Sorted Issue 66
In the our latest Issue 66, read about Alanzo Paul's return to Faith and how Denzel is spreading the word through his movie career. We also have many more brilliant articles from our great team of columnists. Don’t miss this limited edition magazine.
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Plus, the greatest team of Christian writers ever assembled.
Inner City Life, The Story of Alanzo Julian Paul - By Alex Willmott, Chief Features Writer
With the statistics of church decline grabbing column inches and headlines on a regular basis, Sorted magazine caught up with Alanzo Paul to hear his drug-fuelled story of transformation and new faith.
What was your upbringing like?
I had quite a normal Canadian upbringing with loving and present parents, as well as an extremely athletic sister who lovingly toughened me up with wedgies and banter. We were a really happy family who played board games, built snowmen, went sledging, and did other such activities that one can enjoy when it’s a brisk -40C winter day in Canada. I grew up in a nominally Catholic home and when we did go to church, I didn’t really understand its meaning, significance, or relevance. Nostalgically, I reminisce on how religious holidays such as Christmas, from my perspective, had the primary function and focus of amassing presents. While Easter, for me, equalled delightfully gorging one’s self on copious amounts of chocolate bunnies.
Unbeknown to me at that time, for years, storms had been forming and thundering between my parents. When I was 12 years old, it reached its climax and my parents’ marriage ended, unfortunately, in a nasty divorce. My father moved 30 minutes away to another city and remarried. My mother was shattered and began what she calls “her dark years”. My sister also took it exceptionally hard and sought refuge with her friends. I was left by myself. Abandonment, anxiety and guilt began to wrap their icy tentacles around my heart and were choking the life out of my blissful upbringing.
Tell us about your teens and what life looked like for you.
At 12 years of age, I did not know how to handle the implosion of my family. Thus, in order to medicate the … pain that I was experiencing, I smoked my first marijuana cigarette, my first tobacco cigarette, and had my first experience of drinking alcohol. This was much of how I spent my teenage years. I was not focused on goals such as university, my future career and so forth, but rather, I struggled desperately [to] find a sense of belonging, identity, self-worth and ultimately, love. My reasoning was “what was the point?” of pursuing such endeavours if I’m literally crumbling on the inside. I felt utterly broken.
Fast forward to 18 years old, I had barely graduated high school and had been kicked out of my mother’s house. Subsequently, I moved in with my father who also kicked me out a short while later, then I moved to a ‘dodgy’ part of town. My substance abuse, which was already a part of my regular daily routine, increased exponentially. In addition to my use of marijuana, tobacco and alcohol, I became addicted to opiates like percosets, morphine and OxyContin. From the moment I awoke until I fell asleep, I would be snorting. My ‘friends’ at that time were gangsters and drug dealers and my upbringing was but a memory.
When did the idea of ‘faith’ become part of your thinking, and how did this begin to affect your life?
When I was 20 or so, I had opened up a clothing store with a drug-dealing acquaintance of mine, and around that time my sister escaped an abusive relationship. While recovering from the experience, she came across a group of Christians and became a follower of Jesus. The change was remarkable, there was a peace and a joy in her. As astonishing as this transformation was, when she invited me to church I was hesitant to say the least. I ranted and raved about not wanting to be judged by these Christians. Eventually, I told her the truth, “‘I already feel bad about myself… why would I go there to feel worse?”
My sister loves me and is persistent. She told me that if I came I would, at least, leave feeling positive. After some time, I conceded. One Sunday morning, around the age of 20, I snorted a fresh rail of OxyContin, grabbed a coffee and went to church. This was the beginning.
Why and when did you come to a point where you wanted to begin your own Christian faith?
When the pastor spoke about Jesus of Nazareth who claimed to be God in the flesh, I felt as if I had been lied to my entire life. I felt as if no one actually told me the truth about who Jesus was. Generally, society labels Jesus as a “good man” or a “good moral teacher”. Or perhaps, as some world views claim, an enlightened guru or prophet. However, that was not what I was observing as I read his own words and studied the eyewitness accounts of his life (the Gospels). As C.S. Lewis pointed out, there are only so many options when viewing who Jesus is. He is either lying, crazy, or the Lord.
His teachings were extraordinary, for instance: “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free”; “I am the … truth” (John 8:32; 14:6, NIV). Not only is his teaching extraordinary, his life was as well. The way he radically included the marginalised of society; women (at the time), the untouchables, the unpopular, the unreligious, the uncivilised and the unloved. He helped those with broken relationships. He was a friend to the friendless. He healed those with shattered lives. Lastly, from my perspective, his self-sacrificial love was extraordinary.
Voluntarily laying down his life on the cross, replacing our brokenness with his wholeness, our darkness with his light, our sin for his righteousness, and our death with his life. His … teaching, life and love were all compelling arguments that Jesus was [not lying or crazy], but rather, is Lord. Furthermore, I never knew that Christianity invited you to challenge and examine it. It’s a faith that invites you to engage your mind, to think, to reason and to process the data about this person, Jesus. To examine the eye-witness accounts of his life, his claims and to ultimately examine his death and resurrection. This is a lifelong pursuit of truth which I love. After several Sundays of hearing about Jesus, I figured maybe he could love me too. I prayed a simple prayer of inviting Jesus into my life and it transformed me.
Why do you think that the Christian Church in the UK is engaging with such low numbers and facing further decline?
This is a complex question and difficult to narrow down to one specific reason or another. Many have drifted from being a practising Christian to a non-practising Christian, or something else, because of one of the following reasons: they have stopped believing the teachings of Christianity; abandoned the Church because of scandal; or they disagree with the Church’s position on certain political or social issues. These factors, I think, lead to lower numbers of people engaging with the Christian Church in the UK and, unless something changes, may lead to further decline in the UK’s Christian population.
Christianity is still the largest religion in the world. According to Pew Research in 2015, 31 per cent (2.3 billion) of the world’s total population is Christian. Globally, Christianity is steadily growing due to conversions and birth rate. However, it does seem to be declining in Europe specifically. Why is that? One factor to consider is that between 2010-2015, the European Christian population experienced a lower birth rate than death rate. Conversely, all other religious groups experienced the opposite. Clearly, this led to a steady decline, and if it continues we’ll see more of that.
However, I think there is hope for Christianity in the UK. Everyone has deep and meaningful questions about life. We want to know the truth about what to believe and not believe. Unfortunately, some churches have not always done a great job engaging with and responding to people’s questions and, consequently, they leave to seek answers elsewhere. I am a part of an organisation called Zacharias Trust that helps people with those very questions. To show seekers of truth that the gospel is meaningful, beautiful and credible. We do this around the globe in universities, corporations, parliaments, churches and so forth.
Based on my experience of speaking with people, my childhood represents the majority of people’s experience of church. Their understanding of church or Christianity is a misconception. Therefore, in order to reduce current declining trends, the mandate of every single Christian is clear and the apostle Peter says it best, “in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).
Why should UK men look at the teachings of Jesus?
I think UK men should look at the teachings of Jesus for a number of reasons, including the answers to our origin, meaning, identity and significance. One reason in particular is Jesus’ teachings of hope in a dying world. All human beings long for hope. Hope for a better society, justice, restoration of broken relationships, forgiveness and for true love. Secularists during the 18th century Enlightenment period, shifted hopes from God to better psychology, politics, higher education, freedom of sexual identity and expression, in the hope that this would resolve the significant problems of humanity and finally create the utopia they’d longed for. However, in the 20th century, humanity achieved feats such as corruption, world war, sex slavery, and the list goes on.
In the 21st century, the secularist seems to have shifted hopes again – hoping that robotics and artificial intelligence will remedy our broken relationships; hoping that social media will sufficiently cultivate community and resolve our deep sense of loneliness; hoping that we’ll achieve immortality and rid humanity of the problem of death (i.e. the uploading our consciousness to the Cloud).
However, Jesus taught that there is a different hope that exists. Christians describe our hope as a “living hope” [see 1 Peter 1:3] and the bedrock of it is the bodily resurrection of Jesus. He was crucified for his claims of being God, he came to reveal God’s true identity, he came to identify with our humanity and suffering, and to give up his life for the sins of humanity.
It’s not just a hope but a living hope because Jesus did not stay dead after his crucifixion, but … he rose from the dead, demonstrating that death will not ultimately conquer us and the universe but rather, that he has conquered death. This is just one reason why UK men and women should take seriously the teachings, life, and death of Jesus.
What advice would you give youngsters in destructive patterns today?
My advice is this – if God is willing to reach out, help out, and love someone like me, he is willing do to it for anyone. I was not worth spitting on when God rescued me, but he did because of his great love for all of us. Don’t think that God is mad at you, but rather he is madly in love with you and he went to the cross to prove it. With that being said, if you have a background similar to mine, it’s a tough journey ahead. I have had many more failures and falls than successes. Fortunately, God’s grace is more than enough, every step of the way. More than that, it’s been worth the struggle, so please don’t give up.
A few tips that helped me along my journey of freedom from addiction to spiritual maturity:
1 Connect into a passionate Christian community (aka church): All of them are imperfect so just be forewarned, but you and I are not either, so we fit in perfectly.
2 The journey of discipleship: It was the love and support of people that really helped me get back on my feet. Find someone at church who loves you and loves Jesus and is willing to mentor you.
3 Practise spiritual disciplines: Discipline is a little tough at first, but with discipline comes freedom. It can give you structure to help you have a productive life as well as ensuring that you are connected to God, which is vital for growth. Remember: eat, pray, sing. Eat: the Bible is spiritual nourishment, eat heartily every day. Pray: prayer is when you speak to God and it also gives God a chance to talk back. Sing: worshipping God cultivates an attitude of gratitude in your heart and gets the focus off ourselves onto him.
Denzel Washington, Man on a Mission - By Jan Janssen
Denzel Washington is a man with a deep sense of mission in life. It extends to his family, his movie career, and most importantly, to his faith in God. The son of a Pentecostal preacher, Washington has long been driven by an abiding belief that we are summoned to bring greater good to the world.
“We all have a spiritual nature and I don’t think we should deny that – we should embrace it,” says Washington. “I am trying to suggest that there is a higher calling to life and you can interpret that any way you want. My belief is that we are all born with a purpose to bring something good to the world and not just think in terms of our narrow self-interest.
“I have faith that we have a greater purpose in life and that is what inspires us to be good men and women and it’s up to us to take responsibility for living up to a higher morality than simply whatever base instincts move us. ”That powerful spiritual message regularly finds expression in the characters the 63-year-old Washington has inhabited in the course of his storied Hollywood career. Last year’s Roman J. Israel, Esq. saw him take on the title role of a man suffering from Asperger’s syndrome who serves as a legal missionary waging a tireless fight in the corridors of a deeply flawed judicial system. In the course of the film, Israel is given to biblical-like sacrifices of money, personal relationships, and his reputation while staying true to his ideals. “He has an Old Testament-like faith in the law,” is how Washington describes the character.
Dan Gilroy, the film’s director and writer, invested Israel with Christ-like qualities and it’s hardly surprising that he wrote the part specifically for Washington. “Denzel brings dedication and truth to his work and in this case [his character] is working towards a better humanity – he’s an absolute hero.”
Not only did Washington earn his eighth Oscar nomination for his performance – he won for Training Day in 2002– but Roman J. Israel, Esq. was yet another powerful example of how he relishes the chance to embrace characters whose moral ardour and Christian values match his own unshakeable faith. In an age of trash culture and the voracious spell of social media, Denzel is steadfast in his determination to use his celebrity pulpit to preach higher virtues the masses.
Says Washington: “I speak now and I’m doing what God told me to do from the beginning. It was prophesied that I would travel the world and preach to millions of people. It was prophesied when I was 20. I thought it was through my work and it has been.”
He adds: “When I was 59 my mother said to me, ‘Denzel, you do a lot of good. You have to do good the right way and you know what I’m talking about.’ I don’t drink any more, I don’t do any of those things. I’m all about the message, to the degree that I know it, and I’m unashamed and unafraid to share it.” One of his messages to young people today, especially those finding themselves increasingly obsessed with their Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook accounts, is a simple one: “Turn it off.”
“It’s hard for young people now. They’re hooked, they’re addicted. If you don’t think you’re addicted ... then see if you can turn it off for a week,“ says Washington.
“It’s a tool, so we should use it. God has blessed us with free will, now, it’s free will magnified, free will on steroids. You’re free to go in any direction you want. It’s not the enemy, it’s just a reflection of our own free will.”
Washington believes that the current social media feeding frenzy is the result of a desire for acceptance and wanting to be liked:
“We used to do anything to be liked, but it was [to be liked] by the person in front of you. Now it’s to be liked by 16 million people that you don’t know. We have to ask ourselves what is the long-term effect, if not the short-term effect, of too much information.”
This kind of reflection is consistent with Washington’s willingness to follow in his father’s footsteps and be a Christian messenger in his own right. Young Denzel often spent long hours listening to his father’s sermons to the point where “going to church felt like a job” and he “rejected” any notion of becoming a pastor himself.
“For a time, it sent me in another direction,” admits Washington. “That can be a pattern for a preacher’s son. I had to go to church, so it wasn’t fun. I didn’t know anything different. Being a minister’s son, having grown up in the church and learned the cadence, it was probably easier to play that part. I had some idea of different rhythms ... but I needed spend time working things out on my own.”
After his parents divorced when he was 14, his mother sent him to a private school where he became serious about his academic studies, and which also helped him avoid the fate of three of his closest friends who wound up serving decades in prison.
Denzel then attended Fordham University where he went through pre-med, pre-law and political science studies before being kicked out for low grades while spending most of his time partying rather than studying. Recalls Washington:
“Acting was my calling. The year I started acting there was a woman in my mother’s beauty shop, who kept looking at me in the mirror. Finally she got a piece of paper and wrote ‘prophecy’ at the top. She said: ‘You are going to travel the world and preach to millions of people.’ Now, bear in mind that I’d just been kicked out of school. I said: ‘You see anything there about me being let back into school?’ That was in March 1975 and in September 1975 I started acting. I still got that piece of paper, too.”
He started out as an aspiring theatre actor in New York and knew from the first time he set foot on stage that that was how he saw his professional life unfolding. He had no inkling that he was destined for major stardom, however.
“I started in the theatre and I was hoping that one day I’d make 650 bucks a week on Broadway. That’s not to say I didn’t want to do movies. I started acting in 1975, so the films I was seeing and liking starred [Robert] De Niro and [Al] Pacino and [Dustin] Hoffman. I didn’t know anything about Hollywood, I just knew that these were good actors telling these great stories. Meanwhile, I was doing [Eugene] O’Neill and Shakespeare, so I was looking at them and thinking, ‘I’d like to be in a movie like that.’ But I never said, ‘I want to have a movie career.’”
He earned his big break as actor in 1982 when he landed the role of Dr Phillip Chandler on the hit NBC TV series, St. Elsewhere. Audiences were drawn to his handsome and charismatic persona and it was his stepping stone to Hollywood.
“I didn’t consider it a big break – though I’m sure my agent did [laughs]. I remember [producer] Bruce Paltrow [late father of actress Gwyneth Paltrow] – God rest his soul – and at the end of every season, I’d ask him, ‘Should I rent or should I buy?’ And he’d say, ‘Keep renting.’”
"We were never a ratings hit, we were a critical hit. But oftentimes you don’t know what your big break is at the time.”
His TV stardom coincided with his meeting the love of his life in actress Pauletta Pearson, whom he married in 1983. They’ve been together ever since – which surely must qualify Denzel for Hollywood sainthood – and have raised four children together, David, 34 Katia, 30, and 27-year-old twins Malcolm and Olivia.
Denzel credits his wife with having given him the requisite emotional and practical support so that he could take off for months at a time in pursuit of a burgeoning film career without ever worrying that “things would fall apart” at home.
“Pauletta is a magnificent woman,” says Washington. “She’s kept me grounded and working hard and kept me in life. She’s worked hard to look after our children all these years when I’ve often been away for three or four months at a time pursuing my career. She’s never complained once about that and given me the freedom to be able to work as often as I’ve worked – as long as I come home and do my chores. “It’s been my spiritual obligation to take out the garbage and do the dishes and spend time with the children [while they were growing up] or Pauletta [would] make me face hell. If I ever, for one moment, play the big move star, Pauletta doesn’t need God to put me back in my place. She can kick my butt very nicely without any divine assistance.” [laughs] Over the years, Washington has established himself as one of the most respected and most talented actors in the business. He’s appeared in one classic film after another including Cry Freedom (as South African political activist Steve Biko), Malcolm X, Philadelphia, The Pelican Brief, Training Day, Man on Fire, The Hurricane, The Equalizer, and The Magnificent Seven.
This summer he gets to return to his role as Robert McCall, the righteous vigilante who once again delivers the world from evil in The Equalizer 2. It’s fairly rare that Washington – despite his shattering portrayal of a violent, corrupt cop in Training Day – plays villains or violent men, but he feels an affinity towards McCall’s sense of justice and desire to atone for his violent past.
“I’m not necessarily drawn to violent characters but I understood this man’s dedication and resolve,” Washington explains. “He wants to live a quiet life but circumstances intervene and he can’t back down. He lives by a personal code of honour and he’s not someone you ever want to cross, to put it mildly. “He wants to do the right thing, basically. He’s promised his wife, who’s dead, that he wouldn’t go back to being the kind of violent man he was before but he feels compelled to use violence again in order to defend people ... Even though he suffers from insomnia and OCD and isn’t a very happy man, he finds a renewed purpose in life by defending people and that brings him out of his very isolated existence. But he’s a long way from healing himself.”
Atonement, healing, defending the oppressed, these could all be themes for one of his late father’s sermons. Denzel admits to still having vivid memories of those fire and brimstone oratories and has lately taken to openly embracing his faith and espousing Christian principles at various public occasions such as the college commencement address he gave at Dillard University in 2015 or at the Church of God in Christ’s annual ‘We Care’ Charities Banquet in St Louis, Missouri in 2016.
Up on stage, he vowed that he would become more actively involved “in getting up and speaking about what God has done” for him. “Give thanks for blessings every day. Every day. Embrace gratitude. Encourage others. It is impossible to be grateful and hateful at the same time.”
In the same address, he quoted a prayer that he is fond of reciting: “I pray that you put your slippers way under your bed at night, so that when you wake in the morning you have to start on your knees to find them. And while you’re down there, say ‘thank you’.” The last time Washington had engaged in sermonising was when he played Malcolm X, the famous black civil rights leader. Getting up on stage might seem natural for a seasoned actor, but Denzel is quick to caution that preaching the Word of God requires a different set of skills.
“[Preaching] is not performance-based if you mean what you say. And you better mean what you say. My father did. He believed it with every fibre of his being. He was a man of God and we share that. For him, the pulpit was wherever he was. My father was a minister and my mother owned a beauty shop. So that seems like perfect breeding ground for an actor. That covers a lot.”
He adds: “I remember some years ago asking my pastor: ‘Do you think I’m supposed to be a preacher?’ And he said: ‘Well, you are. You have a pulpit of your own.’ That’s not to say that I’m preaching, necessarily. I don’t want to tell you what you need to do. I mean, I’m not turning it up to ten when it comes to being correct, I’m not that guy, I like my wine.”
Even though they were often estranged from each other, Washington still draws inspiration from his preacher father:
“My father was the greatest personal inspiration of my life. I draw strength from his memory and his unshakeable belief in the power of all us to achieve something positive and beneficial and wonderful in life. Whenever I’m down or feeling sorry for myself, I take great solace in my father’s faith and spiritual strength. He was a rock. Just like my wife, Pauletta. I could never have achieved what I’ve been able to accomplish as an actor without her love and support behind me.”
Had he not chosen acting as his life’s calling, could Denzel have seen himself looking after his own flock of churchgoers the way his dad did?
“I don’t know if I could have been as committed and dedicated to the Church like he was,” Washington muses. “But I do think I possess an inspirational streak in me like he had. I know I have the desire and impulse to want to encourage people. Make people become better. Lift them up when they’re down or gone down the wrong path in life. I believe we can all help each other if we want to. I wouldn’t want to go through life saying I didn’t help.”
Ed Stafford, First Man Out - By Martin Leggatt, Deputy Editor
Ed Stafford was bitten by the bug for adventure from an early age as a Cub and then Scout. Four years as an officer in the Devon and Dorset Regiment can only have sharpened his appetite for adventure, and after leaving the army he undertook an incredible two-year expedition to walk the entire length of the Amazon. Aired on television as Walking the Amazon, it was an adventure described by another legendary explorer, Sir Ranulph Fiennes, as “truly extraordinary” and has been celebrated with an array of awards and Guinness World Records. He has been commissioned for several shows for Discovery Channel since 2012 and Sorted’s Martin Leggatt caught up with him between filming for his new show First Man Out.
You’re in the Guinness Book of Records for your epic Amazon expedition and received loads of accolades. When you set out, did you think it would be that big a deal to people?
I think I did realise that it would be a big deal to people, because so many people told me, “That’s impossible, you can’t do that, you’ll die.” That really annoyed me, and I felt that I wanted to prove people wrong in many respects. However, I also knew that in order to be noticed and build a name for myself, I had to do something that had never been done before.
I took along my own camera to document the experience because I wanted to show people how challenging it was, and I thought it would make for a good story. The challenge wasn’t all about having my name in the papers, although I managed to carve a TV career out of it – and that wasn’t by accident. That side of it did appeal to me. But, deep down, I wanted to prove that I could do something outside of the ordinary. As a result of Walking the Amazon, it’s given me a career that I love.
What kept you going? That you were doing it for charity?
The scale of the challenge and the satisfaction that would come from completing it was obviously a massive pull. And charity was always at the forefront of my mind, as I knew so many people had supported various causes, and there’s always that thought that you don’t want to disappoint others by throwing in the towel.
Does Cho [Gadiel Sánchez Rivera, a Peruvian adventurer and Ed’s companion on his Amazon adventure] still accompany you on your adventures?
Not any more, no. He came back with me to the UK for a while after Walking the Amazon, and he stayed with my mum. Now he lives in Pucallpa, Peru, and has a baby with an indigenous Shipibo woman.
You’re married with a son. Does that make you think twice about going off on adventure?
Obviously, you now think more about other people, and my family are the most important thing to me. When I used to set off on adventures, I would do so without any hesitation or properly thinking about particular dangers or repercussions. Now I know that I have to come back for my family, so it has changed my perspective on that front.
After becoming a father, the temptation is to stay at home more and be with the family, but it’s been great fun filming for the latest series. I think having a family now makes filming for Discovery Channel more meaningful as I’m providing for Laura and Ran by doing what I’m doing. I believe that a family is like a harbour – it’s where you are safest and where you can rest and recover. But a ship isn’t built to stay in its harbour.
Your wife, Laura, is an explorer in her own right, and now you have a son. What are the odds on him following in his parents’ footsteps?
It’s a clichéd answer, but he can honestly be anything he wants to be as long as he’s happy. I suspect that he’ll amount to quite a lot more, and I’m not so much of a hippy that I don’t want to see him succeed financially and in business.
Is that something you’d encourage?
I’ll definitely encourage him to embrace the outdoors and he can have his own adventures, make mistakes and become a fuller and more rounded person as a result. More importantly for me is that he’s at peace inside and if he’s confident, humble and retains his sense of humour when things go wrong, everything else will slot into place. The last thing he needs is pressure to perform – life is to be grinned at and enjoyed.
Do you think you’ll ever stop and lead a less exciting life?
Things do change naturally as part of having a family. Nowadays, whenever I’m in the country, I make the most of the downtime and love spending my time at home surrounded by Laura and Ran and catching up with my friends. I don’t think I’ll ever lose the urge to travel, see new places and learn new things. It’s more likely that I will just naturally slow down as I get older, the same as everyone. But that won’t stop be from doing what I love.
What can you tell us about your new show for Discovery, First Man Out?
First Man Out is a ‘survival-off’ between the best international survival experts in incredible and remote locations. I face a different expert each episode and they have all been humble characters so far, who genuinely want to push themselves and learn and grow, so it’s been a very positive experience for all involved.
Is there an unfulfilled adventure out there for you?
There’s still so much more of the world I would like to see. Ultimately, the adventures I can’t wait for the most are the ones I’d like to take my son, Ran, on, with his mother, of course. I’d love to show him the Amazon and tell him stories I have from my experiences there.
What’s next for you, Ed?
The next show with Discovery is the focus at the moment. In terms of the future – more kids, more adventures, more fun, but also more relaxing and enjoying what we have achieved so far.
Hope Grows in Messy Places
In the centre of Kibera slum, Nairobi, Kenya, on what used to be a rubbish dump, stand three schools, a boarding house for teenage girls, a church, a medical clinic, some outhouses for animals and a basic kitchen. There are fewer open sewers and more roads here than anywhere else in Kibera and every day 1,400 children come to learn and be fed.
In January this year a team of six British women left the Midlands to spend a week helping in one of the schools. It’s hard being a child in Kibera slum. Some drop out of school when they are eight to work on the rubbish dump, rummaging through the waste looking for things to sell. There is a high rate of unemployment and alcoholism. Girls are vulnerable to sexual exploitation and trafficking. A 12-year-old girl’s education isn’t as valuable to a Kiberan father as the dowry of cows her marriage might bring. Rachel and Hannah from Hinckley, Leicestershire spent the week with the teenage girls.
“They were aged between 15 and 19 and most hadn’t reached the level of GCSE or equivalent. Our team tried to address mental health at a very basic level – talking about good thoughts and bad thoughts and how we can deal with them. We adapted material that had previously been delivered to UK teenage girls focusing on identity. It’s a Christian resource, exploring God’s love for them. We wanted them to know how much they are loved and valued because their world doesn’t communicate that. It’s not news that teenage girls in the West struggle with mental health issues, self-harm and even thoughts of suicide. The girls in Kibera have the same struggles, and in addition they have to exist on the poverty line in a culture that gives them little sense of worth. We encouraged them to write down their bad thoughts and we gathered them like bad seeds and burned them on a bonfire. For homework we put the girls in pairs and asked them to write down something good that they saw in their partner. The next day they ‘planted the good seed’ by speaking out that affirmation to each other – looking into each other’s eyes as they delivered it.
“During the week we witnessed these young women recognising and releasing some specific bad thoughts that weighed them down. One confessed she had been feeling very low, to the point of considering suicide, but after being affirmed by the other girls in her class she felt lighter. She shared that she felt loved and that life was worth living. As they continued to speak out the good they saw in each other, we saw their relationships with [one another] deepen. It’s a wonderful legacy we hope long outlives our return to England.”
The rest of the English team worked with the younger children. They attend the school from age three and at lunchtime even the two-year-olds wander in unaccompanied for their free meal before toddling back into the slum.”
The schools provide these children with opportunities they otherwise would not have had. Despite limited facilities, they boast championship girls’ hockey and volleyball teams. These and more are testimony to the work, faith and commitment of Kenyan pastors Chris and Joanna who set up this settlement. Joanna herself grew up on Kibera slum and knows just how hard it is to escape generational poverty. They have been living out their vision alongside the people of Kibera for 25 years. Feed the Hungry partners with them, providing the meals and giving resources towards their building projects. Just 12 months ago, the boarding accommodation that now houses and protects 64 vulnerable girls was no more than a pile of bricks. Hope grows in messy places; it turns out that buildings can too. All it takes is ordinary people with hearts of compassion willing to scatter some good seed. Of the team that went out with Feed the Hungry, one woman was 73 years old, with impaired vision. This was her first mission trip.
Pastors Chris and Joanna continue to explore new projects to benefit the people of Kibera, including water purification and a fish pond.
For more information, or if you would like to support our work in Kibera, please contact feedthehungry.org.uk.
Jim Caviezel - Actor of Biblical Proportions
Jim Caviezel, who plays the physician and evangelist Luke in Paul, Apostle of Christ is no stranger to taking on challenging biblical acting roles, following his portrayal of Jesus in the 2004 film The Passion of the Christ.
Despite reportedly receiving warnings from Mel Gibson that playing Jesus would hurt his acting career, he took the risk.
During filming he suffered from pneumonia and hypothermia, was struck by lightning, accidentally scourged and had his shoulder dislocated. Years later, he admitted that good roles had been hard to come by since, but stated he had no regrets about taking the role.
Following The Passion of the Christ, Caviezel used some of his fee from the film to pay for three Chinese children with cancer to receive medical treatment. Along with his wife, Kerri Browitt, who he married in 1996, they ended up adopting the three children, saying: “They are people, just like us.”
He also used the platform of such a high-profile role to begin to give motivational talks on college campuses across America, which he continues to do today.
Caviezel was raised in the countryside of Mount Vernon in Washington in a devout Christian home as one of five siblings. The Caviezels were a family of athletes and Jim’s passion was playing basketball. But it wasn’t until a foot injury ended his hopes of a career in the sport that he stumbled across acting.
He told me how his parents, his basketball coaches and some of the biggest names in the film industry were his greatest role models as he went on to become a Hollywood star:
“I had good parenting from my father. My parents were not perfect, but they continued as we all do to try to be better. My basketball coaches had an impact on me, even the bad ones. They were just as helpful because I learned what not to be.
“Charlton Heston was also one of my greatest role models. Also, there was a lot of what I saw early on with Kevin Costner when I was around him on the set of Wyatt Earp and how generous he was to me.
“As far as Mel Gibson as a filmmaker and his work ethic, I take pieces of it but that doesn’t mean that I’m working with people that are perfect across the board or that are not sinful.
“I also got to meet Jimmy Stewart on many occasions; and I knew quite a bit about him. He was a great role model and a great American. He served our country very bravely. He flew 26 missions in the Liberator over Germany.
“Still to this day I can’t watch It’s a Wonderful Life without crying every Christmas. That film has great power in it … for example, the message that without you this world would be a different place … I think that’s how God speaks to me. And when I talk to young people I say if you thought that from the small town that I came from that I ever thought that I was going to be known as the man who played Jesus, I’d say you got the wrong guy. But, you know, I was asked, I did it and the same thing with Paul, the Apostle of Christ. I just say, “Guys, if we’re going do this movie, we’ve got to make something that’s going to last forever.”
Fourteen years after taking on the role of Jesus, I asked him why he decided to portray Luke in Paul, Apostle of Christ:
“I didn’t think that I was going to be playing Jesus in The Passion of the Christ when it occurred. I just found it a hard time turning down Mel Gibson and a phenomenal script. I mean, it just always came down to the material to me.
“I think it’s harder in this day and age to make those kinds of films. Gone are the days of Charlton Heston and making a film like The Ten Commandments that Christians as a whole are going to find fantastic. In Paul, Apostle of Christ, the performances are really strong but the words are … stronger. I love the Scripture and the way … it’s very provocative. My industry likes provocativeness in a different way. I’m lucky that I get to be the guy that, you know, gets to do it. I just want to make sure it’s executed properly.”
Jim concluded by explaining how the greatest controversy of this film is the message of forgiveness:
“It does not mean weakness, it does not mean passivity, but it means forgiving despite … the situation, that you can look evil in the face, and we need that now. It is very easy to love people who think like you think. It is very difficult to treat someone who has polar opposite views with the same dignity and respect that you would treat a friend. That’s the core message of this movie, and that is the reason why I wanted to be a part of it, because it has an edge to it.
“Especially in these times when people are talking about civil war, do you have any idea what you’re asking? We need to start listening to each other and it starts from one side ... that’s why it’s very hard to be a Christian, you have to be the one to do it. You’re the one that’s going to be Christ. You’re gonna have to die to yourself to be able to do that. And I think that once people start listening to each other that it takes that first person to do that.”
The ‘Reverse Snip’ of Leadership
From firing blanks to conceiving some new life in your leadership
In 1st June this year, I helped a friendly middle-aged woman understand something she’d never figured out:
“Why am I happy donating to children on Comic Relief,” she asked me, when I mentioned working with charities “but when a well-known children’s charity knocks on my door, with pictures of children, I feel the opposite of generous, and want to slam the door?”
I explained that to be generous, her brain needed some level of emotional connection and the fellow at the door – by intruding on her evening – had burned any possibility of that. I was lying on my back and I had an ulterior motive in explaining this to (we’ll call her Carol). An ageing Polish man sat nearby, fiddling with my intimate regions.
The Diazepam® Dilemma
She was the nurse. He the surgeon. I was the patient and I’d been a naughty boy.
If you’ve had a vasectomy, you’ll know you’re meant to take 10mg of Diazepam (another name for Valium), a powerful prescription relaxant. But my mate had warned me off it: “I came out of the operation, and staggered past others waiting for theirs, shaking all their hands, telling them what a great doctor he was and what I’d just had done. I was off my head. I could barely walk.”
When you work for yourself, a day not working, or worse, off your head, firing off Valium-induced insane emails to clients, is bad news. So, I skipped the Diazepam, but had to then prove I was relaxed enough without the drug for Dr Snip to proceed. I convinced him by calmly explaining to Carol what was behind her reactions. Thankfully, the doc was convinced.
I also have some smart clothes
I’m Steve, I’m married to Ruth, have four kids (hence the snip) and love the outdoors. As I write, we’re packing for three weeks under canvas, when we’ll be snaring rabbits, catching fish, cooking on fires.
I also have some smart clothes, which I put on for my day job helping people, organisations and good causes work out how to lead, to persuade, to affect the thoughts and behaviours of others. Leadership by another name.
So, sit back, relax, and see the next ten minutes as a ‘reverse snip’: helping you conceive a seed of leadership in areas where until now you might have been firing blanks.
All of us either try to lead what hits us each day, or we follow circumstance or the path of least resistance when stuff hits us. A fellow called Howard Gardner, in a book called Leading Minds: An Anatomy of Leadership, brought leadership down to its basics when he put it like this:
“A leader is an individual … who significantly affects the thoughts, feelings, and/or behaviors of a significant number of individuals.”
Leadership gets dressed up more than a mannequin in a shop window – but underneath all the garments, leadership hasn’t changed: it’s still about affecting people in a way which changes their thinking, feelings and how they act. When did you do this recently? Might have been your partner, wife, girlfriend, parents, children, mates, boss – whoever. When did you last ‘lead’ your boss (or, to dress up the leadership mannequin, “manage upwards”)?
To avoid being forced to take the Diazepam, I had to show the surgeon I was relaxed enough and not going to freak out when he started pulling tubes from my privates. I managed to ‘affect’ him and he went ahead. I ‘led’ him the way I wanted him to go, despite his medical concerns. And after, I went home and did a day’s work (wearing Y-Fronts for the first time in 20 years).
A huge elephant and a naked mannequin
In the next five minutes I’ll frame leadership in a way you might not have come across: by understanding what fires people’s brains and prompts them to respond and follow your lead.
But first, let’s undress the mannequin: let’s take all the layers of clothing off leadership and bring it back to a simple, everyday decision. And, let’s name the elephant – and it’s a huge one – in the leadership room.
Though elephants in rooms have a way of not being named, heck, let’s name this one. He’s called Stooge. And his job is to steer ‘leadership’ so that it remains in one arena, catering to one style of leader – corporate suits (or, a less favourable term: corporate stooges) in office blocks, leading change processes and wrestling with strategic scenarios. Important stuff, but well removed from everyday life. And that’s the problem – though leadership is an everyday thing for everyday f people, it’s now seen by the corporate clothes it’s been dressed in.
I’ve run long and involved days with corporates to help extract what is blindingly obvious – but the leadership approach has prevented anyone saying what’s obvious. So, one of two things happen:
A consultant (like me) gets called in to help frame the questions in a way which doesn’t directly name the problem but points to it – with the consultant then drawing up a lengthy paper revealing – and owning – what they diagnose the issue to be.
Mid-level staff call in a consultant and explain the problem they see and the solution they know will work (given their knowledge of the business). But, they explain, when they’ve suggested it, senior leaders closed it down. So, they want an external consultant to come in and present it as their own idea – one that’s gaining traction in the market. Invariably this works, and the idea is implemented. But – there’s a cost. This leadership approach creates the ‘stooge leader’ (someone who appears to just toe the corporate line, and follow the corporate leader). And so, the elephant in the room is born…
Elon Musk – the chap behind Tesla electric cars – nailed the problem in less than 30 words:
“The problem is that at a lot of big companies, process becomes a substitute for thinking. You’re encouraged to behave like a little gear in a complex machine.”
Happily, Google, Tesla and an increasing number of corporates are rethinking what leadership can look like in business, making it more accessible, less ‘stooge-like’.
What they show is that when we bring leading down from the corporate scaffold it’s been lynched to, it’s less about platforms, and more about persuading. Less about change processes and more about influencing the thoughts, feelings and actions of people around you.
Milliseconds not months
Let’s dethrone the assumption that anything which is properly useful – anything that could change how you approach life and improve your lot – has to involve lots of time, weeks, months, even years. It doesn’t.
Your brain works in milliseconds. It’s processing this article now, and unknown to you using stored images gathered since you were born to help it decide whether you think it useful, or not.
You’ll know if you run a small business – say you’re a plumber employing two others – just how fast you can make key decisions on a job. And so it is with leading.
So, in less than the time it took you to calm down after seeing England beaten in the World Cup semi-final (writing this the day after), you can understand the brain’s action area – which is where people are influenced to act…
There’s lots of triggers in your brain, and mine, and in the people you need to lead. Every decision you make is because this action region of your brain’s been triggered. It’s the same for those you’re leading. Know the triggers and you know where leading happens…
There are four steps, each of which triggers the action brain and enables you to lead:
Find connection with the person you’re trying to lead
Emotional connection triggers the action area of the brain – making the brain ready to listen and act. A common interest, a question about them – what they do, how their partner is, will create connection on which you can introduce the nitty-gritty…
Start with WHY not WHAT
Instinct tells you to start with the details – the WHAT – but ‘what’ will trigger the ‘conclusion’ area in the brain. You’ll get questions and theoretical conclusions but no action. It’s WHY that triggers the brain region responsible for action. So, start with the WHY: start with the reasons why you want this to happen; why this will be a good thing to do. That why will form a backdrop to make sense of, and give life to, the ‘what’ information.
Paint a picture for their brains to lock onto – and take away
Their brain sees the world in pictures. Think of a red bus – your brain provides a picture/image for you. And it’s pictures that’s are so critical to give the person you’re leading – because pictures speak to the action area of the brain. Their brains form this picture, and they’ll see themselves in it. Your words are a vehicle: you need to load them with pictures.
When you reach the point of a decision – use contrast
If there’s a new product you need – bike, car, phone – and in a store, someone offers you one, your brain is a lot more likely to say no, than if they offer you two to compare. Imagine in the brains of those you’re leading are a pair of weighing scales. Their action brain makes decisions using these – and if only one ‘product’ is placed on one side, the brain will balance and weigh this with its own alternative – which will be “Don’t buy this one”. If, though, the brain is given two options to weigh, the probability that it will select one is increased.
Let me wrap by naming that when you lead something, you shape it. And when you don’t lead something, you still shape it. Alexander the Great said, “I am not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep; I am afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion.” Even if the lion-leader within has been dozing by the fire, it’s never too late to wake him. Use the four brain-triggers above, and if you love a good book, visit Amazon and get your hands on Centre Brain.
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