By Tamyra Howser, MultiCare
Joe Macias and Bev Parnell arrived to Kaduna, Nigeria on a steamy Sunday afternoon in early May, where their propeller plane landed on a dusty airstrip, about one hour outside Lagos. They got off the plane, inhaled the 95-degree heat, found their luggage, and most importantly, met their escort, who safely drove them to a compound several miles away. The compound, guarded by armed security, was their home for the following seven days, as Joe and Bev prepared to teach a group of Nigerian students in DAI’s Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership (MAOL) program.
A spiritual calling, a longing to do something that was bigger than their ordinary lives in Washington and a commitment to continue this work are some of the reasons that have pulled Joe and Bev halfway across the world to this place.
Joe and Bev are both DAI Facilitators for the MAOL program. This was Bev’s first time in Africa as part of this program. For Joe, this work began years ago, when he was a leadership development consultant for World Vision – he has taught in Africa at least 20 times, but this was his first time in Nigeria.
“What I found there was just amazing and uplifting – a sense of belonging, community, caring and pride within circumstances that are oppressive and harsh,” said Bev, a month later, in Joe’s Chelsea Heights office. “I see leaders who are ignited by the same passions to learn and grow, but also face similar leadership challenges, no matter where we are.” Joe added, “When we look into the context of the changes these Nigerian leaders are facing, it can be overwhelming. My hope is whatever I teach in each class plants the seeds for the next generation for positive change.”
Bev taught Strategic Thinking and Joe taught Women in Leadership. A dozen students – 11 males and one female – attended classes (one of the male students could not attend and had his wife come in and take notes for him. Due to honoring customs and social norms in the culture, she elected not to enter the classroom and sat in the doorway to take notes). Electricity – controlled by the Nigerian government – was fickle and dictated the times for class. So did the heat. Two fans offered little relief from the 90-plus degree temperatures. Because of custom, Bev had to wear long-sleeve blouses and long skirts at all times. Her neck had to be covered with a scarf.
However, Bev and Joe said those were little inconveniences compared to the challenges their students faced every day. Lack of water, fuel, food, money, workplace resources and power were just some of the obstacles that got in the way of their education.
“For them to commit to this is a huge demand on their limited resources,” said Joe. “But what I always learn from these experiences is these students share the same passion to learn. It cuts across all cultural barriers … one student was in banking and politics and wants to make a positive change in Nigeria … another student worked in a consulting business for training and development … each group is always unique in their own way.”
In Strategic Thinking, Bev guided the students to develop plans that would benefit their work, from growing a ministry to developing a start-up company.
“Many had been exposed to a solitary approach of “Being in the Way,” which means literally being in the way of Spirit,” she said. “Together we explored benefits of a blended approach to use modern strategic thinking and tools, which are even evidenced in Nehemiah in the Bible along with honoring the spiritual component to be in God’s hands. This was a major mindshift for these students, as they felt they did not need plans, as they were in God’s hands, Bev said.
“Strategic thinking sounds big and audacious, but I broke it down to something that is doable and connected to improve their leadership work,” she said. “At the end of the week, they were no longer afraid of it.”
Women and Leadership was an intense course, and Joe said he faced cultural beliefs that men and women were not equal. “An older gentleman made a very firm statement that he and his wife are not equal,” Joe said. “I told him I’m not there to argue. That’s his opinion. But I invited him to think a little differently about his statement … I’m here to challenge them to think differently about women in leadership. I don’t want to devalue their traditions, but didn’t want traditions to get in the way.” A few weeks ago, Joe said, the same student turned in an assignment that reflected a change of perspective about equality. “It’s a privilege to be part of that change,” he said.
Joe and Bev flew home, but continue to teach the course over the next six months. The students turn in assignments and papers via online. At the end of the program, the students are required to develop a strategic plan on an organization of their choice. Joe and Bev think often about their students, and enjoy reading their work, knowing full well what obstacles these students faced to get their schoolwork done.
“There’s a real sense of having to struggle to survive,” Bev said. “But behind that, there is a longing for something else … our students there want what we all want, and that is to have a good life, however you define that.”
“I knew this was my one and only time I would be with these people,” she said. “I would go again in a heartbeat.”
Thank you to Tamyra Howser for sharing this story with us.