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My Two-Minute Warning: A Life-Defining Moment Chapter 1 My Two-Minute Warning: A Life-Defining Moment
The shadows casting down the brick wall created the warmth and richness of a building that I felt sure seniors would love to call home for many years to come. The Georgian-style building overlooked a beautiful bend in the Tay River and incorporated all the conveniences of comfortable, modern living. We named it Huntington Green. It was our most beautiful housing development to date, and it represented the culmination of months of intense planning and work.
Like a sculptor, I stood back and reflected on this finished work, which had once been nothing more than a vision in my mind. It was ribbon-cutting day, but for me it was so much more. It was the confirmation I needed that I should invest my life in something more significant than simply creating beautiful buildings and making money.
I had just returned from five weeks in Albania, where I not only saw poverty and despair everywhere I looked but had the opportunity to work side-by-side with people who brought hope and help to this country in turmoil. With the fall of many communist governments in Eastern Europe in the early 1990s, Albania remained the most staunchly communist country in the world, as well as the most isolated. The country's communist experiment had left it impoverished. Its three million people depended on ancient farming methods, resulting in a tragically inefficient agricultural industry that was unable to compete in a global economy. After decades of centrally planned farming, the Albanian farmers had no idea how to plan their own crops, assess costs, set prices, or market their product.
Finally, the old regime fell. Within months, the new Albanian government recognized the critical importance of retraining the country's farmers. Creative, entrepreneurial leaders with SEND International, a nonprofit missionary agency, rose to the challenge and offered to send dozens of successful American and Canadian farmers to Albania, to volunteer their time to help Albanian farmers one-on-one. SEND International asked me to lead the project.
I felt underequipped to lead such a project. After all, I didn't even know where Albania was, and I knew nothing about farming. But I did know that my leadership skills had proven themselves in the marketplace and that I desperately wanted to find an avenue to make my life count for something more than making money---to be a part of something bigger than myself.
So, at the invitation of the Albanian government, we took more than seventy farmers to teach the Albanians the basics of farming in a market economy. As they hung out together over two weeks, the Albanians wanted to learn more about our Western farms, our families, and even our faith in God. For me, this project was a first step toward answering the deep longing of my heart for significance.
Each team spent two weeks in their assigned village, working with every farmer that showed any receptivity. They lived in the farmers' homes---cement-block houses crowded together along mud roads, with no phones and animals everywhere. Farmland surrounded each village, and each morning the farmers walked out to their fields carrying their rustic tools with them. They did most of their work by hand. Their homes were cold and dirty, with no indoor plumbing. The typical Albanian farmer owned just a handful of acres, a few chickens, and a cow.
Our Canadian and American farmers, by contrast, owned hundreds of acres and had huge tractors, trucks, and harvesting equipment---and yet they humbly built a bridge of trust with each Albanian family, opening the door to deeper conversation. Often their discussion moved beyond farming to family, politics, and even spiritual topics.
The Albanians' hearts overflowed with spiritual questions. After all, for more than seventy years they had been told that God did not exist. But even as they looked around at the beauty and complexity of nature, they questioned that idea.
I will never forget how this experience affected one sixtyyear- old hog farmer from Tennessee, named Burress Nichols, as well as a fifty-year-old turkey farmer from Vancouver, named Ron Heppel. These busy, successful farmers had paid their own way to Albania to give two weeks of their time. Even while they recovered from jet lag and culture shock, they worked day and night to help dozens of farmers rethink their farming strategies. They slept on old, musty beds, used smelly outhouses---and, at the end of their time, openly cried as they gave their host families good-bye hugs. The entire village came out to say farewell. Burress and Ron had fallen in love with these people and felt awed by the real help and hope they were able to bring.
Burress and Ron had everything in life: loving families, the latest farm equipment, large homes, nice cars, respect in their communities, deep relationships with God---and yet they cried as they left. Why? What had touched their hearts so deeply? How is it possible that all of us had had such a rewarding experience in such an awful place?
Those questions were in the back of my mind as I prepared to join the ribbon-cutting ceremony for our new building. Everyone was there: the mayor and local media, contractors and new residents. The contrast between the two worlds was all too clear to me.
The bright yellow ribbon stretched between the main pillars of the entrance, and cameras captured the moment. Ribbon cuttings always feel like a birth and graduation all rolled into one. It's the beginning of something and the end at the same time. As my partner and I stood in front of the last building we would ever build together---our most beautiful and profitable real estate development ever---I sensed that a new birth was taking place in my life. Even as I spoke to the crowd, my thoughts wandered and I felt a stirring in my heart. Recently I watched a videotape of that event, filmed by a local TV station, and from that perspective, nothing spectacular seemed to be going on. But for me, it was a defining moment.
In the language of the National Football League, this was my two-minute warning. Just before halftime, officials stop the game to make sure that both sides know that two minutes remain before the halftime break. I thought of this as one of the kairos moments in my life (the Greek word kairos means 'the right, proper, or favorable time'), and I knew a new phase of life was appearing on the horizon in my life and the life of my family.
As I stood at the ribbon cutting, I felt I could almost hear the bulldozers one hundred years from now pushing the building into a great pile to make way for something new, something to replace what we had worked so hard to create. I felt that within a hundred years this building would either be torn down or become a rundown tenement in a 'bad section of town.' Did I want to invest my entire life in developing buildings that would only be torn down?
You too may have your own kairos moment, perhaps when you realize you are spending too many precious hours in meetings, or perhaps when you've tackled yet another urgent project, only to have it canceled or altered because of a merger. Perhaps you spend your time solving major issues, which, in the long run, are relatively insignificant.
This morning, at a coffee shop, my friend Rob told me that he could easily continue growing his company at exponential rates, but he also knows in the end it will be just like Monopoly: 'All the pieces go back in the box.' Many of us spend much of our time driving the next quarter's earnings, even while our potential impact on eternity slips past us on all sides.
At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, my mind kept flashing back to Albania, to the farm families in those remote villages; to the old ladies with wrinkled faces and eyes filled with despair;