Monthly Archives: April 2013

Chapter 8: Unfortunate transaction experience, wisdom and a dream

Private equity firms try to identify and invest in relevant businesses at reasonable valuations, work with management teams to better position and grow the business and then sell their interest at a price at multiples more than originally invested. Although there are several phases to the investment cycle, it is not often that things turn pear-shaped after a sale transaction was completed. I guess you can anticipate what is coming – a glimpse into what happen with a transaction, how it impacted on me and how God was leading me in the process.

During 2008, before the brunt of the financial crisis hit home across Europe, a business (in which an investment company managed by the group I work for was invested) was sold. Unfortunately, not all the proceeds could be distributed immediately to shareholders and a while later the process turned sour. I cannot share specific details as they are governed by confidentiality undertakings. All that I can share is that we had to take some pretty tough actions involving courts in the United Kingdom, acrimonious negotiations and eventually a settlement deal, leading to a work-out situation and a number of recovery processes over the past few years.

As part of my responsibilities, I managed this process together with one of the other shareholders of this business. Although the process frustrated and aggravated me from time to time, I have now recognised that despite what has taken place God has paved a way for some new relationships and allowed me to get to know a few very special people along the way.

I have also discovered Ephesians 6:10-18 where we are reminded of our protection if we put on the Armour of God “… Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God …” (New International Version, ©2010).

Cathedral in Geneva, Switzerland with Christmas lights

It took time for me to recognise some of the manipulative webs which were spun during this process. In 1 Kings 4:29 it is written that “…God gave Solomon wisdom and very great insight, and a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore…” (New International Version, ©2010). Off course I cannot profess to have received the wisdom of Salomon, but I did receive from Jesus discernment and patience and enough wisdom to be able to deal with the situation.

Proverbs 2:1-13 has some wonderful words on wisdom and has real meaty food to reflect on – “… My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding – indeed, if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding. He holds success in store for the upright, He is a shield to those whose walk is blameless, for He guards the course of the just and protects the way of his faithful ones. Then you will understand what is right and just and fair – every good path. For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul. Discretion will protect you, and understanding will guard you. Wisdom will save you from the ways of wicked men, from men whose words are perverse, who have left the straight paths to walk in dark ways… ” (New International Version, ©2010)

Proverbs 3:14-18 talks about some of the wonderful characteristics of wisdom “… for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold. She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her; those who hold her fast will be blessed…”(New International Version, ©2010). Wonderful!

In the midst of what was happening during this transaction, I had a divine dream. I found myself at a small regional airport. The building was drab and unspectacular. There were large glass windows providing a clear view of the runway and a tall tree lined avenue in the distance. What on earth was I doing there? To my surprise it dawned on me that I was there to meet some ex-executives of the business where we held the investment I mentioned elsewhere. I hear a droning noise overhead. Suddenly, it turned to a shrieking noise and without warning panic filled people began to scatter and run. The control tower warned loudly that the approaching plane was in trouble. In the distance I could see that a small jet approaching but way too fast. Smoke was billowing out of the engines, and it was bouncing uncontrollably in the air. The plane overshot the runway and crashed into the terminal buildings, shattering on impact. It was awful and the destruction was horrific. Parts of the plane were launched into the air and all surrounding buildings, windows shattered, flames everywhere and the noise was incredible. Yet, I found myself behind an indestructible solid wall whilst debris shot past me and bodies of innocent bystanders were flying through the air. As suddenly as it all happened, a deathly silence descended. I was not hurt, not even scratch. I walked away, leaving the scene of total destruction behind me. God showed me how destructive this process was, but it is clear that with the full armour of God I am safe and protected by Him. Psalm 33:20 says “…We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield …”New International Version, ©2010).

Try to seek Him out and use the armour He has provided for our protection (Mike Donehey, Lead Singer of Tenth Avenue North  http://tenthavenuenorth.com/ talks in a refreshing and candid about the joy of prayer at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lcRDTK4i4qw  – have a look if you are interested).

Ben de Bruyn – Copyright © 2013

Chapter 7: Revelations during summer holiday

During late December 2010 we were blessed with a Southern hemisphere summer holiday and the days were filled with sunshine, families, friends, great food and wine. The scenery was idyllic – South Africa’s Eastern Cape beaches are simply spectacular (picture below of the Wilderness beach).

I even attempted to recreate swimming adventures of student days long gone by at Victoria Bay, a haven for some spectacular body surfing experiences, especially if you dare to swim out close to where home grown surfers enjoy the waves. Be warned, for I have learned that there is a strict unwritten code who may venture to the self claimed territory of local surfers in the vast ocean – be sure not to get in the way! In the days of our late teens and early twenties a bunch of school friends frequently swam out some 200 to 300 meters, assisted by an outgoing current in search for really big waves to body surf. I still remember floating on my back desperately trying to catch my breath, lungs weaving looking up into the blue sky, being lifted up and down by the large swells offshore. It was a surreal feeling, especially when realising that people on the beach appeared no larger than little dots on the horizon. It was a time when I felt invincible and thinking back did some rather reckless things, with great zest I might add. Thankfully, at age 46 God gave me enough wisdom to realise that it was not a good idea to again attempt deep ocean swimming adventures and that it is sometimes better to rather cling to good memories of bygone days! I still had some great fun testing the outer perimeter where most people swam and the waves and rides were pretty good. What made it really special was that I was out there in the water with my best mate – amazing to think that we met on my first day of primary school some forty years ago!

A few realties also hit home. I had changed. Perhaps this was caused over time by our life experiences abroad or perhaps it was the spiritual journey I was on, possibly a combination of both. In any event, I realised that my journey with Christ took shape in a foreign land which I was slowly beginning to call home. It was there I learned to really depend on God, albeit reluctantly at first. In the process I had to untangle some shackles of self control and self reliance. To be free in Christ, although daunting at times, is an amazing feeling. I now try to rely on God and understand how He would like me to shape my life and to grow with Him. I have failed miserably from time to time, especially during times where I have shouldered on in my own strength. Somehow, at that time this experience was still difficult to share with friends and family in South Africa. I guess I was not ready at the time. I am now.

During this time in South Africa, I had a profound realisation when visiting one of my friends on his wine farm in the Hemel and Aarde (Heaven and Earth) valley near Hermanus in the Western Cape. We enjoyed a bottle of wine in his cellar and reminisced of old adventures, life in Geneva, work experiences and life in general. My friend is working for a Western Cape based investment and banking group and after years of hard work reached a key position within that group, with the fruits to show for his labour. Driving back I could not help myself to think that he is living the very dream I had once longed for so many years. I still remember the wry smile on my face when I caught myself looking into the rear view mirror. If a picture could have told a thousand words, that smile captured so many emotions. The big ‘what if’’ question was inevitable. I have to confess that I do have an imagination which runs a little wild at times (this I hide rather well). When I was still working at Brait SA, I had some discussions with my friend on the possibility of joining their team (driving I then re-imagined what would have happened had I done so). I also felt some frustration when I thought of some complex circumstances back in Switzerland. I felt the irony when I grasped at shards of past dreams. In the end I was surprised by my reaction. It was one of real joy for his success – I was content to be where I was, even with all the uncertainty of what was ahead. I also realised that with the knowledge I now have that I would not be able to exchange old dreams for road God was leading me in a country far from my birthplace. I realised that my life would not have been shaped in the way it had been by Jesus had I stayed on in South Africa. I guess that if this was the case I could all too easily have been overcome by self driven success, without much pause to make way for a redemptive walk with God.

Two days after initially writing down these reflections (it has been edited a few time since then), a tragedy unfolded in Moscow at the Domodedova airport where I had just departed from a day earlier. Many innocent people lost their lives in a senseless bomb attack. When I realised that I could have been there the day before it brought back some perspective of the irrelevance of the many things I fret about unnecessarily.

Luke 9:23 – 25 ‘’… Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost? …’’ (New King James Version).

Ben de Bruyn – Copyright © 2013

Photography: Our eyes, our windows !

I love those moments in photography when I am fortunate to capture feelings shining through a person’s eyes. The first picture was taken  in an incredibly busy Istanbul Spice Market.  Somehow this woman, between serving customers, managed to carry such a warm and comforting expression. If only I could do the same during really busy work days! The second picture was taken in Paris in the crowded Montmartre area. I enjoyed her introspective gaze and just the hint of a smile. This made me think of a verse from Matthew where he mentioned that eyes are windows into your body. I love the message he conveys – it touches me.  For me the experience is enhanced by my view of the world through my camera lens.

“… Your eyes are windows into your body. If you open your eyes wide in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light … If you pull the blinds on your windows, what a dark life you will have!  Matthew 6:22 – The Message

Istanbul: Spice Market - Woman selling spices
Istanbul: Spice Market – Woman selling spices

I also like the message of Psalm 119 below –

“…GOD, teach me lessons for living so I can stay the course. Give me insight so I can do what you tell me – my whole life one long, obedient response. Guide me down the road of your commandments; I love traveling this freeway! Give me a bent for your words of wisdom, and not for piling up loot. Divert my eyes from toys and trinkets, invigorate me on the pilgrim way. Affirm your promises to me – promises made to all who fear you. Deflect the harsh words of my critics – but what you say is always so good. See how hungry I am for your counsel; preserve my life through your righteous ways!…” Psalm 119:36-40 – The Message

Paris:Montmartre posing for painting 4 July 2012

Montmartre posing for painting – 2012
Ben de Bruyn – Copyright © 2013

Chapter 6: Difficult operating environment – some pretty tough lessons

In 2008 we all faced one of the most challenging equity, credit and economic environments over in recent times. Businesses had to adjust to a much tougher operating environment; market sentiment was very negative and institutional appetite for fund managed products changed dramatically. Fund raising projects ground to a halt. I do not wish to focus on organisational and business model changes which have taken place in the organisation I work for, but rather give a bit of insight on the personal impact of these changes on me. Other people may relate to similar circumstances or feelings. I hope things worked out for you.  It did for me, but not in the way I have anticipated when we came to Switzerland in 2006.

 At that time we remembered God’s promises and part of our own dreams pictured a Swiss capital base where stock options I received would be worth a small Swiss fortune!  Along with negative market sentiment the share price of the group I worked for came under pressure and declined meaningfully. In the end my stock options lapsed with no value.

Let me pause here for a moment. To our parents and family back in South Africa, please do not feel any anxiety when you read about this experience – it is part of our journey and forming process. We are doing well in Geneva and there have been many blessings for us, we live in a wonderful home, the kids are in a great school, we have made good friends (the list is long) and through these blessings our lives have been transformed.  We have come to understand that God’s love and faithfulness is our security, not the state of an earthly balance sheet!  We look towards and place our trust in God as He does not disappoint and this comforts us, bringing peace and joy. Carine reminded me of a dream I told her about long ago but did not write down at the time, so the details are a bit sketchy. What I can remember is that Carine and I were sitting on the handlebars of a bicycle which was driving in Geneva where God did the cycling!

At the time I was originally writing down some thoughts some two years ago I received an e-mail with wonderful thoughts from Marsha Burns: “ … I have set you on a journey.  I have a plan for your destiny.  But, if you narrow your focus so that all you can see are the challenges along the way and the things that are going wrong, it will keep you from making spiritual progress.  You cannot maintain a healthy life in the Spirit if you continue to get into self-focus or self-pity.  Look up.  Seek My face, says the Lord, and put your trust in Me …  – Bill and Marsha Burns, Spirit of Prophecy Bulletin, 25 January 2011, Small Straws in a soft wind. Not only are these prophetic words wonderful, but it helped me to focus.

Present day – an e-mail from Marsha Burns: “…  You are about to have significant breakthrough in a number of areas in your life and circumstances.  But, you must believe that I am telling you the truth, says the Lord, and position yourself spiritually for success.  You have had to face many challenges that have been not only difficult but daunting.  Now, you will begin to move out of that wilderness experience…” Bill and Marsha Burns, Spirit of Prophecy Bulletin, from the Faith Tabernacle April 12, 2013 Small Straws in a soft wind.  I felt good to receive these prophetic words today, because it confirmed what I believe the Lord is already saying to me.

Please also dwell on the words of Pastor Derek Frank in a sermon he gave at our church, The Evangelical Baptist Church of Geneva on 21 November 2010, Sermon “Take your son, your only son“ (Genesis 22 v1-18). The sermon was about the dramatic manner of Abraham’s testing when God called him to sacrifice his son. ” He observed that ‘’…how we honour God when we’re not under any great pressure to do so is in some ways a greater read out of where we’re at with God than when we’re under real pressure to do so. Clearly Abraham had stayed faithful to God through this time which apparently seemed neither here nor there (for example when he stayed in the land of the Philistines for a long time). Evidently he continued to develop a heart of obedience even without knowing how or why it would be needed in the future. This proved to be crucial in enabling what then followed, because when this most devastating call to obedience hit him, there was a deep well-spring of obedience ready to be drawn from.

It speaks of the challenge there actually is for us in those times in life when things may not themselves seem so challenging. Because it’s too late to start to step into obedience when the hundred year wave suddenly hits you. Either there already is a deep well-spring of obedience established in your heart or there isn’t. It’s as blunt as that. Clearly Abraham had used his time in the land of the Philistines to great spiritual purpose even though there may not have appeared much human purpose in it. Such that when this totally unexpected, but so absolute demand suddenly came from God, even though it exceeded anything his mind could handle, his heart was ready prepared to make the best of responses…’’.

In this sermon he further observed that …’’Yet as God permits us to explore for ourselves what obedience means out there on our own limits, we are enabled to step a tiny bit more into the mystery of what it means from God’s perspective…’’Testing, however, is about the giving of opportunity to bringing forth something tangible out of a good position we already have with God. James 1 verses 2 and 3 say “Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance”.

I find these words very helpful in develop an understanding to live in obedience, especially when I may be prone to anxiety or discouragement or when I am caught up in those in- between times. Deuteronomy 8:2-3 is also encouraging ‘’… remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord…’’  Deuteronomy 8:2-3, (New International Version, ©2010)

By nature I am not an outwardly emotional person and over years I have developed a habit of internalizing my stress and concerns. Both outwardly and inwardly, I may seem calm and restrained, but there was a price to pay – headaches, a sore and stiff neck and backaches. Subconsciously, with the passing of time, I became so used to this that it almost became the norm. As I have learned to let go and pass on my problems to Jesus my headaches have all but disappeared. I still suffer from the occasional neck and back problem, but this is mostly as a result of long bicycle training rides in the beautiful Geneva and surrounding French countryside, trying very hard to keep up with guys almost half my age!

Remember the words of Philippians 4:6-7 “…  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus…” (New International Version, ©2010).

Ben de Bruyn – Copyright © 2013

Photography: Childhood memory

“…The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.…” John 3:8 – New International Version

These words of Jesus to Nicodemus is about changes the Holy Spirit makes in our lives – when I reflected on the words it took me back many years to a time when I was around six years old and walking under large trees on the farm where my grandparents lived, listening to the sound the wind caressing the trees and its branches and leaves. It was a very comforting experience – I still enjoy this sound a lot. I searched my picture portfolio for a picture to express this feeling. I was not able to find one showing what I have described above, as the gentle wind is rather difficult to capture in a picture and this made me smile when I read the words “… but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going …”  again. In the end I settled on a picture which somehow reminds me of the feeling I have described – a red flower in gentle wind in a cornfield near Geneva. Like I cannot see the wind, I am not able to see the Spirit in me but I am experiencing what He does.

Hope you enjoy it.

Ben de Bruyn – Copyright © 2013

Chapter 5: A surprising interaction in Moscow

Some two years ago I was in Moscow during a business trip. It was mid January and very cold. We have been engaged in transaction negotiations all day and progress was rather slow. Early evening we decided to call it a day and resume discussions the following day. I was tired and when I stepped outside it was a great relief to feel the fresh and crisp January air caress my face, glad to be out of a smoke filled room (more stringent non smoking laws only come into effect in Russia in 2015!).

Soon, I was joined by a Russian colleague who assisted with the discussions. Only then I recalled that he had received a number of calls during the meeting and periodically stepped outside to take the calls. As we were waiting for transport back to the hotel, we shared some reflection on how the day went. Something prompted me to ask him if anything was wrong. I was taken aback when he told me that his daughter, who was 14 months at the time, was suffering from severe epilepsy attacks and spent the whole day in hospital where tests were conducted to try and track down the cause of her condition. It only dawned on me then how testing it must have been for him not to be at the hospital during the day to support his wife and daughter. The calls he received earlier in the day was from his wife who give him feedback on her discussions with the medical team. I received a second prompting and found myself saying that I will pray for her. He thanked me and asked if I was a Christian, which I confirmed. To my surprised he mentioned that he also believed in God. He then told me what a difficult time it was for their family, but that they have been fortunate to receive good support from a Moscow based medical team. However, he was very frustrated as for some time they have tried to secure a second medical opinion from medical experts outside Russia, to no avail.

 At that point our transport arrived and we bid our farewells and went our separate ways. Amongst the serenity of a light snow storm and holed up in the comfort of the warm car I was deeply moved by our conversation and by his daughter’s condition. Somehow my thoughts could not turn away from our conversation and as I walked into my hotel room I was struck by a ray of clarity – I remembered that a school friend was practising as a neurosurgeon in South Africa at the time, and that he had specialised in epilepsy cases when practising in the United States. I thought that he would be a perfect person for my Russian colleague to speak to. Due to the time difference between Russia and South Africa, it was still early enough in the evening South Africa time to phone him. I managed to get hold of my friend, told him what happened and graciously agreed to speak to my Russian colleague.

 The next day they made contact and subsequently all of the required test results and scans were bundled electronically and sent to my friend for his consideration. My Russian colleague then received the second opinion he was trying to secure.

 The lesson I learned from this experience was that the Holy Spirit (out helper and councillor) gave me the courage to speak up that night to someone I knew professionally but not personally and this lead to a chain of events taking place which I could never have anticipated. I also realised that even though it may seem intimidating to share one’s belief in God today, these times when we step out in faith can be deeply rewarding and also have some surprising consequences. It gives our Heavenly Father an opportunity to share his love for people through us.

 This surprising interaction has encouraged me to step out in faith more than I have done in the past.

Ben de Bruyn – Copyright © 2013

Random Thoughts: Hope

HOPE

“… When hope is crushed, the heart is crushed, but a wish come true fills you with joy …” Proverbs 13:12 – YouVersion

I have started reflecting on this passage and was struck by the enormity of these words. Where do you find hope and sustain it? How painful is the desperation which attached itself to hopelessness? How do you escape hopelessness? What do you do when you wait and how to deal with the delays?

Hope (as a noun) is defined as “…To desire with expectation or with belief in the possibility or prospect of obtaining; to look forward to as a thing desirable, with the expectation of obtaining it; to cherish hopes of…” Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary With it, we can endure many things, even should situations become seemingly unbearable.

In the Bible, David received a promise that he will become king. It took many years of endurance and tests before this happened and he then also had to face many subsequent tests“… I’m homesick—longing for your salvation; I’m waiting for your word of hope. My eyes grow heavy watching for some sign of your promise; how long must I wait for your comfort? There’s smoke in my eyes—they burn and water, but I keep a steady gaze on the instructions you post. How long do I have to put up with all this? How long till you haul my tormentors into court? The arrogant godless try to throw me off track, ignorant as they are of God and his ways. Everything you command is a sure thing, but they harass me with lies. Help! They’ve pushed and pushed—they never let up but I haven’t relaxed my grip on your counsel. In your great love revive me so I can alertly obey your every word …” Psalm 119:81-88 – The Message Bible

Place your hope in God. With Him we have a certain future and He will never allow us to suffer beyond our own capabilities to handle difficult situations, despite how desperate it may seem at times. When what we have desired for arrives, we will be filled with joy.

Use the word of God to build hope – especially if others may ask why you have hope – “… Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. 1 Peter 3:15-17 – New International Version

Ben de Bruyn – Copyright © 2013