It’s fitting, given my skeptic wrestling of all things online and internet, that my first guest of the Admirations series talks about her team’s bigger, brighter, better use of such technology. Janice Gutierrez (@jangutz) is the Executive Director of Lifesprings Women’s Ministries International, an organization that equips and trains women to love and lead in their communities worldwide. She’s equipped and trained me personally with 23 (and counting) years of relentless love and leadership herself — yes, folks, give it up for my mom:
I work with a team of people who are scattered all over the world and who represent a multitude of cultures and perspectives. From Albania to Amsterdam, from California to Chad, my team meets and works together cyber-ly — save for a few weeks of the year when we get to be together in the flesh and really face-to-face.
When I first started working with this team, we hadn’t previously known each other. It took us a while to develop a strong working relationship and get a workflow rhythm going so we could accomplish our tasks together. Working cross-culturally, cross-timezones, and cross-most-everything is tricky. Misinterpretation, misunderstanding and miscalculating are plentiful when our basic foundations of language and background are so varied and nuanced. But the benefits of working with such a group are astounding. I feel so much more enlightened on the days when I know what the weather is on nearly every continent at a single time, what the current issues of the day are across the world, and what national holidays, customs, and issues, are pressing on my teammates. In listening to each other and working together, we see the promise of a better world that holds stark contrast to often depressing world news headlines.
This year we decided to have an “office” Christmas party — and since our office was online, so was the party. We all dressed up in holiday attire, poured our favorite holiday drink, and gathered a few of our holiday snacks. Because of our various time zones, we each showed up at a different same time. I arrived at 7am before my holiday (Christmas) ready to celebrate with my international teammates, some of whom were drinking after-dinner wine while I held my holiday-blend Starbucks. One of my teammates even brought her camera and took pictures — not just screenshots — of the screen. “Isn’t this what we do at real Christmas parties?” she said, and snapped away.
After an hour or so of fun banter and sharing of décor, food selections, and introducing the unsuspecting family members walking through our rooms, we said our final year-end best wishes to each other. Someone suggested we sing a carol together. “Can we do that?” someone asked, like that would be any weirder than us all having parties with our laptops. We laughed, and picked a tune — in the last minutes of our cyber Christmas party, we sang “Joy To The World” together apart around the world.
And joy there was.
There is joy to the world when there is friendship around it. When we connect with lives beyond our own and grow a community beyond our preferences, prejudices and personal priorities, there is joy to the world. When we cross lines of discrimination and division in ways of peace and love, there is joy to the world. When we seek to understand as much as to be understood, there is joy to the world.
If you are interested in more joy to the world in 2013 and beyond, then here’s my challenge: Determine to make a new friend outside of your culture, country, and convenience. Learn how to say “hello,” “goodbye,” “how are you,” “what’s your name,” “would you like to have some coffee together,” and “where’s the bathroom” in more languages than the ones you currently use. Maybe even pick up a project (however small — even a pen pal or an email buddy counts) where you will need to work with some kind of international community for a common good. Find somebody to sing with somewhere else, so your songs of joy will carry all around the world.
Joy to the world, the Savior reigns; Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.