Tag Archives: VUKA!

Zambia: Thanks for Serving!

If you’ve read earlier blogposts (listed at bottom) that I wrote about Africa, you already know my aunt Melody.

We visited Melody in Zambia this summer while my uncle Phil came back to the U.S. for a medical procedure. Phil is my Daddy’s youngest brother. He’s not that much older than my brother and me, so we grew up more like cousins. I have so many stories I could tell you about Phil, but…I won’t. (Talk to me later.) I met Melody for the first time when my superstar basketball player uncle brought his cheerleader girlfriend home to meet the family. Melody taught us cheers out in my grandparents yard.

We loved bubbly, fun Melody at first glance. And she’s still the same!

Phil and Melody Stephens serving God in Zambia

Phil and Melody Stephens serving God in Zambia

Now Phil and Melody serve in Zambia. I asked Melody to share some of their life with you. I held this post until today, Thanksgiving Day. Seemed like the perfect time to share what they do for a living — a life serving God and giving thanks day by day.

Feel free to fall in love with them too!

I sent Melody a list of questions. Here are her answers:

How long have you and Phil served in Zambia?

3 years. We arrived October 12, 2006.

Downtown Livingstone

Downtown Livingstone, Zambia

What brought you to Africa?

Phil came to see the work of another missionary in 2000 and fell in love with the people. I came the following year and loved the people, but although I knew God wanted us to serve Him here, it took a couple of more years before this “city girl” agreed!

Boy in Mukuni Village

Boy in Mukuni Village

Why Zambia?

Zambians are the people group that God placed in our hearts. I sometimes wonder myself…Why Zambia?? Why not Ireland or Hawaii?? Now, I could really feel the love there if only given a chance. ;)

But no, God chose Zambia and now I am so thankful. I love the people and feel a great burden to teach the children of the love of a Wonderful Savior  – the One who would call me out of my little boxthat I fit so well in– and bring me to this place half way around the world and open my eyes to the needs of the people here. Everywhere we go here becomes an opportunity to share the Gospel with a lost and dying world.

“Zambia was not on my top 100 places to live but it is now the ONLY place that I want to be.” — Melody Stephens, missionary

What you see as the greatest need physical need of the people?

Right now I would say that I think the greatest physical need of the people is clean water. There is a water shortage in the compounds and quite often there is no water for them to drink. The water that is available is dirty and loaded with who knows what. We (Amerians) know when it is so hot that we need to drink more, yet they drink less because of the diseases that come with bad water.

What surprised you most you the most about living in Zambia?

Where to begin…. Here are my top ten:

#10. Weekly power outage (often more frequently) because the government officials say we have excess power to sell to neighboring countries. So, if we have so much power why am I sitting in the dark?? And why can’t they let me know when it will be off so I can plan my life??? (Oops! I’m back in the box!)

Zambia Zebra

Zambia Zebra

#9. I am totally surprised by elephants, giraffes, zebras, monkeys…okay all the “zoo” animals roaming around freely with no barriors.

#8. I am surprised by little village boys who don’t often see vehicles using their flip flops as pretend cars making roads in the dirt and adding the correct “noises” to their game.

#7. Going to the store to buy bread or milk or eggs and finding none…because management didn’t think to place an order.

#6. The beauty of the sunsets and flowers.

#5. No one is in a hurry.

#4. The crude tools used to create works of beauty.

#3. The “Thunder” of Victoria Falls.

Children caring for babies.

Children caring for babies.

#2. Children carrying bables on their backs, and being responsible for siblings at such a young age.

#1. But, the most surprising thing of all is the joy of the Lord that a soul set free has here in Zambia. They are not in a hurry to worship. They will sing and praise God all night and all day. And can they sing!

I love to hear the Zambian voices lifted up in praise to the God who set them free.

What do you like the best about your life?

Serving the Lord day in and day out with Phil. I love the people both young and old. I love the adventure, the animals, the flowers and the opportunity fo depend on God daily to supply our needs.

Pastor Kebby preaching

Paston Kebby preaching

How can readers donate?

Tax-deductible donations can be made to our missions agency:

BBFI (for Phil and Melody Stephens–011310)
PO Box 191
Springfield, Mo.65801-0191

Phil and Melody Stephens on the Mighty Zambezi!

Phil and Melody Stephens on the Mighty Zambezi!

You can catch up on our adventures/observations in Southern Africa:

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    Filed under Africa, leadership, poverty, water

    Mike Boon’s Vuka! Wake-Up Call

    Ancient African proverb: “A man without culture is like a zebra without stripes.”

    South Africa: 1996

    “Mike Boon, a white, was on the mean streets of Soweto photographing anti-apartheid graffiti when he was caught by the mob. About 1,000 supporters of the Pan African Congress – motto: one settler, one bullet – had beaten him, doused him with petrol and were preparing to burn him alive in a horrific spectacle known as necklacing.

    “They had the tyre, although they never put it around my neck, and they were shouting for matches,” he says. Mr Boon only escaped a hideous death because he speaks fluent Zulu, and was able to persuade his captors that he was there to promote their cause.”

    Paul Rodgers, The Independent, 20 October 1996

    Yikes! Meet my buddy Mike.

    Mike on his Game Reserve

    Mike teaches us about animal poop on his Game Reserve

    Mike, the multi-lingual ex-special forces peace-loving folk music guitar-picking minstrel, who founded a marketing company in the 1980′s in a rags-to-riches story. His vision: creating community-based, culturally-targeted delivery of product messages into the hands of people on the streets and in the townships of South Africa.

    In order to understand an issue, Mike seeks to understand the root cause — the people, and how they view the world.

    Under his leadership, Group Africa grew into a multinational organization of 7000 employees operating in over 25 countries in just 17 years. As he tells it, Mike grew tired of constant international travel and the burden of corporate leadership, and sold his business to an American public relations giant.

    For his second act (or third, really, if you count his time in the military), Mike launched the Vulindlela™ Network to help bring about personal and organizational VUKA! — interventions to foster cultural and social understanding and shared vision. Mike’s work brings about reconciliation. Mike’s bio states:

    “His work unashamedly acknowledges and deals with the inherent racism, prejudice, anger, fear and denial…”

    Tuff stuff, the challenges Mike takes on. What can I say? He’s Superman. So, by now you’re probably wondering how I know Mike. Let’s take a trip back in time.

    Texas: 1974

    I met Mike Boon in 1974 at a Southwest Texas Rotary International meet ‘n greet for incoming and outgoing exchange students. Mike was going to high school in Gonzales, Texas for the year. I attended San Marcos High School, and had been selected to spend a year in Denmark. Mike and I hit it off immediately.

    What I remember most about Mike? His to-die-for accent, easy laugh, and deep dives into the meaning of life. He taught me a bit of Xhosa, an amazing clicking language; and introduced my family to a more efficient method of left-handed eating — keeping the fork tongs-down and the knife in my right hand. We Americans tend to eat right-handed with the tongs facing upward, switch the fork to the left hand tongs-down to cut, then switch back to the right hand tongs-up to eat.

    Mike faced a mandatory 2-year term in the military when he returned home to South Africa. I couldn’t imagine the soft-hearted, deeply thoughtful, easy-going boy carrying a gun. Much less shooting it. Much to my surprise, but not really because Mike always exceeded expectations in everything he undertook, Mike went into the military and earned a spot in the elite special forces. The letters he sent from active duty had sections literally cut from the pages.

    Mike always wrote me about fighting injustice, opposing the forces of evil, standing up for what’s right, understanding the core of humanity. Deep stuff. Mike stuff.

    Mike and I stayed in touch on and off through the years. Our lives took so many different turns. I knew Mike had written a book, and that he’d done well. I had no idea HOW well. We lost touch about 10 years or so ago when my Christmas letters started bouncing back. I kept sending them, they kept returning. Enter the age of the internet. Mike found me a couple of years ago through NASA. I’d spent a few years as Editor of NASA.gov. I’d left digital fingerprints everywhere.

    Our friendship spanned decades and continents, yet we’d not seen each other for 35 years. Until this summer.

    Summer: 2009

    ZambeziCoverPageI learned so much about Mike, the man, during our visit to South Africa. I had really only ever known the boy. Spending time with Mike and his family helped fill in the gaps. Ok, not gaps. Craters.

    Reading both Mike’s books before our visit, helped remind me who Mike is — Mike, the philosopher. No depth is ever deep enough for him. He’ll always dig down and uncover another layer of understanding. We are alike that way. I really need to understand what drives things, what makes pieces fit together. I appreciate the way Mike approaches a problem and finds a way around an impasse.

    Mike deals with culture in his ground-breaking 1996 book, The African Way: The Power of Interactive Leadership. Reading this book, I understood, for the first time, some of the cultural issues we face, even today, in the United States.

    Mike describes the “Western” view of time as individually-focused — control is internal. For instance: “I missed the bus.” Yet the traditional African view of time is circular, where “the past is more important than the future.”  In Zulu, the expression would be, “The bus left me.” In Xhosa, “The bus died on me.” Both are externally-controlled. (p. 6-7) He notes that the pace of business based on an internal or external focus is fundamentally different. On the question of when it’s time to “move on” — forgive and forget — to order to repair the nation after apartheid was abolished, Mike offers this: “The ‘African’ view would be that a considerable amount still needs to be done to settle the damage done by apartheid.”

    In a circular view of time, where the past is more important than the future, how long is long enough?

    I absolutely have no answer, but at least I understand the context.

    MikeBoonZambeziReconciliation seems the focus of Mike’s second book, Zambezi, The First Solo Journey Along Africa’s Mighty River. 1n 2002, Mike embarked on a solo expedition down the Zambezi River from source to sea in a kayak, which had never been attempted before. Missionary-explorer David Livingstone traveled by boat down the Zambezi in the 1850-60′s, and nearly lost his life. Others attempted the journey though the centuries, but never the entire river. Mike knew he would be traveling through war-torn countries and areas of civil discontent. His trip included: Northwest Zambia, Angola/Zambia border, Angola, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique. The river itself has unchartered areas with unknown rapids and falls.

    Mighty Zambezi @ Victoria Falls

    Mighty Zambezi @ Victoria Falls

    In his own words, here’s Mike’s assessment of his chances on the river:

    “In addition to the political and geographic challenges, I had to prepare myself for any number of medical eventualities. Injury and trauma could be caused by assault or bites from snakes, hippos, crocodiles, and other animals. Possible illnesses included malaria, hepatitis, dysentery and infection. I needed to be able to self-administer any number of treatments, such as suturing wounds, setting fractures and carrying out amputations.”

    Mike indeed encountered near-death in a whirlpool, abduction by military guards, close encounters with crocs, hippos, and elephants. His 99-day physical challenge brought emotional healing from Mike’s ‘military and corporate combat’ demons. The Zulus named Mike, Chunge,” which means “he who achieves even though the road be difficult and torturous.” Perhaps he needs to replace the word “road” with “river.”

    Mike, Man of Many Years, at last reconciled with Mike, Idealistic Boy of Long Ago.

    During our visit in South Africa, I learned more about Mike’s work through the eyes of his former employee, Doug, who accompanied us to the Soweto Township, home of Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu.

    Through Doug, I learned that Mike created the Lesedi Cultural Village for business partners to experience tribal life and better understand the people their products would reach. He recreated village life and brought in families to live and share their culture with visitors. He is no longer associated with Lesedi, which has become a successful tourist attraction, but he met his need to teach the “Western world” partners about African culture.

    Primary School has new kitchen.

    Primary School has new kitchen.

    We visited an impoverished Township primary school. The school principal told us that the result of one of Mike’s VUKA! experiences, the bankers returned to volunteer with the kids and build a kitchen for the school. (They still need a regulation soccer field.)

    Day Care has paint and furniture.

    Day Care has paint and furniture.

    We spent time at a pre-school day care in SnakePark, the poorest section of Soweto. Two mothers couldn’t bear seeing children without care and on the streets. They formed the Big Smile Little Faces Day Care. As a result of Mike’s VUKA! experience,  a business group returned to volunteer and provide essentials for the children — desks, chairs, rugs, book cubbies, and more.

    VUKA! landmark

    VUKA! landmark

    When I wanted to take pictures of the painted towers in Soweto, not far from Nelson Mandela’s home, Doug pointed out the towers were painted for the community as a result of a Mike’s VUKA! program.

    Mike mixes rich and poor, black and white, male and female, young and old  – drawing them together through a transformation process that strips away preconceived  cultural bias and builds bridges of shared humanity.

    I saw evidence of his success whereever we went. Mike’s ground-breaking reconciliation/facilitation work is sought at the very highest levels of business and government, including Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama. Mike was flown to the Middle East to resolve settlement disputes between the Jews and Palestinians. Is there anything Mike can’t do? Slow down, maybe. Hardly likely.

    Mike’s new challenge: an 8-month river adventure through even more dangerous territory than the Zambezi to draw attention to prejudice in all forms.

    But, I’d like to give Mike a different challenge, as if the elimination of prejudice weren’t enough. I’d love to bring Mike to NASA, to challenge our entrenched, bureaucratic culture. I’ve only been introduced to snippets of Mike’s work to bring about reconciliation.

    The more I see, the more I want Mike to bring VUKA! to NASA.

    Just think, we have our very own whirlpools, rocky embankments, hippos, crocodiles, and infected thinking to offer a tempting challenge to Mike. We’ve had 50 years to develop ruts and dysfunctional business patterns.

    Those of you at NASA know what I’m talking about. Folks at NASA field centers and Headquarters often mistrust each other. Organizations build walls to keep out competing other organizations. Power is not often shared well. Threat to power…well, I shudder at the thought. Many individuals and organizations operate under the fear of retribution — for thinking or speaking outside what is deemed culturally acceptable by individual managers. Sad, but true.

    Not all of NASA can be described this way, of course, but enough exists to warrant at good look. Good news, though. We have a new leadership team at NASA. What better time to bring Mike in to wake us up, transform our thinking, ignite us for the future? We have much work to do.

    Let’s VUKA!

    Annie's Treehouse

    Mike welcoming us to Annie's Treehouse, an aMAZing retreat he built for his wife!

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    Filed under Africa, culture, federal government, leadership, NASA, space

    Culture: Straitjacket or Springboard?

    I’m thrilled to be featured as a Gov 2.0 Hero on GovFresh.com. I received Luke Fretwell’s request while I was in the Orlando Airport, returning home from a previous scrubbed STS-127 mission. Made my day. (THANKS Luke!!) How cool that he thought of me — one of the many fish swimming around in the huge, vast ocean we call the federal government. My initial reaction:

    Do I get a cape? I mean really. Don’t all hero’s wear capes?

    Luke sent me a list of questions for the profile:

    1. What was your path to Gov 2.0?
    2. What area of government offers the biggest opportunity for improvement via Web 2.0 tools?
    3. What’s the killer app that will make Gov 2.0 the norm instead of the exception.
    4. What part of Gov 2.0 most excites you?

    What is Gov 2.0? Easiest explanation: mash-up of Web 2.0/social media tools in government processes. For starters, agencies finding creative ways to “do business” through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, MySpace, etc.

    As I answered the questions, I kept coming back to the same sticking point – culture. An organization’s culture dictates its aptitude for “picking up” new technology to meet daily challenges. Hmm, cultural aptitude tests. Might be incredibly telling.

    My buddy, Mike Boon, describes culture in his book, The African Way: The Power of Interactive Leadership,

    “Culture is not an independent thing. It is what we are as people. Our culture guides us in how to behave, and it is the expression of our values and beliefs.”

    Luke’s Gov 2.o Hero profile questions focus on what technologies exist to transform government. Transparency is the current buzzword with our new President. Transparency is the underpinning of the Gov 2.0 movement — to make what we do inside the government freely and easily available to all those outside the government.

    Personally, I love it. But not everyone does.

    Transparency can be quite threatening, especially if one’s power base is built on insider knowledge that is closely held and doled out like currency to buy more power.

    Will even the most “killer app” technology transform our federal government overnight. Probably not. We are Uncle Sam, after all. Uncle Sam isn’t known for being quick on his feet, now is he? But, what about Aunt Samantha? She just might be a fast-talkin’ two-steppin’ little whipper-snapper who runs circles around ole’ Sam. (Yes, I’m from Texas. Can you tell?)

    Do I think new technology will change how we do business in the federal government? Do I think Web 2.0 will transform our decision-making processes from muddy to clear? Actually, I do. But it totally depends on the leadership and culture of the organization.

    A risk-averse culture views change with suspicion and animosity.

    A risk-averse organization is unlikely to leap into the arms of new technology. More likely, I picture the “concrete boots” reaction. Perhaps we need a VUKA! intervention to shake up our more entrenched organizations. Vuka is a Nguni word that means: ‘to come alive’, ‘resurrect’, ‘bring to life’, ‘wake up’.

    Quick note: I’m traveling with family to South Africa and Zambia. In South Africa, we’ll spend some time with Mike Boon and his family. I know Mike from high school. He was a Rotary Exchange student. Amazingly, we’ve kept in touch ALL these years. Mike’s company, Vulindlela, specializes in organizational interventions. We will accompany him to an event in Soweto, outside Johannesburg, to see how this works. Here’s a quote from his website:

    VUKA! is dependent on an organisation’s willingness to build in processes that ensure the sustainability of the change that will definitely have occurred in each individual!

    Maybe I’ll learn something about VUKA! to bring back to the job to help jump-start Gov 2.0 within our organizations. But even without intervention, we have pockets of open culture within our government already. I work with some amazingly creative, intelligent, secure, energetic, enthusiastic folks at NASA who are chomping at the bit to gallop into the future.

    What can I do?  Open doors, supply tools for the journey, and get out of the way as the stampede rushes past!

    Does this make me a Gov 2.0 hero? Unlikely. But, hey. I’ll take the title! I wonder what I’ll look like in a cape? ;)

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    Filed under federal government, Gov 2.0, leadership, NASA