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

The Undefended Leader of Jamaica  

Written by: on March 9, 2020

In Simon Walker’s The Undefended Leader trilogy, Walker seeks to lay out various challenges found within leadership.  In the study of leadership, the question is often trying to discern a definition of leadership that is both applicable and makes sense.  Walker writes, “Leadership is about who you are, not what you know or what skills you have.  Why is this?  There are two reasons: Leadership is about trust and it is about power.”[1]  As I reflect on the leaders who have had a major impact on my life, I would I can see the reality of this statement.  Leadership without trust devolves into coercion, which creates unhealthy environments for all involved.

The leader who has had the strongest impact on my life is my former pastor in Kentucky, Charles Linhart.  Charlie was the one who presented many opportunities for me within the church growing up: He gave me the opportunity to preach for the first time when I was 16, he encouraged me to look into the university I attended for my undergrad, and was always willing to listen and provide advice about ministry.  Although I always respected Charlie growing up, it wasn’t until I traveled to Jamaica with him on a mission team from my church that I truly appreciated the man he is.

Charlie and his wife, Lavon, were missionaries in Jamaica during the 80s.  Our denomination, the General Baptists, used to run an orphanage there until the government closed it down and put all of the kids into foster care.[2]  One evening, our team was sitting out on the beach talking and we asked Charlie about his time in Jamaica.  We had always known he served in Jamaica, but had never actually asked him about his experience.  He told us about the kids at Faith Home[3] and some fun stories about befriending the local drug dealer (who became the protector of Faith Home) and sharing goat’s head soup with airport officials in order to gain access to supplies being flown in from the US.  But one story struck me more than any other: The time Charlie had a contract on his head to be killed.

Charlie explained that the president at the time spoke on national television about how the United States wouldn’t hesitate to use foreign missionaries as spies.  In the blink of an eye, the relationships that Charlie and Lavon had built in Jamaica were gone as they were put under watch as prospective spies.  Charlie soon found out that the Jamaican government had put out a contract to have him killed.[4]  Charlie called the General Baptist headquarters and was asking HQ what he should do.  They told him, “You need to get out.  It isn’t worth staying; you can always come back later.”

But Charlie felt God’s prompting that this wasn’t what he was supposed to do.  He argued with God, saying that they thought he was a spy and that he was going to be killed.  He was alone; no one would come to his aid in this.  In the midst of this turmoil, God spoke to him and he came to a realization.  He looked me in the eye and said to me, “Dylan, I realized in that moment that one day I’m going to die.  That’s the simple fact of life.  The question for me wasn’t whether or not I would die, but if I was willing to die serving God.  So I decided to stay.

Tears welled in my eyes as he explained that as soon as he made his decision, he discovered he wasn’t alone.  The relationships he had built went to bat for him.  He said, “They went to the government offices and told them, ‘This man has never taken anything from us.  He has only given and at great personal cost.  We can vouch that he isn’t a spy.”  Because of the trust that Charlie built among the people of Jamaica, the government took the contract off of his head and they continued their ministry in Jamaica.

Trust is the all important factor of leadership.  Too often we try to lead out of who we think we should be rather than who we are.  How can expect people who follow us to trust us when we don’t trust ourselves to lead as ourselves?  It’s so easy to put on a mask of leadership, but it’s exhausting to keep it on.  It’s exhausting pretending to be someone you aren’t.  But part of that reality is the idealistic notion we have of leaders and refusing to let them let their guards down.

This is why it’s so important to have a network of people to whom a leader can process what’s happening.  Leadership is lonely.  In my previous organization, it used to be that all of the team leaders kept to themselves and did not have people to process the conflicts their teams were facing.  However, toward the end of my time a great effort was made to connect the team leaders.  This gave us a chance to process and to show that we were not alone in our struggles.  To this day, I have a small group of friends who are in leadership positions and we make an effort to check in with one another.  Alone, we may be undefended.  But just as Jonathan’s armor bearer had his back no matter the circumstance[5], so we to should find an armor bearer to protect us as well.


*The photo was taken in 2012 during our second trip to Jamaica together. Featured, from left to right, my friend Daniel, myself (let’s all take a moment to mourn the bowl cut and thank God for growth), and Pastor Charlie.


[1] Simon P. Walker, Leading Out of Who You Are, Carlisle: Piquant Editions Ltd (2007), loc 202.

[2] For the entirety of their story, you can check out Lavon’s book, Memoirs of a Missionary Mom.

[3] This is the orphanage the General Baptists ran in Jamaica. The orphanage has now been relocated to San Pedro Sula, Honduras.

[4] It should also be noted that according to Charlie, at this time Jamaica was considered one of the most dangerous places to live as it had an extremely high death per capita rate.

[5] See 1 Samuel 14.


About the Author

Dylan Branson

Small town Kentuckian living and learning in the big city of Hong Kong.

12 responses to “The Undefended Leader of Jamaica  ”

  1. Shawn Cramer says:

    Nice spotlight, I didn’t have space to talk about Walker’s main metaphor for leadership – that of the front of the stage and the back of the stage. Charlie seems like one of the rare leaders where both sides of the stage had integrity.

    • Dylan Branson says:

      He is. He’s a brilliant man who approached most every situation with humility and love. When people see this in leaders, it has a profound effect (if it’s genuine; false humility and an air of love has the opposite effect). With the episode involving the drug dealer who operated around the orphanage, he saw the work Charlie was doing and the love he had for the kids. One night, he was chatting with Charlie and told him, “If anyone ever tries to hurt you or any of these kids, you let me know and I’ll take care of them. It doesn’t matter how far away they are, I’ll find them.” People notice more than we think.

  2. Darcy Hansen says:

    This question is so good: “How can expect people who follow us to trust us when we don’t trust ourselves to lead as ourselves?” I’m discovering self-awareness is a rare character trait within leaders. The work it takes to be self-aware is intense and time consuming. It requires radical trust and full dependance on God. It also requires lots of space for solitude, silence, and stillness, all of which are frowned upon in many evangelical discipleship/leadership models. I envy your age and your willingness to become an integrated leader (one like Charlie, the same person in front of and behind the curtain). Outside of a supportive community, what other practices/supports do you have in place to facilitate the inner work necessary to be such a leader?

    • Dylan Branson says:

      One thing I’ve been pursuing is coaching. A friend of mine runs an NGO in HK that focuses on coaching and mentoring. We’ve been meeting every couple of months since I’ve moved to Hong Kong to talk about various issues, one of them being leadership. When I went through my own identity crisis following a church split, he was instrumental in helping me break down the various viewpoints I was facing at the time.

      My own personal readings about different figures in church history have also been important. I’ll hit on this in a later post, but leaders like Bonhoeffer caused me to reflect on various leaders I’ve been under in my life.

  3. Greg Reich says:

    Not all leaders will practice asking the hard self analysis questions nor will they give permission for a small accountability group to ask the hard questions. The metaphor of leaders needing an armor bearer is awesome. Armor bearers are highly trusted people that protect those whose armor they are carrying at high risk to themselves. Being an armor bearer can be a thankless job.

    • Dylan Branson says:

      Maybe I’m cynical in this, but I roll my eyes a lot of times when people ask for “accountability partners.” Few people really wants accountability; or they like the idea until they’re actually held accountable for something. That’s been my observation throughout my time in university at least when the practice first became common. It takes humility to accept accountability, but it’s needed. Finding a true armor bearer is difficult, someone who will stick with you through the thick and thin. Have you ever found someone to be your armor bearer?

      • Greg Reich says:

        Deep friendships are plants of slow growth. I have a group of men I trust and who help hold me accountable though they are true friends they are not all armor bearers. One of them (D.L.) is an armor bearer in every sense of the word. We have known each other a long time (30 + years), cried together, laughed together, walked through the fire together and talked each other off the ledge more than once.

  4. Steve Wingate says:

    Trust is the all important factor of leadership.

    This may be the pinnacle of the pastorate. The covocational pastor will not exist in a local congregation with this.

    Thank you Dylan!

    • Dylan Branson says:

      When I was in undergrad, one of the things my professor hit on was that its far too common for pastors to try to make changes without the trust of the people. He said that this is what causes so much trouble for new pastors; they come in with big and bright ideas, but because they don’t have the congregation’s trust, they meet more resistance than support when trying to change things.

  5. John McLarty says:

    Great illustration of an undefended leader! Leadership is definitely a lonely place much of the time, and becoming more complicated as everyone is now an expert on everything due to the availability of information swirling out there! In what ways is Charlie’s example influencing your leadership where you are right now?

    • Dylan Branson says:

      Recently I’ve been thinking about how I’ve spent my time in Hong Kong in terms of language learning. A lesson that Charlie taught me when we were discussing missions was how important it is to know the language of the people you’re working with. After five years, my Chinese is abysmal. Part of building trust is being able to communicate with people on a heart level and this is an area where I’ve failed because of the prevalence of English here. But if part of servant leadership is meeting people where they are, language is no different. In the last two months, I’ve been consciously working on my Chinese as a result of a lesson he taught me that I had tucked away.

  6. Chris Pollock says:

    Sweet story of Jamaica. What a sweet example of a person who trusts in God for you as a young person.

    How has the kind of faith of your pastor helped you in moments of uncertainty? In moments where you may be at risk in some way? Your leadership, your safety, your credibility?

    How can we expect people who follow us to trust us when we don’t trust ourselves to lead as ourselves?

    How has it come to this, our lack of trust in ourselves but, for that we haven’t been trusted. A wonderful circle of humility we have been called into, of letting go…

    Where does respect play into the circle of trust?

    Having someone to bear armour like Jonathan, to have our backs, this is big trust. The back stab hurts so bad. We call it ‘keeping-6’ at the Mustard Seed. Whenever keeping-6 happens, it’s a sweet teachable moment; even, when it doesn’t happen, just the same a teachable moment. And, it becomes a part of our culture as we serve together and serve one another, each one leading at times and needing a trusted one to keep 6.

    Undefended. Thanks Dylan!

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