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Working Space Inspiration

4 Apr

What does a President of a large international relief and development organization get for a gift?

After all I’ve seen and experienced in my travels around the world, I’m convinced that I don’t need a thing.

However, it is good to have a comfortable office space in which to work, but it is even more important to work in a place that inspires you and reminds you why you do what you do.

Several weeks ago, my staff who was tired of coming into my office and looking at  blank walls decided that it was time to put something on those blank walls – this large display behind my desk. I couldn’t believe how wonderful it turned out.

What joy these faces are to my wife, Elizabeth and I as many of them are kids we’ve met during our travels around the world!

What responsibility we feel to make sure we are doing everything we can to help no child go hungry!

What hope these faces give us for the future!

Look at their beautiful smiles!

I loved my gift!

Attachment-1Now, every time I look at this large display, I think to myself ….. I love my job.

I think about how thankful I am to have such a supportive partner in my wife Elizabeth, who works (without pay) within in our Public Relations and Communications Department because she believes so strongly in our mission.

I think about how my life has been changed by the faces of these children– the hands that I’ve held, the hugs I’ve received, and the meals we’ve shared together.

And I pray that my heart continues to stay open wide for this incredible journey and for all that is to come.

So, until my next trip, I’m surrounded by this working space inspiration.

Going to the Field

14 Mar

photo copy 3One of my favorite and most important things I do with my job is travel. Though there are a thousand tasks calling my name regularly at the office and sometimes folks lined up outside my door with questions, I know I need to regularly get out of the office and into the field where our programs are located.

I need to see with my own eyes the impact our feeding, education, water and sanitation and livelihood development projects are having within the communities.

I need to be able to shake the hands of the field staff– some of the greatest saints I know who are changing the lives of children every day.

I need to be able to hear the cries of mothers who are pleading us to do more for their babies.

Because of all of these experiences, I come back with a different kind of leadership focus. I want to do everything I can to do right by those under my care.

Last week, I had the opportunity to travel to El Salvador and Honduras. It was my first time in El Salvador since becoming the President of FTC and I was impressed with the good work I saw, particularly the innovation.

It was wonderful to see the water project we have going on in El Guayabo. In this community, fathers, brothers and uncles are gathering together to help Feed The Children build a water line through their community that will provide 2,500 people clean drinking water for as long as the pipes hold up (which should be at least 40 years!). This clean drinking water will assist 600 children, all of which are a part of our school feeding program.

Men often get a bad rap in some parts of the world as being lazy or unmotivated, but not in El Guayabo! These men were working hard providing not only a better life for themselves but for their families too. They even got me involved in the action as seen below. In a couple of months it will be finished. I can’t wait to travel again and see the progress!

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photo

Then, when we arrived in Honduras, one of my favorite things awaited me. I was given a couple of hours with the boys of Casa del Nino. This home is the orphanage that we run for 38 boys aged 6-16 in La Ceiba.

I love these boys as if they were my sons. And what a privilege it was to take the whole group to dinner at the boys’ favorite restaurant, Pizza Hut. We laughed, we smiled and I was able to introduce them to Tom and Phil, two of our new international staff that recently joined our Feed The Children team. See Phil below being silly with two of our boys.

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These boys have such joy in their life, even with all of the challenges they’ve faced. All of them come from communities with little food security. Most of them have lost one if not both parents. Many of them came from the streets or abusive situations. Yet they smile and they tell me, “Mr. Kevin, I love it here at Casa del Nino. Thank you for being my family.”

How can your heart not melt at this?

My goal is to visit one or more of our field programs once a quarter. Sure others on staff could visit (and some do), but I go not only to see and experience our programs and encourage our staff, but I go for myself. I go to find energy for the big tasks that lie ahead. I go to get my spiritual boast that this truly is God’s work and I’m just one instrument in the larger mission of what we’re seeking to accomplish together. I go to come back and work even harder.

What I Saw in Honduras and Nicaragua

12 Dec

imageLast week, the Feed The Children Christmas tour continued as Elizabeth and I packed our bags for Central America.

We went to see the field programs that seek to feed children, provide better opportunities for education and livelihood development– many of which I had seen before (in Honduras last December) and in Nicaragua (which I had not). We went to share Christmas gifts with the kids in our programs on behalf of the rest of the staff in Oklahoma. We went to do what we could to encourage the good work of our field staff in these countries.

[As an aside, Elizabeth when she travels with me pays her own way to go. She is so excited about the work and mission of Feed The Children that she currently volunteers her time to support the work of our communications department and build relationships with staff as I travel. She recently wrote about what this experience has been like for her in case you are curious here].

As we rose at early hours in the day and traveled down bumpy roads and drove up the hill seeking to not get stuck in the mud in other communities, I couldn’t help but think about how great our reach is an organization.

I know I share the statistic all the time that we feed over 352,000 kids every school day. It sounds like a nice number. It is a big number (but of course I think we could feed more). But, when you begin to see with your eyes what this work looks like as I have in back to back trips over the past three weeks on multiple continents, you can’t help but say wow.

In the past at FTC, we haven’t been as upfront as we should have been about our international field work. There has been more that we should have done to communicate the message of who we are and who we are serving to our staff in Oklahoma as well as our donors. But, it is a new day and a new conversation. And I am here to tell you, I am so pleased at what I see going on in Honduras and Nicaragua.

image copyI saw children in a Honduran community, where the major income producer is collecting trash for recycling, coming to school with TOMS shoes on them (distributed by FTC) eager to learn.

I saw children in FTC’s care at Casa del Nino (a boy’s home for ages 5-18) in Honduras who were among some of the most well-behaved boys I’ve ever met with hearts wide open to love and give back to those in need in their community.

I saw children in a Nicaraguan community with mothers who so desperately want a better life for their families that they’ll come to parenting class and spend time learning out to bake bread in our community development center that they can sell to their neighbors.

I saw so much poverty. I saw so many dirty faces. I saw so many babies who needed their diapers changed.

But, I saw so much hope: hope that our field staff is bringing to these communities everyday.

It’s hope that looks like a hug, going the extra mile to enroll one of the children in one of our programs, and the look of delight when a child gets a plate full of rice, vegetables, and chicken.

I know Christmas is days away– but for me, my heart is already full. I’ve had my Christmas. Honduras and Nicaragua were places that brought the icing on the cake that Kenya made for us weeks ago.

I’m so proud to lead this team. And, in you should be proud of one another too.

Kenya on My Mind

4 Dec

picstitchTwo days ago I returned from my second trip to Kenya since I’ve been President of Feed The Children. It was another wonderful adventure.

While there were countless business meetings and other official activities to attend, what I enjoyed most was the time spent with the children at the Dagoretti Children’s Center in Nairobi, an orphange we run for about 100 kids.

Different from our other programs around the world, the Kenyan kids are our own! Once these kids enter our care, they are ours for life (unless they are adopted or reunited with family somehow). Many of them were either dropped off at our doorstep or left in hospital rooms by parents who no longer felt they could take care of them as babies. Some lost their parents in terrorist attacks. Some of our toddlers were found in trash heaps. Many of them have special needs. All of them just want to be seen. As I greeted each one, what mattered was not the color of my skin or my country of my origin. Rather, what they wanted from me (and all their caregivers) is to know that they were loved.

As a received big hugs and warm smiles from babies, teens and even from our group home of young adult men, I couldn’t help but think to myself, “I have the best job in the world.” Though the circumstances that brought each of the children to the center were harsh and most of all unjust (every child deserves the right to grow up in a loving family!), to see each of the kids thrive was the spiritual jolt my soul needed.

It’s easy in a line of work like this, especially in an organization where transformation is the name of our game plan, to get bogged down and discouraged. It’s easy to forget why we work so hard. It’s easy to not say prayers of thanksgiving. The challenges can sometimes outweigh the feelings of blessings. However, as much as I went to be with and serve the kids last week in Kenya, I need to declare that they served me!

As I muse about all of this today with Kenya still on my mind, I am grateful for the encouragement I received in Kenya last week.

My wife and I often talked about what our eyes saw and our ears heard last week. We couldn’t help but think about the scripture where Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”

In Kenya last week, we saw so many of the faces of God. And for this, even as I’ve settled back into the harshness of winter in the US, I say thank you, Kenya.

Driven by Mission Not Geography

25 Sep

Kevin and ESince I began my position at Feed The Children last year, the number one question I’ve gotten around our Oklahoma headquarters is, “When are you buying a house in Oklahoma?”

(Feed The Children’s international headquarters is in Oklahoma City, OK).

Currently, my wife and I own a home in the Washington, DC area and have a apartment in Oklahoma City. We consider ourselves people who live in both places. If you look at my monthly calendar you’ll notice large chunks of time spent in both places. Feed The Children opened an office in DC this year.

The Washington DC area is where my wife, Elizabeth and I were employed and living before the FTC opportunity came to us. It is the city that we both have many professional and personal connections that are of benefit to furthering the mission of FTC. Washington DC is not only home of the US capital but is widely recognized in the non-profit industry as the NGO capital as well. When I set my agenda and goals for my first year, I felt it was very important for FTC to have a physical and personnel presence in DC as we seek to both be in step with our counterparts but also to grow our reach of influence.

I understand what they are getting at when the Oklahoma staff ask about home ownership, though. They want to know when they can be certain I’m all in– fully committed to Feed The Children. Owning a home in Oklahoma is perceived as a sign of my permanence at FTC.

But, what those closest to me could testify to is: I’ve been “all in” since day one. I love my job. And am so proud to be the CEO of Feed The Children.

With this said, the “being both” lifestyle is the best decision I feel not only for my family but for Feed The Children. There’s a much bigger story at play.

Our family is driven by mission not geography.

When Elizabeth and I sit down and plan our schedule for the upcoming weeks, we do so with one big picture question in mind. “Does this _____ fit our mission?”

While the headquarters in Oklahoma is a very important part of the identity of FTC, I also recognize that FTC is an international organization. We have country offices all over the world. We have employees stationed all over the US. From the Philippines to Malawi to Tennessee and California, there are reasons for me to engage my physical presence in lots of different places.

To best understand the kind of visionary leader I need to be, I have to often physically get out into the field. I have to see the work with my own eyes. I have to be wherever our mission has already or might take us in the future. I can’t be in Oklahoma all the time and do my job well.

I want to do everything I can to ensure that no child around the globe goes to bed hungry.

And as I learn and lead, Oklahoma City and Washington DC then just become two of the many landing points my schedule might take me in the year.

Our family mission also includes things my wife feels called to as well. She’s a writer, a preacher and passionate nurturer of building community with folks all over the world. In the past year along with supporting my international travels with FTC, she’s found work both in Oklahoma and Washington DC as well as in places such as Tennessee, Georgia, and soon Hawaii.

We certainly know about how to find good deals on plane tickets.

Is this a traditional life? Is this a life I ever thought I would have? No and no.

But, because Elizabeth and I feel so called both to the mission of Feed The Children worldwide and also the mission of the global community we feel so naturally a part of right now, this is our life.

It’s not easy living this kind of life. Some days I can’t remember where I left my favorite brown belt. Some days I wake up and have to quickly remind myself where I am. Some days I think it would be easier if we just lived in one place. Then I remember our mission and I know I’m in exactly the right place.

The wide world is truly our home. And this includes Oklahoma too.

Adventures in South Korea

8 Aug

This week, I’m traveling throughout South Korea with Corey Gordon, FTC’s Chief Marketing and Communications Officer and Matt Panos, FTC’s Chief Development Officer. It has been an exciting week of travel, meeting new friends and making connections that we hope will lead to further growth of our mission at Feed The Children.

looking into NK

When I was boarding the plane in Washington DC on Sunday, the one thing my wife said to me was: “Don’t go anywhere near North Korea!” But today, I have to admit I did. Sorry, honey.

Our hosts for this trip felt that any visit to South Korea was not complete unless we visited the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone)– the strip of land that runs across the Korean peninsula that serves as a divider between the countries of the north and the south along the 38th parallel. It is one of the most heavily militarized borders in the world. I never felt unsafe (rest assured).

We knew that we were approaching the DMZ and then right before our eyes we saw amusement park rides. Strange, but true. Why this border has been turned into a Disneyland want-to-be, I don’t know!

park

For the record, I want to state that you only get into problems of accidentally and illegally crossing into North Korea if you come over from the China side. For when you arrive close to the southern border, all you see is miles and miles of barbed wire fencing. And they advise you not to take pictures (though I captured this shot below).

fence

I have seen several walls like this in my life, dividing nations. In high school, I was a foreign exchange student in Germany and spent time at the Berlin Wall and in East Germany before reunification. Several years ago, my wife and I took I trip with some of her clergy colleagues to Israel and visited the concrete walls the separate Palestine from Israel and those that separate West and East Jerusalem.

DMZ

But what struck me today about visiting the DMZ was that the divide between South and North Korea was not a traditional concrete wall, but rather a fence. I told my colleague Matt, “Seeing this fence gives me hope that one day all of Korea will be united again. It’s just a fence, not a concrete wall after all.”

Matt laughed and said, “I always knew you were an optimist, but now I really know for sure!”

Yet, I truly believed what I said. A fence is a lot easier to tear down than a wall. Even in this place of so much political conflict, I saw hope.

For to go to the DMZ is to better understand the Korean narrative. It is to see how much the South Koreans long for the fences to come down. And it is to hear language such as “when” the reunification occurs, not “if.”

Being in my line of work– seeking to be a transformational and adaptive leader– I will need to remember days like this. Even in the bleakest of situations, there is always hope. Sometimes we even have to put amusement parks at sites of great pain to remind us that better times are coming. Sometimes we can rejoice that fences are not walls. Hope always springs eternal. Always.