Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Between Two Worlds

Written by: on December 8, 2014

Greetings to all!

My file is too large with pics to post to our site so this is the text only version of my VE Synthesis paper.  If you would like to see the whole enchilada with pics, you can download the file through this link:  https://docs.google.com/a/georgefox.edu/uc?id=0B1HbbIUQoPuyWV9WajZwamVjMHM&export=download

I hope the link works for you.

I wish each of you a merry Christmas and a wonderful new research year!





Visual Ethnography Learning Synthesis:

Between Two Worlds



William Dobrenen

DMIN 737: Thinking Globally and Leading Locally – Church, World, & Culture

Dr. Jason Clark

George Fox Evangelical Seminary

December 8, 2014





 Between Two Worlds

As Christians, we always live in at least two worlds at the same time. Some of us do better at this than others. In my own faith journey, those two worlds have sometimes been clouded by the realities of life. In my younger days, I thought I could easily distinguish between the two. But the older I get, the more I realize that that these two worlds are sometimes indistinguishable from one another. Even as I am sitting in Starbucks typing this assignment, I was suddenly made aware of the fact that there are many worlds (many stories) going on at the same time all around me. Just now, a couple of people whom I do not know sat beside me and began to speak in Arabic with one another (mixed with English). The cool thing is that I understand some Arabic, so the conversation caught my attention. I do not know the story of what is going on with these two, but I picked up that the young lady is helping out an Arabic-speaking young man with some insurance forms. Two situations, two stories in the same room at the same time, but they are light years apart. Different worlds in one place. Isn’t this paradoxical? Of course it is – all of life is paradoxical. So, are our worlds separate or are they linked together? What about the kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world; are they separate or are they linked? These are very important questions.


I left for Cape Town, South Africa, in late September. I had been to Africa twice before. The first time was in 1990 and 1991 when I lived in Egypt as a teacher and “missionary” for a couple of years. The second time was in 2007 when I spent six weeks doing research in Rwanda. In both of these situations, I was there for a purpose – education. So why was I in South Africa? Same reason. But the education I received in the short time I was there was far different from what I had expected and it was also much different than my first two experiences in Africa. In this paper, I will explain what I learned and how I felt while learning it. As with all my work, I hope it will be authentic and helpful for my readers.

Expectations and Comparisons

London, our Advance location in 2013, had been a sheer delight for me; I loved every bit of that time. I loved meeting my cohort members. I loved where we stayed. I loved the program. So how could Cape Town not be even better than London? My expectations for this Advance were high when I at last got on the Jet Blue Airlines flight to New York. I loved Africa and I loved my cohort members. So how could this next 10 days not be wonderful? It was wonderful…but differently than the London Advance. And even as I am writing this paper, I am still processing my South Africa experience.


Our accommodations were beyond amazing. Frankly, I was stunned when I walked into The Commodore. What a place! It was a beautiful hotel in a beautiful section of town. The rooms were beautiful. The food was beautiful. The guests were beautiful. It was almost too beautiful. After all, we were in Africa, not in Paris. But this certainly wasn’t Cairo or Kigali. I had been secretly hoping for trash and noise; that is the Africa I knew. I felt disappointed. I felt overwhelmed. But mostly, I felt guilty. I have never liked being a tourist, but now I felt like a tourist. These feelings stayed with me for the next 10 days; I couldn’t shake them.

Balance and Paradox

After acclimating to the new area, the new time zone, and some new people, it was time to put my feelings aside and carry on with the program of the Advance. I was glad to see us leave the hotel and touristy part of town; perhaps this would bring a sense of balance. On Friday we visited District Six[1], the area of forced removals of non-whites during the apartheid period in the 1960’s. We visited the District Six Museum and listened to lectures by Noor Abraham (the founder and caretaker of the museum) and Mary Burton[2] (an important person who had been a commissioner on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission). Listening to both Noor Abraham and Mary Burton was an amazing experience. Through their stories, one was able to hear and see a true picture of this country’s turbulent past. I found the time with Mary Burton to be especially rich. This brought balance to my emotions as I began to taste of the paradoxes this culture held for those of us who were privileged to be there. We ended the day at Robben Island, the place of Nelson Mandela’s 27-year incarceration. This day was filled with rich history and emotion and is a day I will never forget. I am so glad that we experienced these sites early on. Although they were tourist sites, I felt less like a tourist and more like a student on this particular day than any day of the Advance.

Learning from the Learned

One of the most interesting parts of our Advances is the interaction we have with program advisors. Because my advisor does not fly, he does not attend the Advance. This year’s presenters included MaryKate Morse, Krish Kandiah, Stephen Garner, Len Hjalmarson, Caroline Ramsey, Patrick Murunga, Chuck Conniry, and Jason Clark. I liked most of the presentations; however, the two that stood out most to me were those presented by Patrick Murunga and Caroline Ramsey. Patrick and Caroline are both scholars, but they also both come across as genuine human beings. It was not only what they said that spoke to me but also who they were that spoke most powerfully.

Patrick spoke on “Rethinking Short-term Mission in the 21st Century.” This was powerful for many reasons. The first reason is that not many people are willing to confront the “Sacred Cow” of Christian missions, so it was refreshing to watch someone actually do that. Patrick’s story about the shipping container was not only valuable; it was also honest and took courage to share. He spoke about “hijacking this fellow’s agenda.” This was a bold move, especially since Patrick is an African. And who would know what Africans need more than Africans. Westerners still have a colonialistic-view of missions. They call the shots. They set up the agenda. They “tell” the Africans what they need, rather than ask them if they need anything. What is needed, said Patrick, is a “learning posture.” There is a huge need for change to happen in mission, but most of the change needs to start with those who claim to have the answers. There is a need for more partnership, not for more paternalism.

I just finished teaching a course called Introduction to Cross-Cultural ministry. It was the hardest class I have ever taught in many ways. The primary reason was that most of my students were young ministry students who are very idealistic about their faith and about missions. For them, the shipping container would have been a great idea. I doubt if it would have ever dawned on them to ask the receivers of the container if they needed it. We talked about Patrick’s container in class. One of the texts I used in that class is called Make Haste Slowly.[3] In this text (one that I believe would be a good read for one of our LGP classes), Smith says,

Wholeness in mission happens only when the people being helped are participants in the change process. It doesn’t matter if the change desired is spiritual, social, or physical. Without trust and full participation between “helped” and “helper,” the best effort will result only in superficial change. It’s unlikely to be permanent or spread very far in the society. It may, in fact, simply be rejected.[4]

This is exactly what Patrick was talking about. I am hopeful that by the end of the semester, my students had a better grasp on these concepts.

Caroline Ramsey had me laughing from the first words out of her mouth. She started her presentation on leadership with this sentence, “Leaders fuck up leaders.” How could one not listen with interest to a presentation that started like that? To be honest, I don’t remember Caroline’s main points – actually, I am pretty sure she wouldn’t remember them either. But I am sure of this, Caroline knows a lot about life and about leadership. Here are some other significant takeaways I took from her presentation:

  • Leadership is a relationship; it is not an activity.
  • Seeing people as passive objects is abuse.
  • Conversation travels and leadership is found in moments of conversation.
  • “Oh, shit!”

Caroline is a keeper. I am glad to have her in our program. She adds some talents and candor that are refreshing for us all. She also asked a question of my own research presentation that has really kept me thinking. I will get to this in the next section of this assignment.

Learning from the Learning

I am grateful that we had the opportunity to hear our fellow students’ Pecha Kucha presentations. Part of me wishes we could have heard all of the presentations from our own cohort, but I am also thankful to have had the privilege of observing several presentations from LGP3. The only presentation I was dissatisfied with was my own. However, after looking back at it now with three more months of work under my belt, I can see more clearly now why I was where I was in September. But it is good to know that I am farther along than I was, and I will get most of the credit for that to Cliff Berger who took some time to work with me and help me shape the form and direction of my research. I am still glad that I am studying Traditional Native-American Leadership Values and Practices, but now I have more clarity for where to apply my learning.

Some of the questions I was asked after doing my Pecha-Kucha were very helpful, especially Caroline’s (Number 3 below).

  1. What do Native-Americans think of Christianity? I think I know. But I have a lot more work to do on this question. I have not done a lot of work with First Nations Christians yet, but that is where a lot of my work is heading in 2015.
  2. What does it mean to become a Christian for a Native person? Again, this needs to be fleshed out. Where does contextualization fit into all of this? I have a new friend whose name is Casey Church who is helping me to think this through.
  3. What does Jesus think about Native American spiritual beliefs and practices? This was the toughest question I was asked during the entire trip. I did not answer the question then and there. Perhaps I will never be able to. But if I were to answer it now, I would say that I think Jesus is in the midst of First Nations belief systems and practices. It should have been the Christians who were converted rather than the ones doing the converting. White colonial Christianity messed up in big ways. I am sure Caroline would have said this differently. I hope that she and I will have an opportunity to have this conversation some day, maybe at the next Advance.

I learned a lot from my fellow students’ presentations, both directly and indirectly. Mark from LGP3 shared with me concepts of “grounded research” that really helped me to think through my assumptions that are plaguing my particular research on Native-American Leadership. I realized that I had drawn my conclusions prematurely. I also learned about a program called “Audio Notes” that I will consider using for my primary research interviews.

I think the greatest lesson I learned from the student presentations is that we are all in process. All of our research is unfolding in different ways, and that is perfectly OK. We are not in competition with one another; rather, we are cheering for each other. My hope is that my research might be “far enough along” by next year’s Advance. Will it be good enough? Will it be deep enough to write a decent dissertation? After writing this paper and my semester essay for this term, there is one thing I know for certain. I have worked hard, but now I have to work harder and smarter than I have up until now. The next Advance is only ten months away and by the end of June we will be finished with coursework. That is not a lot of time. It is time to get my rear in gear (I am sure Caroline might say this differently).

Khayelitsha and the Alien Visits

Learning comes in many forms and it usually happens outside the classroom. After finishing our presentations, two busloads of George Fox students, teachers, advisors, and administrators set off for “sightseeing” to a very poor Township area called Khayelitsha. We saw and experienced several parts of this Township including an elementary school, a church, an NGO called “Learn to Earn,” and a visit to Golden the Flowerman. After our first stop I overheard Chuck Conniry say something like, “The alien bus has landed.” Chuck was right; I felt that was an apt description of who we were. Yes, we were like two space capsules landing on another planet as we got off the bus with all our alien paraphernalia: cameras, assorted bags and purses, I-pads, I-phones, and money. It was a very uncomfortable feeling. I left my camera and my bag on the space capsule. It felt too weird to bring it along. I felt self-conscious enough without these accouterments. We were indeed between two worlds. I had felt this before both in Egypt and in Rwanda. I didn’t like the feelings then and I didn’t like them now. Emotionally, these were a couple of tough days for me. I wanted to stay away from Khayelitsha, not because I wasn’t interested in it but because I felt like an intruder. I was an invader. I was rich. I was white. I was American. I did not know what to think, what to feel, and especially what to do. I was an outsider looking in. So is apartheid over? Absolutely not! I am sure that this was the reason we were there, but for the life of me, I did not know what to do. So I did what all good ethnographers do, I observed. And what did I see?

I saw hopelessness and hope. I saw poverty and possibility. I saw impotent white people and impotent black people. I saw children playing, smiling, and laughing. I saw a mix of homes, small and large, nice and not nice. I saw small businesses and unemployed people living together. I saw sadness and gladness. I saw eyes, some with tears, some bright with hope. I saw reality – someone else’s reality. And I saw my cohort members and myself in all our humanness trying to make heads or tails of what we were supposed to learn. But there was more listening than talking. More questions than answers. More silence than noise. Perhaps we were learning. I hope we learned something; I know I did, but I am still having a hard time verbalizing what that is.

No Magic on an Airplane Ride

Many years ago, as I was considering “foreign missions” as a career, a friend of mine told me something I have never forgotten, “There is no magic on an airplane ride.” The same person you are when you leave Culture A is the same person who will arrive in Culture B. However, after being in Culture B for a while and experiencing real life, one does change and returns to Culture A with different perspectives. I was different when I returned from Egypt. I was different when I returned from Rwanda. But could that happen in 10 days in a touristy section of Cape Town, South Africa? Yes, I think it could. However, it also takes time for reflection and input from others. Yes, I have changed. But without this assignment, without these memories being unearthed in both words and pictures, this would not have been true.

Applied Ethnography

As is always the case, and as I am learning in my studies of Native-American leadership values and practices, balance is at the heart of all true learning. We all learn differently; every good teacher knows this. So how have this semester’s readings fit into the content of this ethnographic adventure? Rather than allow the texts to be the lenses through which I look at this South African Advance, I am going to use the Advance as a lens to view the texts. I will do this in four categories: Visual knowledge, Spiritual/Ethical knowledge, Leadership Knowledge, and Personal Knowledge.

The two texts that assisted in visual knowledge are Visual Faith[5] and The Sacred Gaze[6]. So how did these fit into my thinking? District Six was a paradise for visual injustice. I was much moved by the museum, by the tour, by the stories of the people who were forced to leave their homes, their families and friends, and their communities. The artifacts and collections in the museum are sacred, visual objects that cry out to those who are willing to listen, “Don’t forget what happened here. Learn from these mistakes.” As I have indicated from my posts on these two texts, I have never been a huge fan of art. But after Cape Town, particularly after District Six, I have a greater appreciation for the objects themselves and for those who take the time and effort to create and collect such objects for our learning.

The two texts that lean into spiritual and ethical knowledge are Global Pentecostalism[7] and The Matrix of Christian Ethics.[8] What have I learned from these texts that I can apply to my experiences in Cape Town? I am a very judgmental person by nature, although this is something I have fought against for years/decades. Both of these texts have helped me the allow others to have their own spiritual journeys. On this trip, I was confronted with several different worship and theological styles that are different from mine. My first inclination was to write off certain people, particularly those who come from a charismatic background. The Miller and Yamamori’s text was helpful for me to fall back to. We do not have to all have the same faith journey. In fact, perhaps it is better if we don’t. I pray that God would continuously call me to an acceptance of all people in the Body of Christ. Frankly, I have yet to apply the Nullens and Michener text, but I know I will.

And then we come to the subject of leadership. Wow. I am still marveling at the assigned texts for the term, especially Good to Great,[9] The Leadership Mystique,[10] and especially A Failure of Nerve.[11] As I said in my essay for this semester, these three books helped me to realize that there is good work being written on this subject. Of these books, the Friedman text was the most beneficial. This text, in spelling out the concepts of differentiated leadership, has shown me that leadership is a paradoxical practice. Leaders must be both collaborative and decisive. They must adapt but they must hang tough. This has especially helped me in my relationship with the college president with whom I work and that has brought new clarity for me in my own roles at the college.

The final text I would like to mention is the one that has helped me the most this semester with my life and personal growth. The text I am referring to is Exit, Voice, and Loyalty.[12]   September through the present time has been a rough stretch for me at work for reasons I will not go into here. So what do I do with my emotions in times like this? Hirschman’s book has helped me to think this through. Sometimes one wants to leave, but it is not the right time to do so. But can a person be loyal to something that he or she does not fully agree with? And when is it appropriate to speak up, especially if one needs to contribute a opposing position? I am learning to distinguish the fine lines between these choices. Above all, decisions at this level call for high emotional intelligence, which I am working hard to develop in my own life as a leader.

So what have I learned and how will I continue to apply what I have learned? Have I paid attention enough to learn what I needed to learn? And what will I do in the future with what I have learned? Can I take what I learned in one world and apply it into another world? Absolutely. I think I am doing it now.



Collins, Jim. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t. New York: HarperBusiness, 2001.

Dyrness, William A. Visual Faith: Art, Theology, and Worship Dialogue. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001.

Friedman, Edwin H. A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix. New York: Seabury Books, 199

Hirschman, Albert O. Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Forms, Organizations and States. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1970.

Kets De Vries, Manfred. The Leadership Mystique: Leading Behavior in the Human Enterprise. Harlow, England: Preston Hall, 2006.

Miller, Donald E. and Yamamori, Tetsunao. Global Pentecostalism: The New Face of Christian Social Engagement. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007. p 158.

Morgan, David. The Sacred Gaze: Religious Visual Culture in Theory and Practice. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2005.

Nullens, Patrick and Ronald T. Michener. The Matrix of Christian Ethics: Integrating Philosophy and Moral Theology in a Postmodern Context. Colorado Springs, CO: Paternoster Publishing, 2010.

Smith, Donald K. Make Haste Slowly: Growing Effective Intercultural Communication (booksoncreatingunderstanding.com, 2001)



[1] More on District Six here: http://www.districtsix.co.za/index.php.

[2] There is a good link for Mary Burton here: http://www.sahistory.org.za/people/mary-maria-burton.

[3] Donald K. Smith. Make Haste Slowly: Growing Effective Intercultural Communication (booksoncreatingunderstanding.com, 2001)

[4] Ibid., 17.

[5] William A. Dyrness. Visual Faith: Art, Theology, and Worship Dialogue (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001)

[6] David Morgan. The Sacred Gaze: Religious Visual Culture in Theory and Practice (Berkely, CA: University of California Press, 2005)

[7] Donald E. Miller and Tetsunao Yamamori. Global Pentecostalism: The New Face of Christian Social Engagement (Berkely: University of California Press, 2007)

[8] Patrick Nullens and Ronald T. Michener. The Matrix of Christian Ethics: Integrating Philosophy and Moral Theology in a Postmodern Context (Colorado Springs, CO: Paternoster Publishing, 2010)

[9] Jim Collins. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t (New York: HarperBusiness, 2001)

[10] Manfred Kets De Vries. The Leadership Mystique: Leading Behavior in the Human Enterprise (Harlow, England: Preston Hall, 2006)

[11] Edwin H. Friedman. A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix. (New York: Seabury Books, 1999)

[12] Albert O. Hirschman. Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Forms, Organizations and States. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1970)

About the Author

Bill Dobrenen

I am a husband, father, and educator. I love my wife, my two amazing children, and my students. My dissertation research is on the importance of Traditional Native-American Tribal Leadership Practices. Being in the LGP program is a gift from God for me during this season of my life. I look forward to another great year with my LGP4 cohort.

2 responses to “Between Two Worlds”

  1. Clint Baldwin says:

    Thanks, Bill! This was a wonderful read.

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