9 Days and Counting – Detours

For Allison, Dan, Betty, Aaron, Malcolm, Robyn, and me, the days are head are narrowly focused toward our peace mission to Africa. Yet, there are detours.

Robyn and Betty are concentrating today — and good parts of many days before this — on the release of Betty’s new book (co-authored with Nanon Williams), The Darkest Hour, and the premiere of the documentary of the same name produced by Robyn (both projects by Robyn’s GoodMedia Press). The big event is tonight on the SMU campus in Dallas. That’s a pretty special detour.

I saw on FaceBook that Dan and Allison had a date night recently. As busy as they have been with work and getting ready for Africa, there hasn’t been much time for those wonderful events. That’s a pretty special detour.

Aaron and Malcolm are working and trying to get as much family time as possible in these last few days. That’s a pretty special detour.

Several of us from the team plan to be at Robyn’s and Betty’s event tonight in Dallas. That’s a really special detour.

Detours. Little changes in route. Some caused by challenges. Some representing opportunities.

I should be on my way to Dallas right now. But I came across, with the able assistance of Nancy, my wife, one of those detours you would label as “opportunity.”

Today is senior day at the West Texas Fair and Rodeo. All of us old codgers (and young lasses like Nancy) get in free. That isn’t enough to tempt us to tromp through the dusty lots at the fairground. But something else is.

And so we stood in line for a half hour, in the sun, in the dust, to buy two of Harold’s World Famous BBQ chopped beef sandwiches. We wolfed them down pretty quickly — after all, this was a detour. And, in truth, Nancy is much more refined than I am. She didn’t wolf her sandwich down. But that’s why she only finished half of hers.

To those of you from outside of Abilene, that trip to the fairgrounds doesn’t sound like that big a deal. In fact, you might be tempted to pass an opportunity like that by. But then, you’ve probably never had Harold’s BBQ. You see, Harold retired a few years ago, leaving a gaping hole in the BBQ industry of Abilene. Fortunately we have dozens of other great smoked meat and sauce shops. But Harold’s BBQ is . . . Harold’s BBQ. And that’s a special detour.

Detours are all different. But all are important. After all, sometimes a detour is simply where you find yourself. And that’s reason enough to make the best of it.

Our trip to Rwanda and Kenya is, in the grand scheme of things, this month’s detour for us. And, we will be making the best of it. And that’s a very special detour.

10 Days and Counting – Prayers

Prayers. Prayers are offered. Prayers are given. Prayers are worded. Prayers are essential. In 10 days, we leave for Africa.

As we continue our preparations, our thoughts turn to the work that lies ahead. This prayer, penned by team member, Robyn Short, in Prayers for Peace, brings our mission into focus and into alignment with our relationship to God.

Dear God,

Each morning I awake to a new day filled with many opportunities for practicing peace.

May all my efforts and all my interactions glorify You and deepen the experience of Your love here on Earth.

May the work I contribute have a positive and lasting impression on all those who experience my efforts and contributions, and may the world be better as a result.

May my heart, mind and soul be nourished as I consciously give of my talents.

May Your love be at the very center of all my actions, and may peace ripple out from me into all the world.

I thank you and acknowledge the blessing that each and every day I am able to awake to a new day filled with opportunities for me to contribute passionately and purposefully to this world in which we are co-creators.

I am blessed.



Hear our prayers.

11 Days and Counting – Allison

It’s altogether possible that our team will be approached to appear in a major motion picture telling the story of our adventures in Africa. And, when the promotional people begin asking who should have the first action figure produced, I’m pointing to Allison.

Allison Witucki Russell is a quiet soul. Quiet, but not timid. Reserved, but not without opinion. When she decides to share, that moment is well worth waiting for.

1797473_850316691949_1029276132_nA native of Houston, Allison is very passionate about travel. However, she’s not partial to five-star hotels and the like. Allison and her husband, Dan, are outdoor enthusiasts. One of her goals is to visit every national park in the United States. She enjoys hiking, camping, and sailing and just about anything involving their dog, Brisbane. Allison is also a photographer and will be one of our primary sources for great pictures through our trip.

Allison is currently in the master’s degree program in the Dispute Resolution and Conflict Management program at Southern Methodist University. She earned her undergraduate degree from Saint Edward’s University in Austin, Texas with a focus on kinesiology.

Much of Allison’s youth was formed by her involvement in the Girl Scouts. A recipient of the Gold Award, the highest award in the Girl Scouts, she points to her participation and achievements in the organization as her inspiration for her passion to make a difference in the world.

Allison shared these thoughts, “Juliette Gordon Low, the founder of the Girl Scouts, is one of my heroes. She was a powerful and inspirational WOMAN who worked very hard to foster peace and equality for everyone, while also creating exciting opportunities for women and girls. And she did it in a time when that kind of ‘behavior’ was not common in women.  She made a difference. Her legacy will forever live on in the hearts and actions of Girl Scouts across the globe. That’s pretty amazing!”

No stranger to making a difference, Allison has worked with a number of leadership organizations including the Girl Scouts, the American Red Cross, and Crisis Intervention of Houston.

It was her hope to make a difference that landed her a spot on the Africa team.

“Dr. Gilmore called me and asked if Dan and I would be able to be a part of this team,” Allison explained. “Right off the bat, Dan said ‘No!’  But something about this resonated very deep inside me. I knew this was the opportunity I had been waiting for. This was going to be a life-altering experience and I couldn’t say no to it. I put my negotiation skills to work. Soon, Dan and I agreed this was definitely something we wanted to do. Little did we know…and we haven’t even made it to Africa yet!!  I’m beyond thrilled to be a part of this team, to be presented with this opportunity, and simply to have this experience. And I feel extremely lucky that I get to go through it all with Dan. I am not blind to the fact that sharing this level of experience with a spouse is very rare and we are very grateful.”

Dan & AllisonAs we mentioned in Dan’s post, the Russells will celebrate their second wedding anniversary while in Rwanda.

I wouldn’t doubt if that action figure isn’t already in the works. On our team, one of our constant experiences is to hear Allison say, “I’ll do that.” She has already inspired greatness in packing and rumor has it that several team members may be retaining Allison to get their gear packed and stowed, as well. Allison also volunteered to pack the duffel bags we’ll be taking with all of the great things that have been donated for the refugees. And, she moved ahead on a late term project that we’ll be featuring in a future post.

Allison is a woman of action. With a heart as big as the outdoors she loves so much, Allison sets the pace for peacemaking for our Africa mission.

12 Days and Counting – Joey

[This guest post was a surprise in my email inbox this morning. Thank you, Robyn, for writing this and for the collaboration from the rest of the team. I’m a little embarrassed to post this on my own blog. But I’m going to take one for the team! Love you good folks! Joey]

Guest Post by Robyn Short

Co-leaders Joey Cope and Betty Gilmore taking a break from training with our mascot, Mazzie Star.

If you have been following Joey’s blog for some time, then you are familiar with his thoughtful and often humorous perspective on life. If you are a friend or family member of the “Africa Peace Mission Team,” then you may be getting to know Joey along with the rest of us. You see … like you, we experience the more personal side of Joey in his writings. In person, he is the quiet observer. When we read his writing, we understand the inner workings of his mind.

Joey listens. He watches. He takes notes. There is an African proverb that describes Joey well: “The fool speaks. The wise man listens.” And our Joey is indeed a wise man.

Like a patchwork quilt, Joey is our thread. He holds our individual layers together. We are a loud and boisterous group. We are full of strong opinions, as well as laughter and jokes. Individually, we are a mismatched and seemingly random collection of patches and color. Through his keen observations, subtle nudges and one-on-one counsel, Joey has softly and quietly woven our unique patches into a single, beautiful quilt.

Dan describes Joey well. “I think that Joey provides a soulful wisdom and real-life moral compass for our group. We would all be better mediators if we had ‘what would Joey do’ as personal mottos. In addition, Joey has the type of voice, knowledge and quiet charisma that makes one want to listen when he speaks; because you know he is worth listening to.”

It is no surprise that Dan thought of the “what would Joey do” phrase. Remember the WWJD lanyards from many years ago? Joey does indeed exemplify a Christ-like presence through his unconditional love and peacemaker actions.

Joey teaching us the importance of process.

Joey teaching us the importance of process.

Betty, Joey’s co-lead on this team, describes Joey as the team’s “father” because of his strength, ability to offer support and exercise discipline. Fathers lead; they offer advice; they demonstrate wisdom. Yes, Joey is our team’s father.

When I think of Joey, I think about his generosity of spirit, his tremendous kindness, and his ability to see the Divine in us all. Joey is a true peacemaker. His love for all God’s creatures, the two-legged and the four-legged, is experienced in his actions.

When Joey is not writing for this blog, working with the Africa Peace Mission Team or learning valuable lessons about love, compassion and collaboration from his guru Togo, you will find him at Abilene Christian University where he shares his knowledge and wisdom as the executive director of the Duncum Center for Conflict Resolution.

We are blessed to know Joey. We are fortunate to have him co-lead our team with Betty. But I suspect you already know that, because like us, Joey has blessed your life too and made your time on this planet a bit more precious.

13 Days and Counting – Credentials

When we start boarding the plane in just 13 days, airline personnel and government officials will be paying a lot of attention to our credentials. Boarding passes and passports will be the key items of the moment. And, even though a lost boarding pass or a defective passport has caused many a problem at the gate, those things aren’t nearly as terrifying as a lack of credentials in some other key areas.

Team4When Dr. Betty Gilmore selected her Africa team, she was looking for some specific characteristics. Fortunately, she had the advantage of having the SMU students in her classes. She had talked with each one, seen them interact with large groups, and read their assignments. Yet as well as she had come to know each and every one, there was something else she was hoping for — a dedication and commitment that’s a little hard to foresee.

An experienced hand at assembling student teams to travel to other countries, Betty knew, perhaps better than any of us, how much time and work would be required in preparing for this trip. Just as a passenger’s credentials are carefully scrutinized, Betty had to look carefully at each one of us.

Team3While the best case scenario would be a perfect fit, we all know it’s rare for that to happen when assembling a team. For a team to come together, it must experience struggle. People have to learn to deal with the blemishes. For in seeing the good and the bad in our mission partners, we begin to develop a real sense of the strength of the team. And, fittingly, we come to love and respect each other in a very special way.

In the day-to-day world, credentials are things that are earned. A degree, a license, an honor. We love people with credentials. And once credentialed, it does feel rather nice to have someone take notice.

On this trip, the hope of each and every one of us is that our special credentials are noticed by everyone we meet. Our special credentials will be well earned. We’ve worked hard. Yet, the magic ingredient is our willingness to stick together.

Team5When Betty, Robyn, Aaron, Malcolm, Allison, Dan, and I set foot in Africa, we want to be seen as a peace movement. Holding each other up, carrying each other’s burdens, looking out for one another, respecting each other. These are the credentials that will speak most loudly as we move together to train others and model peace.