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Archive for February, 2010

There’s an excited young priest in Mekele, Ethiopia, with a big job. He’s the chaplain to the Christian students at a huge public university and he runs a youth center and a library. Every day, he changes lives. But he wants to do more… He wants to start a youth athletic program to give the kids self-confidence, healthy bodies, strong friendships, and a safe and happy place to spend their time.

One problem: no sports equipment!

He sent us a plea for help. And we knew just the person to ask. One of our donors, Dennis, has a soft spot in his heart for athletic programs for needy kids. Last year, he gave four schools in Ethiopia the chance to set up athletic programs with a generous gift of soccer balls and volleyballs. So we asked, fingers crossed, and prayed he would help us.

And he did! He filled the entire request in one wonderful moment. Now, the kids in Mekele will have soccer balls, volleyballs, table tennis and nets—even uniforms. Thank you, Dennis!

Dennis is funding a program though CNEWA’s office in Northeast Africa. Let me know if you want to help too!

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‘Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’

‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.

‘I don’t much care where –‘ said Alice.

‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.

‘–so long as I get somewhere,’ Alice added as an explanation.

Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Do you know where you are going? If you are like me, sucked into the whirlwind of daily routines, occasionally you may stop and ask this question. Where am I going? Why am I running? What is my plan?

During my MBA studies, we placed a lot of emphasis on organizations’ strategies (the combination of competitive actions and business approaches to reach goals and objectives). An important concept I learned was that strategy must always match the situation. There is no winning strategy that can be generally and unconditionally applied across the board to all the organizations.

In order to assess the situation and determine the best strategy for any given company, we learned to use several evaluation techniques (SWOT analysis, value chain analysis, strategic cost analysis, competitive strength assessment, and many more.) Among them, the SWOT analysis was my favorite. In a simple chart it assesses the company’s internal resource Strengths and Weaknesses, and its external Opportunities and Threats.

One day, while playing with charts and numbers, I decided to apply the SWOT analysis to myself. Like an organization, I too have internal strengths and weaknesses; like any company in the word, I too am influenced by opportunities and threats of the environment.

Once I assessed my situation, I was able to make a plan and strategize the right course of action. Still now, when I wonder where I am going, I repeat this simple exercise.

Lent is great opportunity given to us to assess our situation and to refine our plans and strategies in light of our faith. It is a perfect time of reflection and analysis that will lead to renewal and conversion which can change the direction of our lives.

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” Maybe rather than accepting any direction in continuing the course of our lives, during Lent we will have the courage to go “against the current, when that current is a superficial, incoherent, and illusory way of life that often drags us down, making us slaves of evil or prisoners of moral mediocrity.” (Pope Benedict XVI)

In that light, is it any wonder that so many of our Lenten promises have to do with luxuries and expenses we can–and maybe should– avoid?

We can instead spend the time, money and energy on devoting ourselves with fresh energy to our spiritual journey. I told you of my sacrifice. How nice that some of you chose to share your own stories with me?

C.C. in Iowa is giving up an indulgence, sweets and deserts, to give the gift of food to a Northeast African family. E.B. in Wisconsin is giving up a vanity, new clothes, to send a gift wherever the need is greatest. And N.C. in Arkansas is joining me as we give up coffee to give to those who could never dream of such a daily luxury.

The Lenten journey is one of mindful, prayerful reflection. A time to assess, restrategize and a find a more successful path to a close relationship with God. Where are you going?

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Un espresso, per favore!

I made a promise to 45,418 donors of CNEWA. It’s signed, sealed and delivered. There’s no way I can back out now. But before I tell what the promise is, let me digress for just a moment …

The connection between Italians and coffee runs deep. It won’t surprise you that the first espresso machine was patented by a Mr. Luigi Bezzera of Milan.  Espresso for Italians is a routine that cannot be missed, and I definitely comply with the stereotype.  I drink three or four espressos a day!

(By the way, despite the common misperception, one cup of espresso actually contains less caffeine than a cup of American coffee.  About half, to be precise.  So I’m not constantly bouncing off the walls.)

Some more facts about Italians and coffee:

  • Italy’s bars serve 38 million espressos each day, the equivalent of one every two minutes or 14 billion a year.
  • In Trieste, Italy, a University of Coffee was created to spread quality coffee throughout the world.
  • A cup of espresso may look like 194-degree water and the powder of 50 beans, but in reality it is derived from over 1,500 chemical substances. That’s why we Italians sip, smell and savor our espresso.

Now to the promise…

I’m giving up coffee — in all of its beautiful, mouth-watering ways, shapes and forms (espresso, cappuccino, doppio, corretto, macchiato, affogato, lungo…) — for Lent. I’m giving the money I save to a Northeast African widow and her five children so they can buy food for three months.

I made this promise to CNEWA donors in a letter that is reaching their homes right about now.  And I invited them to make CNEWA a part of their Lenten giving plan.

Some of my staff toasting with me as I say goodbye to my beloved espresso.

Without caffeine, I may be a little grouchy and grumpy for … oh … the next 40 days or so.  But come Easter, I’ll finally say again: Un espresso, per favore!

What are you doing for Lent? (Let me know in the comments!)

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I’ve apparently raised a comedian.

Two days ago, when I got home from a week-long business trip out west, my 9 year old son came to the door to greet me. “Oh, this is nice,” I thought, I had really missed him and my wife while I was away, and I was bone-tired after a red-eye flight from LA.

He held his hand up to stop me as I approached.

“And who are you?” he said, accusingly. So hilarious…

In truth, he had a point. I’d been out of town 3 out of the past 4 weeks. I’m glad to be back at home, back at work, back to my routine.

My week in Arizona and California was a whirlwind! I spent a lot of time with my colleague, Leszek, visiting friends and benefactors of CNEWA. A guys’ road trip, complete with incredible views. If any of you have ever driven the I-5 in California, you know what I mean. At one point, the cliffs, water and sun

Seagulls enjoying the view of the Pacific Ocean on I-5

set were so stunning we had to pull over and silently watch. Humbling and gorgeous!

Another time, a fast rain shower left a streak of perfect arced rainbow across the sky…it made me think of the Wizard of Oz.

We attended many meetings and conferences, some of which were formal; others were entertaining and quite moving. President George W. Bush spoke at one of them. Also, the actress from Everybody Loves Raymond, Patricia Heaton, was there and gave a speech by a challenging title: God is in Hollywood (Why aren’t we?). Finally, Cardinal Francis George (who among his many other duties is the Treasurer of CNEWA US) gave an insightful presentation on Catholic Married Life and the American Economic System.

Considerably less famous, but still very important to me, I was able to re-meet the priest who hired me for my first professional job 17 years ago. I was 22 and just out of college, and Father Joseph hired me at the Vatican. Now, he’s back in the United States. Imagine running into him after so long!

I have so many more stories to share, but for now, it’s back to work!

Sitting with one of our long-time donors in Arizona--what a good friend!

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So today is my birthday…but I don’t want to say how old I am. I’m in Phoenix today, and I’ll be in California tomorrow. I’m hoping to make some good steps for CNEWA this week. I love having the chance to talk with our donors face-to-face. I wish I could visit everyone and thank them personally for their generosity and love, but I can’t!
Still, I’m excited to be meeting with the ones I can see. Today I have a special treat. I’m meeting with Cecilia, a 96-year-old donor whose parents were among our first donors when CNEWA was first founded. How exciting is that? Her family has been helping us care for those in need since 1926. What a great birthday present for me!
Generally, I’m not that into my birthday. Sometimes, I don’t even celebrate it. I can even be kind of grouchy. But I remember a few years ago, my wife decided to circumvent my potential bad birthday mood and threw me a surprise party! It was so funny, I really had no idea. That was definitely my birthday highlight.
I do wish I was home to celebrate with my family, but I know I’ll be back there soon–then I will have a few weeks at least without traveling!
A person message for my beautiful wife:
This is for you, the best birthday gift I have received. Without you I’d be like a king without a castle; I’d be like a second after many hours passed; I’d be like a candle without the darkness; I’d be like a book without the pages. Beatrice, this is for you who have been the best gift for the past 12 years.

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