The Global Leadership Summit has changed my life, and the lives of 78 inmates at the Monroe Correctional Complex were changed this year as well. Reading the inmates’ reflections, I was reminded of my first Summit experience.
I was in the Land Between, a transition folks often define as having an “empty nest.” Pouring my time and heart into the lives of my three children and the activities they were involved with had come to an end. The end of significant leadership roles with these organizations and the end of meetings, planning, events and personal connections amplified the emptiness. My life as it had been for 20 years was drastically changed. It felt less like a few birds had flown away and more like the wasteland Jeff Manion described in his Summit talk seven years ago. Although it was seven summits ago, I especially remember Jeff Manion and his session highlighting key insights from his book, The Land Between. The premise of his talk and book were that faith transformation and growth happen in times of great transition, the Land Between. He reminded us of those led by Moses to the Promised Land and the years spent in barren wasteland on their way. Difficult transitions can be due to a death of a family member, financial lows, marriage erosion, teenagers drifting, aging and certainly those experiencing time in prison.
Manion’s observations that it is not simply the hardship but our reaction to the hardship that forms us was just what I needed to hear. We don’t always have control over what happens; we do have control over our reaction. Our time in transition is a time to learn to trust and rely on God and to allow others to reach out in support. If you have ever found yourself in the Land Between you may have even been on the edge of emotional collapse. You’ll recall Moses erupted, firing questions at God, ranting that his load was too heavy. We are reminded that we are not alone and as did Moses, can turn to God in our misery. We want our timing on our terms but it is God’s discipline that trains us and produces righteousness and peace.
We don’t always have control over what happens; we do have control over our reaction.
The Monroe prisoners are in their own Land Between and were fertile ground for the 2016 Summit and strong messages of humility, empowering and valuing others, emotional intelligence and navigating cultural differences. The diverse group of inmates attending the Summit included business owners, a lawyer and a Navy Captain. Half of them were Christians. The others included an agnostic Jew, a Somali Muslim, pagans, Buddhists, and a few with no religious affiliation. The inmates described the two days as far exceeding their expectations, and the prison Chaplain and staff expressed deep gratitude to BelPres and Evergreen Community Church for the financial support and volunteers that made it possible.
One of the inmates reflected that the experience was honoring and that he felt like a human, not a prisoner. He developed and strengthened his leadership and felt inspired to press on. Do you think that the value of gaining helpful professional skills would be primarily aimed at the times ahead when they reconnect to work and life outside of prison? The answer to that is yes…and no. Comments were also made about the usefulness for their current daily lives, filling their passion buckets (a message from Bill Hybels), and gaining hope. One prisoner touched on Erin Meyer’s talk on the Culture Map, reflecting that “it will help me to better navigate the prison culture that is very diverse.” TD Jakes inspired them with his realistic grasp of the race problem in the United States.
It is God’s discipline that trains us and produces righteousness and peace.
Several of the inmates referenced Jossy Chacko’s challenge to us all to expand our leadership reach. He presented the 3 E’s to follow: first to Enlarge Your Vision, trusting what God has put into you. Second, to Empower Your People, giving people opportunities and championing new horizons. And third, to Embrace Risk, seeing risk as a friend to love, not as an enemy to be feared. Jossy challenged us to take steps of faith engaging leadership and fulfilling the work of God.
Are you, like the inmates, in the Land Between? Jeff Manion reminds us that experiences we wish to avoid can grow what we desperately need. As life’s detours often land us squarely in the Land Between, will we open our hearts to God? Will we open our lives to his work and his blessing while we are not where we want to be? These 78 men have done just that, attending the Summit and finding it as a hope-inspiring event with “wisdom pouring out like rain.” How refreshing when you are living in the dessert. They added that they received valuable tools and left inspired to live intentionally because “change begins with ourselves.”