Our Teens Will Change the World

June 25th, 2012 by Rich Christiansen

I spent the last several weeks with my CCD Team, my Power Team of Teenagers. These brilliant, incredible young men and young women will change the world.

This past year, they set their primary goal and their reward associated with their goal, to do a humanitarian project in Guatemala. Indeed we just returned from this epic adventure. We traveled into the remote highlands of the Mayan villages in Guatemala via a 12-hour bus ride and eventually came to a beautiful little village called Nuevo Conception.

Upon arrival we were greeted by an entire village showing an outpouring of love. These villagers live in huts with dirt floors and bamboo walls. They protect their chickens and ducks by tethering the birds’ feet to the inside of the huts. There is no running water inside their homes either. Choice Humanitarian (the organization that we went with) did, however; help bring water to the village.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This was a wonderful exercise in helping. The teens worked hand-in-hand with the locals to build a hospital and improve a school. It was amazing that despite no common language, we were able to connect. It wasn’t long after we got there that the children were all instantly engaged in games and interacting with high fives.

One young man named Zach Van Pelt led one of the service projects (for his Eagle Project in Boy Scouts). He gathered and coordinated taking computers into this little village school. The school has only been established two years prior. Some of the students walk four hours each way to attend that school, and the inside is as barren as an empty basement. They have nothing, yet the teacher comes and teaches them for several hours a day.

Zach was able to bring nine computers and you should have seen the kids light up with delight. Again, despite the language barriers, the teens were able to teach these intelligent and capable kids to use the computer (particularly the Excel Spreadsheet). After working in the school we all left with a deep commitment that we were going to help, support, and enable that school through the years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Guatemala service project was a beautiful experience on all levels. Of course some of us got somewhat sick (diarrhea, vomiting, and the whole nine yards) regardless of the stellar attempts to retain good sanitary conditions. Simply put, we were in a third-world country.

These young men and young women worked their guts out. I think they worked harder physically than they ever have in their life. They carried sandbags, dug trenches, and worked in the school.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We all had a common feeling and a common thread as we were coming home, and it is hard to communicate. Indeed, the experience was so deep and so meaningful that these teens knew it would be difficult to find the words to express to their friends back home where their biggest concern is, “Should I have a coke or fries with my hamburger?” The teens (and us adults too) will always remember the contrast of our life back home to the kids living in Nuevo Conception with no material possessions.

As we were coming home I issued the team this challenge. 

“Your generation had the opportunity and the challenge to help alleviate poverty in third world areas.”

Each of the teens committed to this. They have a deep desire in their hearts and a resolve to make changes.

We live in a world where so many people are down on our youth, but I’m here to tell you that after working with this group of 20 young men and young women this past week–they are far ahead of where I ever was (or where most of my peers were) at this age.

They are deep hearted.
They are intellectual.
They are thoughtful.
They are great leaders.

I look forward to what’s to come. The world we live in now is very interesting. Often times it is painted as a negative place, but my perception is that we have an incredible opportunity to make a difference.

In the last 30 years or so we have doubled the world population, while actually reducing hunger. There is less war than there has ever been before. With the Internet there is openness and access to information. I think that the final challenge and frontier is to help bring our worldwide neighbors out of poverty.

In this little village of Nuevo Conception the poverty is largely a result of government corruption and suppression, but the people are bright-eyed, loving, and generous. I see incredible opportunities on all fronts.

I challenge each of you to provide humanitarian opportunities to youth and to yourself. Serve, reach out, and get outside of your own skin. You will love it. There is a level of happiness and satisfaction that comes with serving others that you can’t find anywhere else. A special thanks to Choice Humanitarian, the group we traveled and worked with.

As the young men and young women were loading back into the bus, their eyes were teary and full of hope as they said goodbye to their new friends in Nuevo Conception. They…I…we have a new perspective on the world.

As most of you know, one of my primary objectives in life right now is to help educate young men and young women in third-world countries and I solicit your assistance and support in reaching this cause and challenge you to do good in the world.

Laurel Christiansen Teaching Again

June 18th, 2012 by Rich Christiansen

In May of 1998 my mother Laurel Christiansen passed away after several long bouts with cancer. My mother was a young woman. She was only 59 when she died. My father is actually fifteen years older than my mom and she always figured she would be a widow for a long period of time. Much to all of our terrible dismay it was just tragic as we watched the cancer absolutely annihilate my mom. Despite fighting a very hard, valiant fight, indeed she did pass away.

As a beautiful young lady she graduated from college and went to a rural community to teach art at the local high school. (She later taught elementary school in town.) She had several marriage proposals, but declined each one. Then, much to everyone’s surprise she began dating my father–the blind county attorney.

At the time my father was nearly 40 years old, and had somewhat given up on the prospect of ever marrying. “After all,” he wondered, “who would want to marry a blind man?”

My father lost both of his eyes at the age of six; due to a rare melanoma in his eyes that first took one eye and then the other. (That is also a miraculous story that I’ll share at some point.)
 
My parents began dating, soon fell in love, and got married in 1962. I was born several years later and the rest of the story is just a wonderful, true, romantic love story.

My mother loved art. She was a talented, beautiful, sensitive artist. She loved to teach children. She was known as the master first-grade teacher. Every child that came through her class got special attention, and particularly the underdog whom she would take under her wing and help advance.

She also loved her 4 boys more than life itself. Our parents did a phenomenal job of raising us four boys.

When my mother was going to college she struggled greatly. She was the first in her family to go to college, and at that stage it wasn’t very popular to educate women. But my mother was determined to receive an education. She selected a very difficult university and for several years lived off of a bag of wheat and powdered milk. It kept her alive though. Through dedication, hard work, and effort she was able to get her college education.

There have been two women in my life the first being my mother and the second now being my beautiful wife. Boys run rampant in our family. Of all of the grandchildren on one side of the family, there are 52 grandchildren, but only two granddaughters. So women are a very much an anomaly in the family lines.

One of the greatest honors and tributes and memories of great sensitivity to my heart is this. Each year I return to my hometown, and my brothers and I present a scholarship in my mother’s name. This is given to a young woman–preferably the first in her family to receive a college education. We also give preference to someone who is going into the education field.

Yesterday I was able to go present this scholarship to a young woman named Bailey Smith. There were actually four individuals that we honored, but Bailey Smith won the scholarship. A lot of emotions welled up.

I took my oldest son John and my father John, to present the scholarship. We presented this award and we had a joyful experience. Then I took my son up to visit my mother’s grave. When we got there I had a delightful conversation with mom, telling her how much we loved her and missed her and how grateful we were for her love and for the example she had set in our family and the tone that she set going forward.

I looked up and much to my surprise there is a brand new elementary school being built within site of her grave. In fact, her grave is the closest to the school.

I thought, “How fitting, Mom is going to be teaching again. She loved children, particularly children that were struggling. She was always rooting for the underdog.”

I have to admit that we actually had tears come to our eyes as we thought about mom “teaching” kids again. There is no place on the earth that she would rather have her grave then adjacent to a school so she can watch all the little kids playing.

It is with great honor that I honor my mother and the incredible, amazing women and men who have the courage to be trend breakers and set an example. College very difficult for my mother, but the result has been a legacy of individuals who greatly value education. Her goal has made all the difference in my life, my children’s lives, and the generations to come.

Mom, even though you are not on this earth, I know that you are aware of your positive influence and I honor you publicly for the amazing example that you set for our family.

Incredible Power of 1

June 11th, 2012 by Rich Christiansen

One very humble small man, wearing home-spun clothing, walked across India. Hundreds of thousands followed and British rule was overthrown. And so we see the potential power of one for good. Unfortunately, the inverse is true as well.

When I last left you we were extreme zig zagging and preparing to hike out of Havasupi Falls in Arizona. Our group waited until the sun was starting to set and we began hiking out of the canyon.  The trail is approximately 10 miles long,  1,600 vertical feet total, and it was 100+ degree at 6:00 p.m.

Throughout the entire scout trip there had been one young man who had ignored all the rules, including the buddy system rules. In fact, he took it a step further and intentionally took every opportunity to hide behind rocks, or do his own little thing.

As we hiked up the trail that evening, it soon began to get dark. Our patient, incredible ecclesiastical leader took it upon himself to watch this young man. Several times the monitor saw this young man hop off the trail, and sit down behind a bush as everyone else was passing.

I was in the very back sweeping, helping the boys who were struggling a bit coming up the trail. One of my tactics for keeping the kids going was to just start talking about what we were going to have for breakfast. Pretty soon everyone was deeply engaged in talking about their waffles stacked four deep, their eggs-over-easy, and what kind of bacon they were going to have. In the middle of our salivating over breakfast, this young man once again disappeared.

In horror our leader dropped his pack and ran back. He could not find the young man, so he also ran ahead to check with another group. No such luck. They hadn’t seen him. We figured that somehow he must have come along, so we proceeded up the path.

Finally we got to the last phase of the hike–a very tight 1,600 foot high set of zig zags, switch backs going up the face of the cliff. At this point it was approximately 10:00 p.m. and our prospects were very concerning as we still hadn’t encountered this young man.

Our leader ran ahead to validate that indeed they had not seen the boy from our group. I stayed back.

At one point we saw lights way, way down in the canyon, so I ran back down the canyon. To my dismay indeed this was not the young man or the group following us. I hiked back up.

After finding another large scout group I requested that they help scour the canyon. Then I raced back up the canyon to discover indeed he had been found.

I raced back down to call off the search party.

On the other side of the story we had some powerful “ones”. We had one 16-year-old man who, despite how difficult the trail was, carried my pack. There was one dear friend, who sat and waited for me as I was going back down the last time. There was a scoutmaster deeply concerned. There were prayers offered. Indeed the power of one is great to both extremes.

I think in all of our organizations and in all of our situations we need to make sure that we seek out the “ones” that align well, in order to get maximum enjoyment and production out of life.

I love the book “Good to Great” by Collins. One of his statements is, “the key to a successful business is getting the right people on the right bus in the right seats”. Indeed in business and in life, that is the case.

Now in the case of this young man he is learning and progressing so we can’t kick him off the bus. However in our efforts and enterprises, we really need to have people understand the implications.

In this scout scenario, hours and hours were wasted at great sacrifice to the entire group. It’s often that we forget how our individual selfish behaviors can so dramatically impact others. Our decisions have lasting impact with all those around us and it’s really important that we remember that we get people who are team players. I always say I’d far rather have B talent that give A effort, than A talent that give B effort.

Extreme Zig Zags

June 5th, 2012 by Rich Christiansen

Thunk. ZZZZZZZZZ. Screech, go the tires. I look over to Matt who is desperately wrenching on the wheel and veering across both lanes of traffic. His 2001 Ford Excursion is in a full-out skid, doing 75 mph down a mountain pass, dropping into Kingmen, Arizona. I look in the backseat to see the looks of fear and panic on the faces of the six young men in our vehicle. We are on our way to hike Lake Havasupi Falls in the Grand Canyon.

By a freak of nature Matt is able to take his SUV from sliding to the extreme left zag along a cliff edge, to a right zag, and the safety of the shoulder as he pulls the Ford Expedition to a complete stop. I immediately remove the kids from the vehicle and have them stand along the hillside to ensure their safety.

We are very lucky that we were able to get the car stopped. Indeed, later the mechanic told us in most of these situations the car rolls. Apparently, the individual who last worked on the brake calibers, had failed to properly secure the bolts. The calibers on the front left wheel had completely seized up and caused the slide.

This week in the Grand Canyon I replayed this near miss and the zig zagging on that road multiple times.  I thought a lot about what do we do when zig zags are imposed on us—especially since sometimes the path is an extreme zig zag.


Once we got to Lake Havasupi there was a very difficult switchback trail down. At one point the path drops into what is called Mooney Falls. It requires extreme zig zagging and often requires holding onto chains and ropes and carefully working ones way down the face of the 200-foot cliff.

Today as I sit here in the shade of this beautiful environment remembering the events of this entire week, I shudder as I contemplate what could have happened had we actually rolled that Expedition with eight passengers. I also start to understand that sometimes we are forced to zigzag physically, mentally, emotionally, and even spiritually. Events cause us to react in drastic ways because everything is not always perfectly methodical and thought through. We have to take detours, and give ourselves time to recover.

Today we are preparing to hike out of Havasupi. We have 1600 feet of elevation gain and 10 miles of trail on this hot day. It’s going to be extremely difficult to zig zag back out of this canyon. But I finally landed on a thoughtful conclusion. We saw a group with t-shirts that read, “Come what may and love it.” I’ve decided that is the attitude that we need to apply to life.

Each day is indeed a precious gift.
-    We have to cut ourselves, and those around us, a little slack.
-    We have to add the attitude of “Come what may and love it.”
-    In the end we must embrace every zig and every zag.

Sometimes we have to act extremely, and wrench that wheel back into alignment. But even when life requires extreme zig zagging–it is a good life.

A final thought: Tomorrow we leave for Guatemala with a group of young people ready to provide humanitarian service. They are great young people. From the smiles on their faces we see they embrace the attitude of “Come what may and love it.”

Look for updates from our trip.