5 Days and Counting – Sundays

The next two Sundays will be special ones for our team. While in Rwanda and Kenya, we will have the opportunity to join our new African friends in worship. Spirituality comes in many different flavors. We can’t wait to share in this time of faith stories and common belief.

Well, “can’t wait” may be a little overly exuberant for some of our group. A few have expressed a little anxiety over what shape we’ll be in after flying halfway around the world, arriving on Saturday evening, and attempting to adjust our sleep cycles to the time. I have a feeling that the exhilaration of that experience will far outweigh any latent anxiety.

We are eager to share in yet another bit of tradition and culture that involves our spiritual nature. Communion among new friends, acquaintances, and strangers gives us insight to the essence of God and of his far-reaching love for every creature and, especially, all individuals.

This Sunday — today — is a little different for me. In one of my teaching roles, I find myself in Little Rock, Arkansas conducting a weekend class. Not my favorite arrangement because I lose the opportunity to attend a house of worship, but it’s still a Sunday and special.

For almost 5 years — 4 times a year, I’ve made this trek north to teach this course. And, almost every Sunday my church has been the downtown Starbucks where I find myself now, writing this post. Although there is no liturgy or order of worship, no singing or preaching, no designated deacons or elders, there is community — and thus a form of communion.

As I scan the busy coffee store, I see two people who have been here almost every Sunday I’ve visited. Two other “old friends” were here a little earlier. The rest of the customers passing through seem to represent a wide spectrum of backgrounds and pursuits. Some will linger for a while, talk with friends, read their papers, or browse the internet. Others will place their orders, grab their brews and head back into life just a bit better prepared — or at least caffeinated.

Not my typical Sunday experience, but in many ways, a routine that brings comfort and helps me reset my life.

Sundays hold special meaning for most of us. A good number have the memories around attending local churches. Others have not participated in that way, but our Sundays have been special days of rest and recreation. Sundays have been that quiet place to reflect and restore and prepare for the coming week.

On this Sunday, just before our trip to Africa, I hope that each and every one of our team have that opportunity to reflect and restore and prepare. All Sundays are filled with promise. But the next two are going to be awesome!

We will be far away soon. But we will be close to all of you. Enjoy your Sundays!

6 Days and Counting – Betty

Less than a week to go. In 6 days, Dr. Betty Gilmore will be leading our intrepid band of peacemakers into Africa to teach, to share, and to learn. Leaders get to lead for a variety of reasons. But the best type of leader is the one who people choose to follow. Betty was our choice.

I’m not saying that I wouldn’t have signed on for this adventure had it not been for Betty, but her invitation made it pretty easy. You see, Betty is a phenomenal organizer of programs and educational trips. I knew that I could count on Betty to plan and lead in a way that ensured the success of this venture. And besides all that, Betty is just an extraordinary individual — and a lot of fun.

photo 2Betty is the director for the Center for Dispute Resolution and Conflict Management at Southern Methodist University. A licensed clinical psychologist, she teaches courses in both the dispute resolution and masters in counseling programs. Always searching for ways to introduce her students to the wide world of peacemaking, Betty is constantly alert to opportunities for immersion in rich contextual environments. And so it was that she researched and initiated our trip to Africa.

Betty is the former training program director for the Center for Public Policy Dispute Resolution at the University of Texas School of Law. Her work there provided a variety of alternative dispute resolution services including mediation, training, assessment and consultation to governmental agencies, policymakers and others involved in public disputes. She continues to provide consultation, training and crisis management services to private and governmental entities.

Gilmore is an online-lecturer for the Werner Institute for Negotiation and Dispute Resolution at Creighton University and will be teaching as an adjunct professor at the Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution at the Pepperdine University School of Law. In addition, she has served as a visiting faculty member at Hiroshima University where she co-taught an international negotiation course. Betty currently serves as  co-chair for the Texas Mediation Trainers Roundtable.

As a licensed clinical psychologist, she has worked in clinical, teaching, training, supervisory and consulting roles in a wide variety of settings including academic, workplace, private practice, community and health care. Her areas of specialization include trauma, crisis management, conflict-resolution and cross-cultural issues.

She is also the author of The Darkest Hour: Shedding light on the impact of isolation and death row.

Gilmore earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Southern Methodist University. In addition, she received her Master’s and Doctoral degrees in clinical psychology from the California School of Professional Psychology in Los Angeles, California.  She has received extensive training in dispute resolution through Harvard’s Program on Negotiation, Pepperdine’s Straus Institute, CDR Associates, and the American Institute of Mediation.

photo 5Those are all of the official reasons we would choose Betty to be our leader. But there is so much more. As I have watched the team on our work days in Dallas, I have seen the way that they look up to Betty. Their respect has been earned by Betty’s dedication to people and to their personal development. From an abundance of applications, Betty chose these people to be part of this peace mission.

Here are some of the other reasons we chose Betty . . .

Betty is unbelievably smart. Not in a brainiac sort of way. No, Betty uses her intelligence in a way that builds other people up and brings them along. She honors their gifts and appreciates their intellect. She is the mastermind behind the trainings we have prepared for Africa.

photo 3Betty is inclusive. She sees opportunity in interacting with people in diverse settings and circumstances. She wants to make time for others. From our very first conversation about this trip, Betty shared that one of her intense desires was for the group to have time with refugees — and especially the children.

Betty has a soft heart for little ones and furry creatures. And, you might like to know that extends to tortoises. Betty loves life. She makes certain that all of us recognize the great treasure that life holds. She leads us in celebration of life.

Betty is a detail person. Putting together a trip to Rwanda and Kenya for 7 people is a challenge. Yet she has relentlessly pursued the information necessary and provided counsel on the practical things we need to know. And, she also blessed us by choosing Allison and Robyn who have stepped up with additional tips for travel and their love for language and peace. And she chose Aaron with his extensive experience in motivating groups of people. And Malcolm with his great love for others and his vast experience in training. And Dan with his passion for making the world better, one person at a time.

Betty has our respect. Sure, she is a trusted professional. But she’s also a friend who cares deeply for each one of us. Just in case you read past that too fast – Betty is our friend.

Betty Gilmore. Professor. Mentor. Leader. Trusted professional. Friend.

Who else would we follow?

7 Days and Counting – Pieces

On occasion, random pieces come together to form a more substantial whole. I’ve been watching a number of pieces of our lives float around and then slowly combine in a grand mosaic. And all of this happens as the calendar moves past us. Just 7 days before our team leaves for Africa, the pieces are slowly beginning to weave themselves into a landscape, with many details in the foreground drifting into the vanishing horizon.

So many pieces.

darkesthour-e1360037094799For example, the work of Robyn Short, Betty Gilmore, and Nanon Williams that culminated just Wednesday night in the release of Betty and Nanon’s new book, The Darkest Hour, and Robyn’s documentary film by the same name — all exposing the tragedy of our national experiment in mass incarceration and the inhumane use of solitary confinement. As I sat with team members, Dan and Allison, hearing and seeing the results of the investment made by Robyn and Betty, I had to think that this was part of something much larger. Just one piece.

That led me to think of the diversity of our team and how we have all been blessed by the gifts and even the idiosyncrasies we find in each other.

Betty’s work as director of Southern Methodist University’s Dispute Resolution and Conflict Management program brings an additional depth to all that we do as a team. Her care and concern for students is reflected in the way our team members respond to her. More about Betty in a later post. Betty’s love for each and every one of us and her daily attention to the team and the larger mission of peacebuilding are . . . just one piece.

Robyn is a woman with a cause — actually, several. As she has slowly revealed her story to us over the last few months, we have come to see an individual who is determined to make progress on a number of fronts. Despite her determination, Robyn works hard to wrap everything in a spirit of love. Robyn and her dedication to her well-chosen causes are . . . just one piece.

Allison displays her love for people in every single one of her facial expressions. She loves peace. She loves to help others. Allison is uniquely suited for her work with students in SMU’s Study Abroad program. We’ve come to know that Allison has many great works ahead of her and she and all those works are . . . just one piece.

Aaron brings a quiet assuredness to the group. His talents are apparent and his comments are given particular consideration by other members of the team. Aaron’s professional career is evidence of his ability to observe, discern, plan, and execute in order to get things done. Yet, we also see his caring side, both through his attention to detail within the group and his expression of love and respect for his family. Aaron and his humble confidence are . . . just one piece.

Team5Malcolm plays a pivotal role in our team. While all team members have revealed an active sense of humor, Malcolm’s dry wit and observations of life and of our team are always welcome and enjoyed. Knowing that Malcolm is actively engaging people each night in his work as a peace officer brings a smile to our faces. With the ability to play numerous roles — friend, protector, family man — almost simultaneously, Malcolm and his warm presence are . . . just one piece.

Dan marshals a great deal of intensity as he pursues what I see as his passion to bring stability to any situation. His passion is not driven by his desire to control, but rather to make the world around him a better place. I know that the people of Dallas are better off because Dan sees his work as a peace officer as a calling to serve. Dan’s desire to understand what is going on around him is contagious and makes us all more curious and, thus, more human. Dan’s openness and his willingness to serve are . . . just one piece.

Obviously, in this moment in our lives, our training mission to Africa is the largest piece. Ten days in Rwanda and Kenya concentrating on sharing conflict resolution skills and motivating others to seek a peaceful path at every opportunity will capture the majority of our imaginations and energy. But even though it’s a big one, our peace mission is . . . just one piece.

However, as I sit and I think about the incredible richness of our team and the unfathomable deepness of our opportunity on this peace mission, I know that all of these things are mere pieces of the greater story of our untold futures.

Just one piece . . . just one peace.

8 days and Counting – Aaron

Just a week away from boarding our flight to Amsterdam on the way to connect with the final leg of our journey to Kigali, our team continues to pull together our variety of assigned details and personal dreams. As we’ve presented our individual motivations and hopes for the trip, we have also listened and learned from our team members. From Aaron, we all catch a glimpse of his quiet confidence born of experience and embellished with intense capacity to achieve his vision.

EASTER 2014Aaron, lives in Frisco with his wife, Kelly, and his three girls, Claire, Emerson, and Riley (LEFT: seated left to right).

Aaron Horn is an executive for an oilfield services company and also founded a training and consulting company. Aaron has held a critical role in the startup phase of three separate companies over the past six years.

Aaron is qualified as a mediator and dispute resolution professional in the state of Texas. He has authored several professional papers on operations and leadership and is an experienced public speaker and trainer. Aaron is a combat veteran, a recipient of the Bronze Star Medal, and a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, NY. In our team meetings, Aaron is the go-to person as our resource for leadership and business issues.

When asked why he joined the team, Aaron’s response revolved around his respect for others and his heartfelt desire to serve others and to share a common experience.

“African Leadership And Reconciliation Ministries and Made in the Streets Ministry each serve noble purposes, educating and assisting people in unfortunate circumstances. In doing so, they shine the light of God’s grace. I’m humbled and heartened to play a small role in shining that light,” Aaron began.

“Emerson said, ‘In my walks, every man I meet is my superior in some way, and in that I learn from him.’ I believe that the people we’ll meet in Rwanda and Kenya will have salient lessons to teach each of us, as long as we approach each encounter with the willingness to be changed by those we meet. I’m excited about the lessons I’ll learn.

2014-08-30 10.35.30“And as a bonus on a more superficial level, I love to travel. And I’ve always wanted to go to Africa. I can’t wait to see it!”

Aaron’s excitement is shared by each one of us. We look forward to the journey and the places and the people.

Aaron brings great talent and capacity for accomplishment to our team. But, than that, Aaron models his concern for others through his love for his family, for each one of us, and for those new friends we will soon meet.

 

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.