Something a bit different
WELCOME! I am excited to be bringing you my very first Podcast! I thought I would mix it up a bit and bring you some occasional interviews with inspirational people who are flexing their creative muscles. You've probably gathered by now that I am passionate about encouraging others to explore their inherent creativity. I so often find that people really don't recognise that they are using creative processes in their day to day life. I love to highlight the creativity that someone brings to problem solving, that they haven't previously noticed.
Episode 1: Sarah Durham, Marketing Executive and Missionary
Sarah Durham is an incredible woman who is on a journey so amazing and inspiring that I wanted to share it with you.
I actually recorded this interview a little while ago now, but I felt that I needed to wait to post it. Sarah and her family have had a long and complicated wait for visas to be granted. I wanted this post to be a little celebration of the start of their new journey.
Next week Sarah and her family leave for the next part of their adventure in LIV Village in South Africa. LIV Village is a unique project where orphaned children are fostered and raised in a loving home. The Village is set up to self sustaining and also to provide jobs and resources for the surrounding community.
As this is my first interview, please bear with me - it will be worth your while I am so grateful to Sarah for agreeing to be my first guest.
Scroll down for a full transcript if you prefer a good read. Otherwise, grab a cuppa and hit play...
To find out more about the work that LIV Village does, head to www.livvillage.com. To keep up with Sarah's adventure, you can follow her blog "An Unexpected Journey". If you're interested in checking out Youth With A Mission, the info is all there at www.ywam.org
Episode 1: Sarah Durham, Marketing Executive and Missionary
C- “Hi there, welcome to the created creative files. I’m Caroline Burton, and today I am talking to Sarah Durham about her story of a move, that on the face of it may seem equal parts crazy and inspirational.”
So Sarah, three years ago you packed up your marketing career and you, your husband Sanjet and your three boys moved to Chico, to the YWAM base there. That’s a pretty bold move, can you tell us a little about what led you to that point, and then I’d love to talk to you a little bit about your background in marketing.”
S- “Sure, so it was actually about thirteen years ago now that just out of the blue I just felt a really strong sense that God was saying that we should do a YWAM (which stands for Youth With A Mission) discipleship training school. And so I shared that with my husband who is a lot more adventurous than me and he immediately said ‘yes, we should do that!’. So we had that at the back of our minds and it actually took us ten years to get there, because we were just sensing when the right time was for our family, and so we worked towards that. Ironically at the time that we actually went, I was in a senior position in marketing. I was head of marketing for Tower Insurance and I left that job there. My husband also had a small construction company that was going well and it was obviously at a time when the construction and building industry was ‘in boom’, and we just packed up. Initially we thought that we would just be going for five months and that it would be a great experience and we would learn a lot and grow closer to God. I really had the idea of ‘short-term’ in my mind, but God has a way of changing you and working in your heart.”
C- “So at that stage you kind of thought you might come back and pick up your marketing career where you left off?”
S- “Yes, to be honest before we left our lifestyle was a little bit crazy because (and I think any working mum would know) that to be able to juggle a senior role as well as children is pretty full on. In many ways before we left I felt like I was on some kind of treadmill that I just couldn’t get off; there was always so much to do. And there wasn’t much quality of enjoying life, but instead just always being under pressure to get things done. So I had a sense, even before we went, that this lifestyle wasn’t sustainable. I feel like if we hadn’t had that strong sense of what we were meant to do, there would have been some health or relationship crisis that would have stopped me in my tracks anyway.”
C- “Right, that’s good self-awareness there! So you worked for Tower Insurance Company here in New Zealand. I guess that marketing is quite a creative job, so could you tell us a little bit about what you were doing there?"
S-“Sure, so I spent twenty years in marketing up until that point and had worked for other organisations like American Express, Yellow Pages and Vodaphone. My role at Tower was head of marketing. So that was basically overall responsibility for the entire marketing plan, including all the different mediums we used like television and direct digital which was becoming much bigger and stronger. I mean, there is definitely a creative element to marketing and I do really enjoy that aspect. It’s interesting because I used to say ‘I’m not really a very creative person, but then I realised that I love brainstorming creative ideas. For example, sometimes we would do, almost internal marketing if you’d like, so we might be trying to change a particular behaviour within. For example, our customer service team would do some really creative internal campaigns - themed campaigns that we could execute. We'd use different elements, like a video or newspaper package with lollies. So we could do more creative things when we were marketing internally. And one of the aspects of that role was dealing with our senior management team, the CEO and occasionally the board, so it was challenging but also really enjoyable.”
C-“Right, and so you were talking about how you had previously felt that you weren’t a creative person, but you’ve obviously identified that brainstorming creative ideas was something that really drove you, and probably still does I expect. And so how did you cultivate that in yourself? I’ve talked a little bit in my blog about how we can cultivate creative ideas, by the people we bounce ideas off and such. Can you identify some ways that you yourself do this?"
S-“I definitely think working in a group helps a lot. If, for example, you’re brainstorming ideas for a campaign you have a list of what you want to achieve. I think that with creativity and the setting that I worked in it helps to have understanding of what your goal is, so that you can say ‘ok, this is our goal, but let’s brainstorm and be really creative about different ways of achieving that’. You can then feed of each other’s ideas. And I know for me it’s really important to not box yourself in and define what creativity is. I think that because I thought I wasn’t good at art or drawing or the classic things like creating or sewing, but in some of the more typical creative settings I would say ‘I’m not a very creative person’ and I think that’s wrong to begin with. I think we are all creative, just in different ways, and so I think my creativity would come through ideas and themes. Creative ways to achieve a goal or to get a message across. There is a lot of structure and planning in marketing but there is definitely an element of creativity. And you also have to be able to critique other people’s creative ideas because you work with creative people like art designer and copyrighters and you need to be able to critique what they’re presenting you.”
C-“Sure, and I guess there must be a fine line between staying within a design brief but actually being able to let that creativity flow in different directions in order to get the optimum result, so that’s quite a challenge in itself isn’t it?”
S-“Yes definitely. It actually brings to mind a time when I was working a Vodaphone and there was a creative idea presented for a television commercial and it was very humorous and I think we all got very caught up in the humour of it and we really liked the concept of what we were doing and so we went ahead and produced it and the very first time I saw it on TV I realised that it wasn’t going to work. So you also have to make sure there is a degree of objectivity, so that you don’t get so in love with an idea itself that you haven’t stepped back to see is this going to achieve what our goal is? So I think in that commercial setting there is a balance between the two.”
C- So Sarah I am particularly excited to talk to you about the next step that you guys are taking, because to some what you did three years ago might seem crazy or out-there, but you’re taking it next level now and you’re now looking forward to now heading off to South Africa. Would you like to tell us a little bit about what you’re going to be doing over there?”
S-“Sure. So, I’ll just go back a little bit first. The YWAM DTS was five months and part of it was an eight week outreach and we spent that time in South Africa. We were really, I suppose, captivated by that nation. I think that God puts certain people groups and nations on your heart, and there’s just something in you that makes you feel like you want to make an impact in that nation. We are also recognising that there is also so much we can do wherever we are and whatever country we are in, there is always a lot of need. And so we really felt that when we were in South Africa and we spent about four weeks of that time in a place called LIV Village. LIV Village was born about five years ago and I guess it is kind of like an orphanage but the children that come there are fostered and so that is their home for life. They don’t come there with a view to finding them a permanent home - that is their permanent home. So they are fostered with a mother, there is a school there so that they can educate them. And the founder of that village, Tich Smith, really wanted to take one of South Africa’s biggest issues which is its orphans and vulnerable children and turn it into a solution by raising up future leaders. It is incredibly inspirational when you go there to see the difference, not only in the children’s lives and their foster mothers, but also the neighbouring area where they give a lot of food and have a medical centre and a church which they invite the local community into. It is an inspirational place, and to be honest it’s a privilege to be heading back there. So we did first spend eighteen months back in Chico serving there, and we came back home to New Zealand in December to prepare for going to South Africa. We are applying for visas and once we have our visas we hope to go for around about three years, but we’ll see what transpires.”
C-“So what will your role be when you go back over there?”
S-“I suppose that’s one of the cool things, and I’ve shared this a couple of times before, if you thought that God was setting you up for being a missionary, which I have to say I never saw myself becoming. In fact, when I was in my early twenties I think I might have distinctly said to God please don’t send me to Africa as a missionary so I see the irony in what we’re doing now. But you would think if we were going to be doing missionary work that we’d be, you know, teachers or nurses or even a builder which my husband is, they seem like more practical skills, but it’s really awesome how God is using my marketing background and skills. So I will actually be in the marketing team at LIV Village, they have a constant need to grow awareness of what they’re doing and they’re already looking to expand. They’re already looking at purchasing land in Johannesburg and Cape Town to build more villages to have more children. Their vision is to impact thousands of children across South Africa. So I will be part of that team and we will be doing event management, fundraising and just raising awareness of the wonderful work that they’re doing there.”
C-“Well that’s exciting. So obviously it’s a completely different type of business that you’re going to be marketing, do you see new challenges and new skills that you’re going to have to work on? Or do you think that all the stuff you’ve worked on is pretty transferable?”
S-“Definitely, that’s definitely going to be a challenge. My background has been in the corporate world working for services, like Vodaphone and American Express as I was saying before, and not-for-profit is quite different and fundraising is quite a specific skillset in itself. I did have some exposure to that when I was working for YWAM in Chico, but it’ll be different again. Of course it’s a completely different country, so you’re dealing with a different target audience. I mean, they’ve already done a lot of great work, so it’s learning from what they’ve done and just seeing where I can add value. Often a lot of marketing is just getting things done as well, like some of it is creativity but some of it is just execution, like ‘this needs to be done, let’s get this done, let’s do a great job’. I’m definitely big about excellence in communication - how do they currently communicate to people that are interested in the work that they’re doing and to donors, the business sector. They have relationship with government there, so I’m hoping to understand that and just see where I can add value.”
C-“I’m fascinated by the scope of the scheme, reading on the LIV Village website, it’s not just an orphanage and a village, the scope seems to extend to the provision of jobs in a range of industries. I was reading about agriculture, clothing manufacture, label printing, flower growing, it’s quite extensive. Is that jobs for the surrounding villages or is that something that they actually are bringing kids, as they’re growing up in this environment, into? Looking ahead to where they can find vocational training? What is the purpose and background to that?”
S-“It is those things but it is also for raising funds. One of the goals of the village is to self-sustaining. They have had the generosity of the government (which) has funded some of what they’re doing and they get a lot of (support) from people in South Africa and they have some big churches in the U.K. as well that support them. But they want to support a lot of the work that they are doing as well. So a big drive behind the eight different businesses they have was to raise some of their own funds - but it does create jobs. They employ a number of people from the local community. The local community where the village is, is actually very poor, with a very high unemployment rate of sixty percent, so they’re making a difference in that community already by job creation. Also, you’re right that, as they’re raising up the children in the village, the oldest ones will actually be about seventeen years old now. It does create some options where they could actually go in and work in some of the businesses or to work with each child individually to find their talents are or where God is leading each one of them.”
C-“That’s a real feeling of hope for those kids, they’ve got something that they can look forward to and there’s a future for them that they can actually see right in front of them which is awesome. Thank you so much Sarah for telling us about your exciting journey, it’s really, really inspiring and I know that people listening, like me, are probably feeling pretty challenged and inspired by what you’ve done and not only what you’ve given up but also what you’re gaining. What do you want to share, just in closing, about the biggest thing you’ve gained from this experience?”
S-“Thank you, I suppose I’ve been challenged with thinking that we’ve only got one life. We want to look back and really feel like we have lived with great purpose and that we have made a difference. Whether that is just in our own families or in our local communities, or its further afield. For us that caused us (to go) further afield. And (don't) underestimate the difference you can make (or get) too caught up with the trappings; the "standard", the "normal" and what society is telling about how to live our lives. But be open-minded and to say "maybe there’s a greater adventure out there for me that I’m being called to". So I think we should be brave and be open, and certainly if you have a faith, to really hear and listen to what you think God’s purpose is for your life because, I know for us it is a huge privilege what we get to do and we’re so excited and we love the difference that we get to make.”
C-“Awesome, thanks so much Sarah that’s super inspiring, and I really appreciate your time today.”
Transcription services courtesy of Bethany Burton
Podcast editing, plus intro and outro music by Barnabas Burton