24 Days and Counting – Dan

The first time I met Dan was over dinner at Mi Cocina. The meal was the team introduction meeting where Betty pulled us all together. Since this is an SMU trip and these were SMU graduate students, I assumed that I would be the only one who needed an introduction. But, it just so happened that most of the students had no prior connection. So, we quickly bonded over Mexican food.

Dan was at the other end of the long table. Toward the end of the meal, I watched as a majority of the female members of our team quietly passed their plates down to Dan. After the second or third one made its way that direction, I heard Dan’s wife, Allison, explain that it takes a lot of food to keep Dan going.

Dan Thumbs-UpIf you could meet him in person, you would understand why. Dan is a big guy. And I’m not just saying that because I’m a little guy. Dan works hard at staying in shape and physically ready for the demands of his job as a Senior Corporal with the Dallas Police Department. Although his size is imposing, Dan works hard at being a reachable presence when he’s working the streets of Dallas.

Daniel Russell is a native of Snohomish, Washington, where he developed his love for the outdoors. A graduate of Central Washington University, he earned two bachelor degrees with honors — Psychology and Law & Justice with a specialization in Law Enforcement.

While still in Washington, Dan served as a Reserve Sheriff’s Deputy for the Kittitas County Sheriff’s Office and completed the police academy while in school full time and working part time. He later served as a patrol deputy and as a part-time School Resource Officer at a middle school and high school.

Dan & AllisonLove brought Dan to Texas. He met his wife, Allison, in the summer of 2005 and, upon graduation from university, he moved to Texas to be closer to her. The couple married in 2012. Upon arrival in Texas in 2008, Dan joined the Dallas Police Department and is now assigned to the Central Patrol Crime Response Team, a pro-active crime reduction unit. In addition, he is a Field Training Officer. As a result of his passion for his job and a great deal of hard work, Dan has received the Certificate of Merit on four occasions and has been awarded a number of commendations recognizing his dedication and skills.

Dan is currently a graduate student in the Southern Methodist University program in Dispute Resolution and Conflict Management.

He and his wife, Allison, are both members of the Africa team. They live in Dallas with their two-year old golden retriever, Brisbane. The couple will celebrate their second anniversary while in Africa with the team!

Dan’s interests outside of work include weight training, physical fitness, hiking, reading, traveling, and what he calls “nerdy science fiction trivia.” A fan of Star Wars, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, and Harry Potter, he would make an awesome partner in Trivial Pursuits.

Dan & PitbullAs I have come to know Dan, I’ve come to appreciate his intentional way of dealing with conflict. He brings a balance to his work and to his life. Dealing with everyone and everything with respect seems to be his goal. This snapshot is symbolic of that emphasis. Answering a call to deal with a “threatening pit bull,” Dan encountered this guy — complete with spiked collar and a “Beware of the Dog” sign. Approaching the dog in a reassuring manner led to the friendly encounter you see here. In all likelihood, it also saved the dog’s life.

In our last team meeting, Dan was talking about how hard it is to shift back and forth from police officer to peacemaker. Then he explained that he was able to reconcile the two by viewing himself as a full-time peace officer. Still, there remains a tension.

Dan said, “I try very hard to take my ‘cop’ persona off when I get home, and struggle with that at times. Brisbane keeps me balanced, and reminds me that there are still pure things in this world, like the unadulterated  love of a dog. Allison is who makes me want to be a better person, and not allow myself to dwell too long on all the injustice that is hidden in the shadows that must be dealt with.”

Personally, I can’t think of a better person to deal with that injustice nor a better man of peace to partner with on this mission to Africa. Just another example of our awesome team members!

26 Days and Counting – Robyn

Words matter to Robyn. As our team has prepared for our journey to Africa and for our mission of sharing peace, Robyn has reminded us that helping people find useful language to negotiate daily conflict is a gift that will change lives — including our own.

Robyn Short is the author of Prayers for Peace, a prayer book and journal for those who are committed to being “the change they wish to see in the world,” and Peace People, an illustrated children’s book. A former teacher and school principal, Robyn sees the promise in children and hope for change in the way the world turns because of them.

Robyn is the founder of GoodMedia Press, an independent publishing company that’s mission is to actively and passionately promote peace through the written word.  An independent filmmaker, Robyn premiered “The Darkest Hour,” her first film, in Dallas, Texas, in September 2014. Coinciding with that premiere was the release of GoodMedia Press’ book of the same name, co-authored by Africa team leader, Dr. Betty Gilmore and Nanon Williams.

A passionate believer in peace and social justice, Robyn holds a Bachelors of Science in Psychology from Auburn University, a Masters in Liberal Arts from Southern Methodist University and a Masters in Conflict Management and Dispute Resolution from Southern Methodist University.

In a previous blog post, we shared Robyn’s thoughts on love — a key to her approach to just about everything. Maybe everything. “Everything is either an act of love or an act of someone crying out for love,” Robyn tells us. So, those good things we intend, even if they don’t turn out well, are because of our love. And those bad things come from our need to experience love.

Noting that conflict is a rich experience, Robyn reflected on the need to have something positive available to individuals who are confronted by others crying out for love or who are making that cry themselves. “Hurt people tend to hurt people,” Robyn says. “When we’re in conflict, we tend to move toward violence and not towards love, when love is what actually feels better.” Having those positive influences in place was Robyn’s motivation for writing Peace People for children. Knowing that people can only choose from the opportunities available to them, she wanted to provide a resource that introduced those concepts to children.

Robyn summed up her feelings about the trip to Africa in this way, “I want my time on this earth to matter. When we as people change, there is a ripple effect. Others have the opportunity to change as we change.”

And Robyn is passionate about change . . . for the good.

27 Days and Counting – Malcolm

In 27 days, our team will travel to Africa to share conflict management skills and to learn big lessons from our new friends on another continent. We are already expanding our personal worlds by bonding with our teammates. In the next few weeks, we want you to come each of us. Today we want to introduce you to Malcolm McGuire.

Malcolm is a patrol officer with the City of Denton Police Department and is assigned to the Entertainment District as a member of the bike unit. He is also a member of the department hostage negotiations unit, recruiting team, honor guard, and is a law enforcement instructor.

Training others comes naturally to Malcolm. He  is an adjunct law enforcement instructor at both the Tarrant County College Criminal Justice Training Center in Fort Worth and Collin College Law Enforcement Academy in McKinney. He is a contract consultant with the AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program and assists in developing and implementing law enforcement training nationwide.

Malcolm is an Air Force Reservist, currently serving as a staff sergeant with the 301st Security Forces Squadron stationed at Naval Air Station, Joint Reserve Base, Fort Worth, TX. In 2012 McGuire, deployed with his unit to Eskan Village, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He was attached to an intelligence unit that supported base operations and worked alongside the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. Sgt. McGuire was awarded the Air Force Achievement Medal for his efforts.

Malcolm is a member of “Mentor Denton” that pairs adult mentors with children in the Denton Independent School District in need of positive role models. He is also a big brother with Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America.

Malcolm earned his Bachelor of Arts in English with a criminal justice minor from Wiley College in Marshall, Texas. He is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Dispute Resolution and Conflict Management from Southern Methodist University.

A committed family man, Malcolm enjoys time with his wife, Tysha, and his two sons, Miles and Mason. Tysha is a registered nurse specializing in cardiac care. Malcolm describes Tysha as a dedicated wife and mother who derives her greatest joy from her family. Tysha and Malcolm volunteer in their church’s marriage ministry. Malcolm dearly loves his boys and enjoys coaching them in baseball. The McGuire family also includes a lovable English mastiff, Maximus.

When asked why he wanted to join the team to Africa, Malcolm said, “I was led to go on this trip for one simple reason.  I love serving as both a peacemaker and peacekeeper.  Any opportunity to assist others in their progression in either of those noble fields,  I will gladly take! Matthew 5:9.”

Malcolm refers, of course, to Jesus’ proclamation in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.”

That fits Malcolm and the rest of our team. Peacemakers. Children of God.



48 Days and Counting – Gifts

It is only 48 days until we gather a few things together and fly to Africa. But 48-days-out wasn’t a day of rest. Instead, our team of 7 gathered in Dallas in yet another day of preparation. The more we get together, the more visible the gifts of each and every team member become.

I’ll be sharing more about the amazing group of individuals who I’ll join on this trip to Rwanda and Kenya. But for now, let me introduce the team. From left to right, that’s me, Robyn Short, Malcolm McGuire, Betty Gilmore, Aaron Horn, Dan Russell, and Allison Russell. The group was hand-picked by Betty, the director of the Dispute Resolution and Conflict Management program at Southern Methodist University. Each time I have contact with any one of these folks, I become more impressed with how well Betty chose.

We were able to get a lot accomplished as we talked through training concepts and began committing our lessons to paper. A deadline looms on Monday. Our material must get there long before we do so that it can be translated into Kinyarwanda, the official language of Rwanda. Robyn, who works in publishing, agreed to take all of our lessons and put them together in the “training booklet” that will be distributed. (And yes, Robyn, I am in receipt of your emails reminding me that I owe you a couple of lessons for that booklet.  This afternoon, I promise.)

It seems like I’m always running a little bit behind these days. The training material deadline isn’t the only due date I’m facing this week. In fact, when I returned home last night, I was so scattered I even forgot to post this — Saturday’s entry. So not only will I be working for Robyn this afternoon, I’ll also be coming back to post today’s blog entry.

As we sat around Robyn’s living room, I couldn’t help but listen into the conversations. Groups of 2 or 3 of us were discussing our topics and brainstorming ideas for group exercises. Others were searching for the “right words” to teach important things to people in a far different culture.  I was impressed with how much I was going to learn from the people in that room. In fact, I was too busy absorbing the ideas and opinions of the team to make headway on my own work.

We don’t agree on all things. Yet, the team has that specially-dispensed grace that you don’t always find until a group has been together for years. One of the most wonderful gifts present is a shared one — the gift of community. We already have it. I know that ten days in Africa will make that bond even stronger. In the years to come, as interests and physical miles separate us, we will always be a team.

As you follow our journey, I hope that you will become one of our partners in this. Each and every one of us could use your encouragement and support. And if you are so inclined, your prayers. We ask that, above all things, our gifts be used to benefit those people we are yet to meet.

Fooling the Camera

I just completed spending five full days with just over 50 people who, I’m certain, will be my lifelong friends. And, in the course of that 5 days, pictures were taken. Some formally and some — not so much. As I’ve seen these images emerge on various social media platforms, I’ve found myself wishing that there had been a little better angle on some of those that I’m in. If I had only known that the shutter was about to open, I would have invested a little more effort in fooling the camera.

Head and shoulders back. Stomach in. Genuine smile. Turn that best side toward the camera. Find a position where you look taller. All things that have been suggested to me through the years. And many more that come from my own personal review and reflection of pictures.

In my earlier years — we’re talking the decades up until last year — I really dreaded being in pictures at all. I dutifully relented when asked to pose because I recognized the need to memorialize a particular event or special occasion. But I never liked the way they turned out.

Even though I can still look at my personal photos with a critical eye, I’ve discovered a peace in viewing them. No, I don’t look any better. Yes, I could have straightened up or tucked in my shirt or found a way to escape the camera completely. But I’m okay with what I see. Embarrassed a little at times, but okay.

I think that comes from knowing that these tiny microsecond views of me are part of a larger image that others see all the time anyway. And, unless I become a hermit and live away from people, all of my angles will be on display at some time or another. So, while I wince when I see the thinning hair or the goofy expression, I’ve found a way to keep fooling the camera.

My concerns for my image fade when I spend more time trying to see others in their best light.

With friends and family like those in my pictures, that pose becomes both them and me.