August 18, 2016 – I am 35,000 feet in the air and staring aimlessly out the window as the 737 glides over the Midwest. It’s difficult to capture the right words to close my journey with Francis. The thoughts spinning through my head are strange to write publicly. It’s more of my own cathartic journey, but there are so many people who have been along for this ride that I feel compelled to share my thoughts.
I close my eyes and see snippets of the trip – the outrageous journey that started in New Orleans and juxtaposed 1926 miles of driving (thanks Michael) with 3,294 miles of flying. (Las Vegas to San Francisco to Colorado to Maryland to Washington DC to New York and back to DC again.) As I’m flying between Chicago and LA, Francis is also in the air, overlooking another continent somewhere between Addis Ababa and Doula. The world is large and world is small.
I close my eyes and see Francis eating a monstrous ice cream cone in west Texas, riding a “coaster roller” in Vegas, getting thrown off of a mechanical bull in Fort Worth, stroking the white hair of the residents he blessed at SunnyView and Integrace, ordering a double double cheeseburger at an In and Out Burger in Arizona, wearing Juliet Holt’s crazy glasses on Bourbon Street and hugging everyone he came in contact with through twelve states. He always had a smile, a hearty laugh and shared his heart of gold, leaving a wake of good will along the way.
What a transforming trip for me and for so many people Francis touched along the way! iN2L CEO Tom Bang told me about a book called the Power of One – that spirit came out again and again through this journey. When Francis first wrote about Jacky the goat I sent that email to about 100 people and everybody liked the story. Sally Plank from Front Porch, however, actually did something with it. She got her residents fired up about the goats. She arranged a Skype call with Francis and raised over $11,000 for a separate project in Cameroon.
When we started the fundraising campaign at the Pioneer Network Conference, Chris Perna was moved to not simply donate to the GOATT Project, he wanted to dedicate his donation on behalf of Hannah Thomas. Francis has taken that idea to heart and will set up a separate wing for the recreation center in her honor – a wing that will focus on children with disabilities mingling with the local elders. Janice Dabney listened to Francis deliver his closing keynote at the Pioneer Network Conference. Everyone clapped and cheered, but Janice proactively chased us down to have the trip extended for three days for Francis to spread his message to the Labor Management Project in Manhattan. Each one of those people could have sat on the sidelines, but those three acts will have a far reaching impact on the lives of thousands of people 7,289 miles from iN2L headquarters in Denver.
And the ultimate power of one is Francis, who grew up watching his father beat his 3 wives. He watched women and the elderly in his country be treated like cattle and bootstrapped his education with some providential help to get to a different place. He, as one man, stood up and refused to let injustice continue. His 26 brothers and sisters, the village he lived in, pretty much the entire country, all went along with the status quo and simply looked the other way, silently letting these things continue. But not Francis. He stood up and stared the ruling class down. And they blinked. Because of him the world has changed. Through the past 17 days I have been in the presence of greatness. We all were.
Thanks to so many people for being a part of this journey:
To my brother Jim for coming to New Orleans at the last minute with Ruby and Ryan.
For my three kids JP, Nathan and Perrin, who each in their own way are changing the world as their father delightfully watches from the sidelines.
For Zack and Eli for capturing the journey in living color, we anxiously await the movie release in November.
For the visits coordinated at SunnyView, Integrace, NorthStar, Isabella and Kings Harbor, and the residents whose smiles at those meetings fueled Francis for a 1000 more miles.
For Juliet and Dale at iN2L, who kept everything on track in every way and let us know what hotel we were supposed to stay at.
For all of the staff at iN2L who do all of the work and keep us profitable so I can live my own dreams in jaunts like this.
For everyone who donated to the GOATT Project. Paul Riccio from Vertis Therapy did a phenomenal job vetting Francis and CDVTA, the money donated will go to the project.
For Francis’ wife, Roseline, and their children Dave, Freddy, Amy, Lea and Florina. Thanks for sharing Francis with the United States. Every day he spoke glowingly about all of you. He has a bag full of US keepsakes for all of you.
For the dozens of people we randomly met as we gallivanted across the US, I have honestly never in my life felt as patriotic as I have in the last two weeks. Francis was embraced by everyone he came in contact with – truly stunning. If you want to feel better about our country turn off the cable news channels and say “Hi!” to a stranger.
And last but not least, for Francis himself, simply for allowing me to walk behind him, in awe, for 17 days. He has changed my perspective of sacrifice, of joy, of passion, of appreciation, of exuberance and of faith. I’m thousands of miles away from him right now, but his words ring in my ear: “suffering leads to perseverance, perseverance leads to character, character leads to faith, faith leads to hope.” My own walk of faith has been filled with plenty of stumbles and potholes along the way, but Francis, through all of the raucousness of roller coasters, hookah lounges and foot massages, was at peace. He is at peace with his life, with his God, with his journey. Jackie Harris from Integrace knows me as well as anyone in the world, she was able to see and articulate what Francis was changing in my own perspective of life. I was thrilled to have a front row view of the man and I’ll never be the same.
My last picture on this journey comes from a cemetery in San Fernando, California. The journey of iN2L started with my Mom’s death 18 years ago. I snuck into the cemetery this morning where she is buried to say a prayer of thanks to her for starting this journey that led to my ultimately meeting Francis. The journey of Francis and CDVTA started with his father dying 18 years ago in Cameroon. Call it coincidence if you will, but Francis and I prefer to think that this journey
was ordained by those two people, driven by a power much stronger than we can understand. The two of us know that his father, reared in a village in the distant forests of Cameroon, and my mother, modestly raised in the heartland of Nebraska, are toasting tonight the journey their boys went on and the thousands of lives that will be changed because of it.
Francis has graciously invited me to be a part of the grand opening of the recreation center the GOATT Project funds will build. I, with honor, will accept his invitation (I hope with a few friends). In the meantime, keep your eyes and ears open. When you least expect it, a knight from Cameroon may show up at your door. Make sure that your door is unlocked or you might miss the journey of a lifetime.
Over and out.