Jun21ThuJune 21, 2018
There are some blogs that are easier to write than others. This is not one of the easy ones. This blog bears my heart and my soul; it shares a portion of my life that was dark, lonely and just plain difficult.
Many times, people look to those in leadership and think that we have it made, that if they could just get to that position, it would be easy. I know that is very far from what it is really like. I want to share with you what it can look like and feel like from a leader’s perspective. I want to share the hard, heart-wrenching part of being a leader and specifically a leader in Africa. Here you don’t just lead the team, you are a part of every African family.
So, what does that look like and feel like? Over the next two blogs, I want to paint a picture for you, and I’ll begin with a story. For those of you who have been reading my blogs for a while, you may have read this story; however, I think it is important to tell it again as it was the first time in leadership that I experienced the emotional impact of being considered part of an African family in crisis. And it was when I realized that leadership in Africa looks very different.
While in Swaziland, one of our staff had a young son with a hole in his heart. There was no surgeon capable of performing the needed operation in Swaziland. Somehow this became my problem. In Swaziland, I was called “Baba Ray.” That meant “father Ray,” and with that title came the responsibility to help as a father would. I had been told the boy was going to die, and I’d best learn to live with it. This was Swaziland, and this is how things worked. Yet, I took the responsibility seriously and knew if I didn’t do something, I would carry part of the burden of this young boy dying. I had been in Swaziland less than a month, and I was feeling the pain of having one of my children seriously ill. This story ends well: God worked a miracle. The boy got an operation in South Africa, but the process took a toll on me and opened my eyes to a new level of leadership.
In the coming months and years in Swaziland, there would be other challenges like this. For the most part, the stories had good endings, but they had an impact on me. Each one took something from me.
In 2001, Sandy and I transferred from Swaziland to South Africa. There I was no longer Baba Ray; Stephen, our international director, carried that title. That was fine with me.
Now let’s fast forward to 2004 when we were invited to meet the President of the country we hoped to build a station. I had no idea the spiritual battle we would be thrown into. Being in the birthplace of Voodoo, witchcraft, sacrifices and Satan worship are all part of this, and we were going to build a station right in the middle of this place, a place where evil had been practiced for over 100 years! Add to that, this area of Africa has as many people practicing Islam as there are Christians. We were entering enemy territory.
Little did we know what was ahead of us. We didn’t know what the battle would look like or how it would affect our entire team. We were about to pay a heavy price for daring to walk on the ground that Satan had controlled for so long.
“Reaching Beyond Barriers” was written after the West Africa project was completed, and the book was dedicated to three men. They are no longer with us here on earth, but their names are all written in the Book of Life. I know that God has a perfect plan and that on this side of heaven we will not know why things happen the way they do, and that brings me to another part of this story.
I went through the darkest valley in my whole career with TWR during the building of the station in West Africa. Many will say it was no doubt the highlight of my career. After all, being part of getting a Christian station into such a dark place and broadcasting the gospel to millions is a great privilege. And it certainly was. However, it came at great cost, and there were many dark valleys.
At one point in this story, I went to my pastor, Pastor Reuben, and asked him, “Why would God put me into this dark valley?” I was struggling to understand. Pastor Reuben’s response had a profound impact on me; it was just what I needed. He asked me this, “Why do you think the book of Job is in the Bible?" I looked at him and said, “What does Job have to do with anything?” He patiently explained that Job experienced a similar thing to what I was experiencing. He had lost his family; he had lost his possessions, and there was no one to encourage him. Job thought he was walking this journey alone. Then he told me to read the last chapter of Job. He was trying to show me the message that we are never alone; God walks with us at all times. Even in the very darkest of days, God is with us.
Let me share with you the darkness that fell over us. When we began the project, we formed a team. Each team member had a responsibility. James Burnett was our chief engineer; Stephen Boakye-Yiadom, as the international director for Africa, was the primary promoter of the project; Andrew MacDonald, program director for Africa, was responsible for organizing the programs that would go on the new transmitter; John Ragsdale, our Muslim ministry director for Africa was involved as without this transmitter, we would always be limited in our Muslim ministry in West Africa; and myself, project manager and the person responsible for ensuring funding was in place to build the transmitter site.
Now let me list how each family was affected in some way.
James’ son, Andrew, was killed in a cycling accident in South Africa December 15, 2005. Stephen Boakye-Yiadom passed away in his home suddenly in June 2007; he was 63 years old and looking forward to retirement after this project was completed. He never saw his dream realized. Andrew MacDonald passed away from cancer six weeks after Stephen; he also never saw his dream realized. I hope Stephen and Andrew celebrated in heaven the day we began broadcasting!
Stephen and Andrew were not just co-workers to me. They were my family. We worked together. We dreamed together. We cried together, and we all had a common dream that pushed us every day: that we could have a broadcast station capable of reaching into the darkest parts of Africa.
John Ragsdale also paid a high cost personally. He was my next-door neighbour, my friend and my co-worker. To this day, he is a man who has one primary focus: to bring the gospel to the Muslim people of this world. It doesn’t matter how difficult it is or what price he has to pay. And he has had his commitment tested.
Jean Marc is John’s first-born child. In November 2006, a brain tumor was discovered, and Jean Marc went through an operation to remove it. They were not able to remove the entire tumor, and Jean Marc continues to deal with side affects to this day.
During this time, I was also impacted by a family death. In February 2007, my father-in-law, Leono Loranger, was diagnosed with and passed away from cancer. During the building of the site, my health was not attacked. However, I did pay a price later in that regard, and I will share that in the next part of this blog.
Hopefully you have begun to have some idea of why I went through such a dark valley. There were many days where I wondered what would have happened if I hadn’t initiated that original call that set things in motion. Would these people still be walking the earth today? I can’t answer that question, but it haunted me. Many times, I found myself thinking, “Why didn’t you just pass on West Africa?”
The days were dark and I was struggling, but this was only part of what was happening with me. Next week I will share more of the story with you …