Courageous Leadership

Henrietta Blyth, CEO, Open Doors UK&I

As leaders, we have all been mauled, be it by lack of self confidence, criticism from colleagues, external condemnation, death or harm to staff or those we serve, or even outright failure. How do we find the courage to keep going - knowing the risks - and avoid the temptation to back out? 

Years ago, my father was badly mauled by a neighbour’s guard dogs while he was delivering the parish magazine. The neighbour took him to A&E and had the wound dressed but during the night Dad’s arm became so swollen that I had to take him back to the emergency room. There the medics urged me to report the attack to the police. They said, “We’ve never seen a dog attack this bad.” Eventually, my father recovered physically. But for some time, even though we have always owned dogs as pets, he would stay in the car whenever we approached a stranger's house, unwilling to risk another assault. 

Over the years I have come to understand how he felt. As leaders, we have all been mauled, be it by lack of self confidence, criticism from colleagues, external condemnation, death or harm to staff or those we serve, or even outright failure. How do we find the courage to keep going - knowing the risks - and avoid the temptation to back out? 

We need to remind ourselves of who we are. I have a note at the front of my Bible: “I am God’s beloved child”, dated 20.10.95. He created me and He knows me completely. I have learnt that, in every role, He uses both my weaknesses and my strengths – indeed, sometimes He seems to use my weaknesses the most. When the organisation I led was failing and the finance director resigned, I walked into a colleague’s office and burst into tears. I was horribly embarrassed. My colleague told me a few days later that he had found my reaction very helpful. “It showed me you’re human and you really care,” he said. 

We also need to remind ourselves who it is that has called us to this work. When Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego faced the fiery furnace in the book of Daniel in the Bible, they declared, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (Daniel 3:16-18). Those three Israelites knew their God. He could save, but He might choose not to. Either way, they were certain that God is good, God is sovereign, and God’s plans would stand. 

I am privileged every day to see this same certainty demonstrated by Christians facing severe persecution around the world, as part of my work as the CEO of Open Doors UK & Ireland. In north Nigeria, when Boko Haram attacked Pastor Marcos’ community in 2014, he saw villages ransacked, churches burned and men and women murdered. When people saw the blood spilt in the churches they were very reluctant to return. But Pastor Marcos stood firm in his knowledge of God: “When we walk with the Lord and these things happen to you there is disappointment, fear and loss of trust and hope. Honestly at the time my own spiritual hope was greatly shaken because I was so afraid. But still the word of God kept reminding me that, for anyone who puts their trust in God, He won’t forsake them.” Gradually Pastor Marcos called people back to the church and now it has almost doubled in size.

When I need encouragement, I remind myself of who I am and who the Lord is and I think of all the witnesses who have chosen to trust Him against all the odds. And I remind myself that, as the author of the book of Proverbs wrote, if I trust in the Lord with all my heart and lean not on my own understanding, submitting all my ways to Him, He will make my paths straight (Proverbs 3:5-6). 

I’d love to invite you to read more stories of extraordinary courage, like Pastor Marcos’s, at opendoorsuk.org.

Henrietta Blyth

CEO, Open Doors UK&I

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