As an intern in Washington D.C. in the late 1990’s, I received a first hand glimpse into the inner workings of the political machinations that influence the trajectory of the United States of America. My internship was with a highly connected political action campaign, and for that year I was afforded access to some of the most powerful politicians in the nation. At one point I sat beside Nancy Pelosi at a human rights rally hosted by Amnesty International, at which we both gave speeches condemning the human rights violations of the Chinese Government during the Tiananmen Square massacre. On numerous occasions I was able to meet with and have conversations with senators, congressmen, presidential candidates and other significant leaders and influencers. Although these experiences were incredible, the conversations, while cordial and gracious, were often pithy and trite. Politicians have a knack for making you feel important in the moment, but the demands and pressures on them seemed to almost always preclude any extended conversations or investment in the life of a lowly intern. These interactions, while exciting, produced no long term impact on my life… except one!
One humid morning that summer, my boss told me I would be spending the day chauffeuring a visiting dignitary to various meetings, speeches and meals. My aspirations in Washington were not to be a chauffeur. While I wasn’t initially thrilled to be relegated to the role of driver, I was after all the intern, and ultimately had no choice. Little did I know how incredible that day was going to be.
The man was a bishop from southern Sudan. At the time, Sudan was in the midst of civil war in which the dictatorial government of the north was oppressing and massacring Christian Sudanese in the south of the nation in bloody and gruesome ways. The bishop was in Washington, lobbying government officials on behalf of his people. When I picked him up at the airport and went to open the backseat door for him, he brushed me off and jumped in the front passenger seat. For the next 6 or 7 hours I got to learn from one of the most incredible men I have ever met. He was a humble, gracious man. As we drove, he took time to listen to me, answer in depth every question asked. He told me stories of the horrors his people were enduring, while also asking about my family with genuine care. When we would arrive at each stop on his itinerary, he would get out of the car and wait for me to join him. We visited with several leading senators and congressman that day. We walked through the capital rotunda to influence the powerbrokers of Washington and make desperate pleas for the support of his people back in Sudan.
A powerful Bishop, and a 20 year old intern.
Each time we returned to the car, he would resume our conversation wherever we left off. Much was learned that day about life, leadership, service, humility. But the thing that impacted me the most, was the fact that the entire experience was made possible because I was willing to be the chauffeur.
Since that day, I have actively sought out opportunities to be the chauffeur. I have been privileged to drive politicians, leaders, authors, public speakers, university presidents, pastors and others through the years. I have also chauffeured students, interns and ex-convicts. The craziest thing is that they all, almost always, sit in the front seat, and talk with me.
Every single time one of these opportunities Has arise I have learned and grown. I could write a book on the wisdom and insight gleaned from these interactions. A few of these conversations have led to friendships that have continued periodically via text or email. Today, as the Executive Pastor at The Father’s House in Rochester New York, I look for every opportunity to pick up visiting speakers and guests from the airport.
You might not have the opportunity to pick up someone from the airport… But there are significant people in your life that you can serve in other ways. Consider your boss or co-workers, the pastor at your church, the local politician or police chief. There are a million different ways to serve these kinds of people. My wife and girls made cookies for the local fireman around Christmas. When we delivered the cookies, the fireman offered to give my girls a tour. A few years ago I called up the secretary of prominent leader in my community and said “Can I have 10 minutes of his time? I have three questions to ask, and will bring Starbucks.” It took three calls over about 6 months, but I ended up getting the meeting and it lasted over an hour. When we are willing to serve people diligently, incredible opportunities open up.
If you want to get One Grip Higher… Figure out how you can be a chauffeur. If that doesn’t work, figure out how you can serve someone you want to get to know. You will be glad you did.