Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Generous $15,000 #GivingTuesday Match For Nuru International


It's been a while since I posted on this blog, but today is just too important to not post. A generous West Virginian has committed $15,000 to match every donation that Nuru International receives today in honor of #GivingTuesday.

Over the last nine years, our entire team at Nuru has been hard at work developing leaders who have the passion, the drive, and the commitment to making extreme poverty history in their homes and their communities. One of those leaders is the gentleman next to Jake in the photo above, Josephat Marawa. Josephat was one of the first farmers Jake met when we launched Nuru in Kenya in 2008. Josephat was struggling to grow enough food to help his family address hunger and just like any parent, he was longing for his children to have a better future.



I can remember multiple occasions where I had the privilege of being with Josephat in the field and meeting with other farmer households. He is an incredibly soft-spoken and thoughtful individual, and in the years since he first started farming with Nuru, he has grown in both his ability to provide for his family and his ability to serve his community. He is now a field manager for Nuru Kenya's Agriculture Program, and is helping about 500 farmers to improve their livelihoods and to chart a better future for their families.


Josephat is one of many leaders that Nuru International has poured into. And you might wonder, why invest in developing leaders? Why not just provide something to meet immediate needs? Well, the answer is simple. As a result of investing in leaders like Josephat, Nuru's Western staff were able to leave Kenya in 2015 and watch from afar as local staff continued to adapt and expand programs to serve their communities. They are helping other leaders grow and expand their reach, and the impact will continue for many years to come!



And it's not just happening in Kenya. In Ethiopia, there are leaders like Tekalign Teferi and Temesgen Berihun, who are training up Nuru Ethiopia staff on the importance of servant leadership, of putting others first, and of helping to build the capacity of those around you. And in the near future, Western staff will be leaving Ethiopia and watching locals continue to serve new communities. And they will do it even better!

And today, you have an opportunity to invest in these leaders with double the impact. As I mentioned before, a generous West Virginian has committed to match every donation received today, up to $15,000. That means if you give $250, it becomes $500. If you give $50 it becomes $100. If you give $500, it becomes $1,000. None of this work would be possible if it weren't for the generosity of friends like you. Will you give toward maximizing this match and helping Nuru serve even more communities in the future? Thanks for all you have done and continue to do to help more and more families lift themselves out of extreme poverty for good!

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Joining Forbes Coaches Council

Earlier this year, I received an invitation from Forbes to join the Forbes Coaches Council. Forbes Coaches Council Is an Invitation-Only Community for Leading Business and Career Coaches, and I am now a member!
It is an honor to join other Forbes Coaches Council members, who are hand-selected, to become part of a curated network of successful peers and get access to a variety of exclusive benefits and resources, including the opportunity to submit thought leadership articles and short tips on industry-related topics for publishing on Forbes.com.
Forbes Councils combines an innovative, high-touch approach to community management perfected by the team behind Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) with the extensive resources and global reach of Forbes. As a result, Forbes Council members get access to the people, benefits and expertise they need to grow their businesses — and a dedicated member concierge who acts as an extension of their own team, providing personalized one-on-one support.
Scott Gerber, founder of Forbes Councils, says, “We are honored to welcome Billy Williams of Nuru International and Archegos LLC into the community. Our mission with Forbes Councils is to curate successful professionals from every industry, creating a vetted, social capital-driven network that helps every member make an even greater impact on the business world.”
About Forbes Councils
Forbes partnered with the founders of Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) to launch Forbes Councils, invitation-only communities for world-class business professionals in a variety of industries. Members, who are hand-selected by each Council’s community team, receive personalized introductions to each other based on their specific needs and gain access to a wide range of business benefits and services, including best-in-class concierge teams, personalized connections, peer-to-peer learning, a business services marketplace, and the opportunity to share thought leadership content on Forbes.com. 
For more information about Forbes Coaches Council, visit https://forbescoachescouncil.com/. To learn more about Forbes Councils, visit forbescouncils.com.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Reflection: A Delicate Balance


Recently I pulled out my Passion Planner and took a look at some of my goals that I set for the first three months of the year. Each year as the year ends/begins, I like to set a few goals for myself in areas spanning from my own health and wellness to home improvement projects and self-enrichment--things like learning new skills or refining existing skills. As I looked over my list, I realized something happened since the beginning of the year that had shifted some of these goals, that something is a really good thing, it is a desire to savor every moment I have with Jamie and Sylvia.

Among the many goals I started the year with, some have just had to just get reprioritized for now. I've heard it said that we tend to overestimate what we can accomplish in a year, and underestimate what we can accomplish in five. Last year, as we were getting ready for Sylvia's arrival, Jamie and I found ourselves taking on more and more big projects, and not only taking them on, but getting them done. One of my dear friends and personal coach took a look at five of my goals that were launching between September and December of last year and said if I only accomplished one of them it would be huge; I'm grateful that I was able to take on and accomplish all five, but I'm not sure how sustainable that pace is for the long haul.

This year, I've noticed a natural gravitation toward goals that are focused more on family, health, and wellness, than on next major steps for the house, or new skills, hobbies, or interests being cultivated. And, while I want to continue to grow and expand in skills, during this season, my focus has become more centered on daily habits that build toward long-term goals. This is probably true for every single one of us, but over the last few months, I have become more aware of it than ever. I'm striving to take vacation (something I've historically not been the best at), and I am taking more intentional daily space to get away from connected devices, from social media, and from work, although my friends and the farmers I have the privilege of serving alongside are never far from my heart and mind. And, while my blogging frequency has dropped pretty significantly this year, I am still taking time for reflection.

What I've been discovering during this season is that there is a delicate balance as we each learn and grow and make our unique contributions to this world, and that there is a value to building foundations that will secure both the longevity and the depth of these contributions. Part of what has brought this truth into focus for me has been the blessing of having Sylvia join our family. Even more than before, I want to be stronger, healthier, and better at all that I am doing so I can be more readily available to play, to grow, to learn, and to enjoy this beautiful world with her and Jamie. We daily get play-time together, and we make it a point to have at least an hour each day outside. Beyond these daily routines, I've doubled down on fitness and health and made significant cuts to the amount of sugar I consume (I know that my habits have a potential to become Sylvia's), slowly and steadily train toward a fifth Marine Corps Marathon for Nuru, and building an almost daily regimen of bodyweight training and mobility.

While I could have chosen to focus my efforts toward achieving a litany of goals like the ones I have listed in my Passion Planner (blogging more frequently, working toward a blue belt in Gracie Jiu Jitsu, paint the house), those goals will still be available next year. What won't be available again next year is Sylvia's first year of life, and witnessing all of the discoveries and developments she is making. I don't think I'll regret waiting a little bit before painting the house. It will still need to be done, but I believe I'm gaining by waiting.

I believe each of us has a great deal we want to accomplish during our short period of years on this earth for the good of others and for the glory of our Creator. May we each be granted wisdom and discernment to know when to start, how to prioritize, and how to make the most of our limited days on this earth!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Review: Unchained by Noel Jesse Heikkinen


A couple of weeks ago, I was skimming through my Twitter feed, and I noticed somebody writing about a book that Noel Jesse Heikkinen wrote called Unchained: If Jesus Has Set Us Free, Why Don't We Feel Free. I thought that the title was intriguing, and I have known Noel for several years and I have always been impressed by the thoughtful ways he communicates our common faith. While we have never had any lengthy one on one conversations, I have appreciated his authenticity and his unconventional speaking style. David C. Cook Publishing sent me this copy and I really wanted to read the book quickly and get a review up. Noel is primary preaching pastor at Riverview Church near Lansing, Michigan, and serves as the board chair for the mission agency I used to work for, Reliant.

First off, I'm grateful for the fact that Noel writes in the same style that he speaks. His wit is ever present, and his way of providing a fresh look at faith in practice has been one of the best aspects of this book. The focus of the book is looking at multiple facets of freedom that come from faith in Jesus, and the irony that many who practice the Christian faith are not experiencing this freedom in their daily lives.

But the book starts a few steps before this freedom to talk about what it is to not be free, and what we have been freed from and for. Noel shares both personal story, examples from pop culture and history, and quite a wide array of scripture to ensure that his points are made. The book walks through what exactly Jesus has freed people from, and also explains some of the ways we exchange our freedom for various forms of slavery. Noel provides counterarguments for some of the popular misunderstandings and errors in thinking that lead people to submit themselves to what amounts to slavery to new activities, slavery to guilt, and slavery to shame (among other forms of slavery). He also differentiates a popular definition of freedom that is very self centered from a definition that opens up the fact that our freedom exists in a place where we have never been, and makes it hard for us to comprehend what it even means.

Noel unpacks very thoughtfully and thoroughly the challenges experienced by what theologians call our positional and our conditional realities, and he unpacks these not as an academic, but as a fellow sojourner and "recovering hypocrite" who wants to see others set free from guilt and shame so that they can live a more joy-filled life of faith. He doesn't prescribe a list of practices that make this transition possible, because that in itself can become another form of slavery; rather he points out the fact that this freedom is the Christian's reality, whether they feel like it or not.

As good as the text itself is, I really love the fact that this book has discussion/reflection questions at the end of each chapter. Sometimes, it is really easy to speed through a book, but not take time to consider deeply what one reads. I know that unless I intentionally carve out space to reflect, it is all too easy to be on to the next topic, book, blog, or activity.

In addition, the afterword of the book was very different from any afterword I've ever read. I won't tell you what it says--you'll have to read it yourself, but the content of the afterword really says something about Noel's faith, and his desire for other people, especially but not only his friends, to experience it and experience it richly.

Regardless of one's faith perspective, I believe readers will enjoy Noel's writing style, his heavy (but not overwhelming) use of scripture to make his case, as well as his wit and humor as they take time to savor the truths being presented by the text.


Monday, August 21, 2017

Reflection: Squash Blossom 2017


This year marks ten years of keeping a small vegetable garden at the house and of enjoying its produce. But there's something more than the productivity of this truck patch that I have enjoyed over this past decade, and that is the beauty of the growth. Each year I have carved out time (even if it is just a few seconds) in the early morning to savor the beauty of the emergence of the squash blossom. My Shawnee ancestors and many other indigenous peoples have also made a practice of enjoying this natural beauty, and even incorporating it into jewelry, beadwork, and quillwork designs. It is also a tasty delicacy that can be enjoyed during the summer as a portent of more food to come from the various plants of this small garden.

These flowers are a gift that are shared most readily with those who wake up early to see the blossom fully opened. As the day progresses, the blossoms close, and so not everyone gets to witness these plants in their full splendor. Not everyone wakes up early. The squash blossoms do not grow alone, but there are clusters of these flowers along each squash vine, some of the blossoms have squash attached, and others are simply the blooms themselves. And yet, each one contributes to the strength, growth, and development of the plant.

I savor the early morning moments I have each year with the squash blossom as well as the rest of the garden. In a college town, things seem to get moving pretty quickly, and there are many blessings to be found in the stillness and the quiet in the early morning hours. The blessings don't stop as the day moves forward; they just change in their shape and texture. Like the blessing of watching my ten month old daughter enjoy a tomato fresh from the vine.


Seeing her enjoy this makes me wonder if that was part of why my dad worked so hard in our gardens growing up. Not only did he get to watch the blessings of growth and development happen after seeds were planted in the garden, but he also had the joy of watching us kids run out to the garden to grab a tomato or a green onion or some other snack after school. There's a blessing that comes from being able to provide for others, especially when we can see that provision savored. It kind of reminds me of this video that Nuru made a few years ago highlighting the story of one of the farmers in Kenya with whom we worked, Joshua.



There are many blessings to be discovered and enjoyed as we spend time with the earth, and learn to be better stewards of the small corners where we live. I don't know if you have ever planted a garden or not, but there is a bounty beyond the early and late harvests to be found in working with the soil. Whether or not you plant a garden, may you find time in your day to savor and enjoy the beauty that the Creator has strewn all around us!



Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Remembering Mom And Celebrating A Legacy



It's been exactly ten years since family and friends were called to say our final goodbyes to my mom as she fought tenaciously for ten months in a battle she finally lost to stage four breast cancer. As I think back to those last few days with her on this earth, there was so much of who she was becoming being manifest to each of us. She was looking forward into eternity and encouraging us with every step as her time in this world was drawing short. A few days after the announcement had come that she had a maximum of six months without treatment and a maximum of 18 months with treatment, she shared with one of her fellow church members during a time of church-wide prayer for their healing, "No matter what happens, we win!" Her attitude was infectiously positive even in the middle of trying circumstances. She always set her sights on what was possible and encouraged others to do the same in every aspect of life. She was the kind of person that people write songs about, and in fact, my best friend in the whole world, Willie, did just that.



My mom left this world at age 61 after 43 years of marriage, but I can't really bring myself to say that she died. As the philosopher Dallas Willard has said, "We are each unceasing spiritual beings with an eternal destiny in God's great universe." And as another philosopher and writer C.S. Lewis has said, "You have never met a mere mortal." When my mom left this world to be with Jesus, we mourned her departure, and celebrated the small part of her life we witnessed. And in those few years from then until now, I believe that each of us who knew her has tried to imitate her faith. You see, we can't live our lives in exactly the same way, but we can be imitators of the faith that we witness in those around us and those who have come before us. In some ways, that is one of the most beautiful gifts we can carry, and we can pass on to others who will walk this world long after we have breathed our last.





So much has happened in these last ten years. Her oldest grandchild graduated from a prestigious institution of higher learning, and her youngest grandchild only recently was born. My dad, my sister, my brother, and myself have each sought to deepen and enrich our own walks of faith, and live as a sign, a foretaste, and an instrument of God's Kingdom come, and His will being done on earth as it is in heaven--to the best of our ability.

There have been so many incredible experiences I've had over these last ten years that I wish I could share with my mom. I wish she would have been able to spend more time with Jamie, and celebrate with us on our wedding day. I wish she could have been able to meet Sylvia, and hold her and be one more experienced voice encouraging my wife as she entered into the joys and anxieties that are unique to motherhood. I wish I could have shared just a few of the photos, stories, and adventures I've been privileged to enjoy over these last ten years.

But its not just the stories from my life that I'd love to share. I wish she could see what a disciplined athlete my sister has become, and how her life has flourished over these last few years as she started running and winning trophies for her exploits on roads and trails. I wish she could have seen Dad heroically come back from a heart attack that would have killed most people. She would have loved to have seen the way he fought back and strengthened his heart, and how he gives so generously of himself to care for each of us kids and for so many others. And I wish she could see what a servant leader my brother has continued to be as well. She would have been so impressed with his recent 90 mile bike ride and the way he has led the carpool van for his work by waking up a little after 4AM every weekday for nearly 20 years to drive 8-10 coworkers over an hour to work.

Not that she wasn't proud of us before these last ten years, because she definitely was. She was a huge source of encouragement and inspiration for just about every person with whom she crossed paths. Moments of loss, as painful as they are, remind us to walk gently on this earth, and to love others deeply while we can. Seeing my mom in those last hours, unrelenting in her care for each of us as friends and family gathered in prayer, mourning and strange as it may seem, laugher, those images have become seared in my memory and in my own internal compass as I continue to seek to imitate her persevering and unshakeable tenacity and faith. Even until her last breath, she loved deeply, she ran her race strong, and she never wavered in her care for the rest of us.

If you knew my mom, you know what a special lady she was. And if you didn't, I hope you get the privilege of meeting her one day. Mom's have a special relationship with their children, and while each of us continues to live out our life with zeal and determination, I think each one of us kids (and Dad too), has those moments to this day, when all is quiet, and we have at the same time a deep sense of loss, and a deeper sense of appreciation for each moment we have.

May each of us walk gently on this earth, filled with compassion for others, and with a deep sense of awe for this beautiful place and the wonderful relationships with which the Creator of the universe has blessed each of us. And, may He give each of us space, as we need it, to grieve fully and fearlessly for those, like my mom, who have gone on to be with Jesus before us.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Celebrating Six Amazing Years of #TeamWilliams


It is a rainy Saturday morning as I sit down to write. Jamie is sleeping in after a long night where sleep was not her friend as she did what she always does so incredibly well. She gave of herself to serve others—this time it was for our precious daughter Sylvia. And, right now, Sylvia is in a Líllé carrier strapped to my chest, sleeping restfully as well.

It was a rainy Friday on the day when we made our vows before Jesus and a small gathering of family, and friends. God gave us so many incredible gifts that day! First and foremost, He gave us the gift of each other. I don’t think either of us had any idea of the adventures God had in store for us as we stood on the shore of Lake Floyd looking at each other with tears of joy as we began this incredible journey. And, although it was a rainy Friday when we made these vows, God opened the skies over our outdoor wedding festivities while it continued raining in communities all around us. What an incredible gift! What an array of incredible gifts He has carefully placed along the path we walk together, always following His lead!

Earlier this morning I sat down to read my Bible, and the story was of Jesus’ first documented miracle. He was celebrating at a wedding in a place called Cana in an area called Galilee when He turned water into wine. And it wasn’t just any wine, the master of the feast said it was the best wine—and it was strange to him, because this best wine was being served last instead of in the beginning of the celebration. Jesus did his part to enable the celebration to continue (if he had not intervened, the wedding party would have run out of wine), and not only did He do his part, but He insured that this feast had the very best He could provide.

And now as we celebrate the anniversary of our own wedding, we are so filled with gratitude. Jesus continues to lead us in our celebration, and as we follow Him we are blessed with so much more than we could have ever imagined. And this year, we celebrate in simplicity close to home, enjoying our growing family, and cherishing gifts we have been given that are too many to count, especially the wonderful gift of each other.



My best friend in the whole world, Willie, wrote the song in the video above for us on our wedding day, and the words ring as true today as they did on that warm spring evening six years ago amid the flourishing of the Creator’s beautiful world.