I have integrity in business on my mind today, as I absorb the sad news that Alec Hill, beloved president of InterVarsity USA, is resigning due to bone marrow cancer. I left IVCF staff in 2001, the year Alec began (Rich served as a National Field Director under Alec’s wise leadership for another five years). So I mostly knew Alec through Rich, and the few days we roamed the South together in 2004 on a bus full of Pilgrims for Reconciliation. But I was impressed with the book he wrote, Just Business, while a business professor at Seattle Pacific University. I remember the confidence it gave me to see that title with our incoming president’s name on it. “Here is a man of integrity. We can trust his leadership.” Such integrity at the highest level of leadership was a great gift under the presidency of Steve Hayner as well, of course. Both men brought stability to the organization after a tumultuous prior decade, and that gave us room to breathe. Trust in our leaders engenders freedom to risk; it creates a safe meadow where sheep may graze and explore. Within that meadow staff-workers became free to clarify strategic initiatives and re-focus on chapter (campus fellowship) growth and chapter planting. Though I’ve only observed from a distance, my sense is that IV staff under Alec’s presidency trained their sights on those two goals with an unprecedented discipline and that the organization has grown in numbers, energy, and effectiveness.
Integrity in business and politics is noteworthy in its absence in Eastern Europe and Eurasia. I had never really thought through the deep and wide implications of corruption before our time here. At bottom, it breeds a lack of trust. Rich’s back was in pain the other day and we asked a Malaysian doctor, a board member of the ministry here in Kazakhstan, what ibuprofen he would recommend we purchase at the local apteka (drugstore). “None of them,” was his firm reply. “You don’t know what worthless or even harmful substance they’ve swapped into that foil packet marked as ibuprofen.” He whipped out his doctor’s kit and handed us some ibuprofen from a source he trusted. We were grateful, but sad, thinking of what it’s like here (and in much of Africa, etc.) never to know what medicine, or lack thereof, one is really buying.
In some of the countries we’ve visited it is virtually impossible to get a college degree without paying bribes to one’s professors. Some professors are so blatant as to inform their students of the price of an A, B, or C the first day of class. Once the price is paid, attendance drops and academic work is often simply not done. The results of this are hydra-like, fanning out into every sector of society. How can motorists trust the bridges they drive on, knowing that the civil engineers who designed those bridges may have never attended class or honestly passed an exam? How can an employer possibly know whether a graduate is truly qualified to be hired? Well, no worries; there’s often another system for hiring. It’s called a bribe. The cost to become a teacher in one country we visited recently is several thousand dollars, paid upwards to various school administrators.
We listened recently as the parents of a preschooler in that country, IFES staff, lamented the side-fees they needed to pay in cash to their preschool teacher if they had any hope of their son advancing to kindergarten or being shielded from bullying. Rich, ever the entrepreneurial optimist, jumped in with, “That sounds like an opportunity—Christians could start a school that is run with integrity! No bribes-- and you’d offer instead a solid and excellent education.” They stared at him blankly and said, “Yes, and how many bribes to the city and the nation and the bank and the owner of the property we’d want to buy would we need to get that school up and running?” I watched my husband let out a long sigh as the pervasiveness of corruption sunk in one more level down. It crushes entrepreneurial initiative before it can even begin. Twice people in that country said, “I feel like I can breathe when I get to travel outside this country.” Now, these are people who live in a country with heavy police surveillance of the doings of Christians, the threat of imprisonment for a false or too bold move in the religious realm, and virtually no press freedom, so I had assumed it was getting out from under the grip of all that which caused them to say they couldn’t breathe in their own land. “No. It’s the corruption, hands down.”
So today, I’m thanking God for the ministry of Alec, as he steps away from a job well done to focus on his health. My prayers are with him and his wife Mary. I’m thanking God for leaders everywhere who seek to bring integrity to their work. And I’m praying for oxygen for my new friends who labor in countries where corruption chokes the freshness right out of the air. I’m thankful too for you who read this blog, for every time you are tempted to cut a corner, as a nurse or a teacher or a taxpayer, and you don’t. You are adding one more stitch to the fabric of a strong society every time you make that choice.
Rich and Lisa Lamb