As I've been thinking and praying and praying and thinking about this, I cannot help but think of last year, when I interviewed for a position in Malaysia. It seemed like an amazing opportunity. That position was as an assistant with one of the top strategists in the world, and it would've been an opportunity to learn a lot from sitting in on his meetings with world leaders, seeing what high-level strategic planning looks like. In the end, after no less than 13 interviews that were drawn out over several months, that group announced that they thought I'd be bored in the position. I believe they were right.

What looked like an open door ended up simply being a ride through a maze of interviews. I learned plenty about the interview process. I also learned about what I would and would not be willing to do. With the previous group, the famous strategist, after asking me about the fact that I was a Christian, said, "You know, I am kind of like god. People ask me what to do. I tell them what to do. It works! See? I'm god."

I remember sitting in the seat that had just been sat in by the president of a nearby country, someone who had flown in to meet with the guru for advice, the room having been swept for listening devices, and feeling immense compassion for the man sitting next to me. I just smiled at him as he told me why he was so important. And all I could think was that I'd love to be there when he realizes who the real God is, that I'd love to serve him with love from the God who created him the genius that he was.

I ended up not getting that job, and I was perfectly OK with it. I knew it would be an interesting job, a job in which I would learn a lot, and a step in the right direction. But I also knew that I wanted more than that. I want to be part of the process of bringing change.

This time around is very different. The vision, mission and values of the new group are perfectly aligned with mine. Like the previous group, this group, too, has seen amazing transformation in the areas where they work. But unlike the previous group, who consults with presidents and kings, this group focuses on the youth who may become the future presidents of their countries, or who simply may lead their own families someday in a way that would change their world.

If I got offered a job this week, I would be working with men and women who know that it is not they, but God who changes people's lives. They know that they are to be good stewards of the resources (not only finances, but also the people and ideas) which God has provided. They walk in faith, and their faith is in God, not themselves.

It would be an honor to work with the group I'm interviewing with this week. The Message version of Hebrews 11:1-2 says, "The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It's our handle on what we can't see..."

Please join me in praying for God's will to be done this week, as I head to the next round of interviews.

Following in faith...