My Personal Success

Beginning year six in East Africa. From an inauspicious start, I’ve managed to take root here, make friends, learn languages, find success.

What is success? Making a long putt for par? Closing a deal with a sought-after client? Raising upstanding children? Before we can answer the contemporary question of “what does success look like?” we must first define it.

Personal or professional

I’ve had a lifelong conflict trying to balance my personal life with my professional goals. My first career as a TV sportscaster-producer took me to more (TV) markets than Joe Carcione (The Green Grocer)! I was chasing the dream I had since pre-teens. The multiple daily deadlines, ever-changing challenges. It was exhilarating and exhausting. I moved a lot in nine years, bouncing from here and there to move up the ladder, in prestige and pay, until I ran out of gas.

After a transition period of about 18 months, I was selected for a state civil service job in San Francisco. I was plucked out of an overnight cable news shift in Los Angeles–300 miles from my home–and never looked back.

That first year I began to achieve a professional-personal balance in my life. I commuted to The City from my mother’s East Bay home. Took public transit every single day, without fail. Made friends, had fun, started my run as a public information officer. After a year I was back in the state capital, sleeping at home, commuting to work on Light Rail, and training for my first of four marathons.

Spiritual success

After my son was born it was time to get him baptized, as generations of forebears did with their young progeny. A Christian community was found with activities, suppers and prayers. I had grown up a generation earlier in the church rectory where we hosted such events. This was a back-to-the-future moment. It felt familiar. And friendly.

More state jobs meant more pay and responsibilities. Soon I was cycling 25 miles to work, achieving fitness while sharpening my sword. We found a new church which was about to undertake a profound step in faith to embrace debt and build a wonderful worship center for the community. I was all-in.

As my career and family grew, so did my spiritual gifts. I became a regular worship leader as a member of the choir, a performing sketch artist on designated Sundays and a participant and contributor in an ecumenical revival movement. I found time–no, made time–to enjoy God’s great outdoors with a cadre of friends on our cool road bikes.

From where I sit now those were the greatest of days. My son completed university and was focused on his next steps. I was climbing some of the great hills and mountains from the coastal range to the Sierra Nevada.

Yet that still, small voice inside me said it was time for more.

Across the pond

From my days in the rectory and hours in the pews, I always had this sense of a higher calling. Summoning me from child’s play, from the cubicle farm, the rat race. An opportunity was born in the fall of 2011, just weeks after I retired from my state career. I could visit a secondary school in South Sudan with my video cameras. That meant making critical connections, getting a passport, and crossing the Atlantic Ocean for the first time. I didn’t have far to go. The school was founded by retired educators and friends at my church in Cameron Park. A new door was opened, a new life beckoned.

This journey has not been difficult. Traveling 10,000 miles to Africa has unfolded naturally, easily. Almost as if it was preordained. I first arrived on this continent without knowing a single person. In Christian communities where I landed in South Sudan, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, I was welcomed by brothers and sisters who knew the Lord as I did. They grew up in strong communities where hospitality is a cultural norm.

I have stepped toward them, learning their languages, sharing my faith and humor and wealth. I have been rewarded with their friendships, smiles and love.

Answer the question!

So what is success? I’ve missed more par putts than I’ve made, but I’ve cycled and traveled a road few peers have followed. While I worked. While I worshipped. While I helped raise an outstanding young man.

Success is a balanced life: Love and laughter, pain and forgiveness, selfishness and selflessness. It is making money and making amends. Structure and spontaneity. Climbing the challenging peaks and coasting home. Remembering friends and loved ones, and making new ones on the other side of the world.

Make Straight My Path

Our village church is up the hill from where we sit. A vertical hike to get there, actually. A piece of cake for the locals. More of a struggle for this muzungu. Maybe my high center of gravity (my head!) is what makes these walks a challenge.

There are several paths to get to the small, mud-walled, dirt floor church. Due to wrangling over the land, the landowners have cut off access to the more foot-friendly route.

Last week, with Evelyn effortlessly leading up front, we climbed a steep narrow path to church. Rains this week made it impassable today so we tried the last remaining, but technically difficult trail.

Most church-goers I know have easy access to Sunday services. Driving in air-conditioned comfort on smooth roads, walking nice sidewalks. There are very few physical obstacles to attending church in my old hometown area in Northern California. Countless spiritual ones, I’m sure.

In SW Uganda and throughout East Africa, women, children and some men will walk many kilometers, up and down steep paths to praise the Lord. Of course there are the man-made obstacles to attending but the physical barriers are simply surmounted.

Today, after climbing and descending steep, narrow pitches to attend worship services with my African wife and friends, we learned that the route we took today may soon be blocked, as part of this land dispute.

Once again, obstacles of our own creation could keep me from worshipping with my neighbors. A shame. Hopefully the power of the spirit will prevail.

As the popular Christian song says, “God will make a way where there seems to be no way…”