Of everyone in this series, this might have been the biggest challenge. I had a short history with everyone else in the list – knew Carlos since childhood, studied in the US with Ryan, friends with Dan for more than fifteen years.
But CJ and I had very little, almost zero, history of working together before we suddenly became partners.
In 2009, I was asked to lead the campus ministry in the Philippines. My first question was, “Who is my National Director?” Our past National Directors – Marc Constantino and Christian Flores – showed me that the success of the campus ministry depended heavily on how good the partner was.
We ran through a few names, including people I’ve mentioned before, but concluded that they were all indispensable to their local work. Then CJ’s name came up because he had the experience for the job and had a leader who could take over from him.
I remember saying, “Well, I don’t know much about CJ. But I know his wife, Mye, is an amazing campus missionary.” Little did I realize that for all her formidability, Mye would never submit to a husband who was less than the best.
But I didn’t know CJ.
So we meet up and start working. He’s a nice guy. Everyone who knows him immediately figures that out. But I was more close with everyone else on the team than him. And we were supposed to be partners.
So we made an agreement. We would have lunch together once a week to get close. We would force it.
I remember our first lunch. It felt like both of us were making lame attempts at establishing common ground. Eventually I asked…
“So do you play basketball? I don’t remember you joining us in our staff games before.”
“No, not really. I can if I have to though.”
“Do you watch it at least?”
“Not really. Maybe during the finals, but I don’t follow consistently.”
(Yet another patch of uncommon ground, I thought.) Then he continued.
“What I’m really into is UFC. Do you know that? Mixed Martial Arts?”
I was stunned. “You watch UFC?”
“Yeah, since the beginning.”
This was a dream come true. CJ was the first person at work I could talk to about this.
We immediately began discussing the current champions and latest fights. Time flew by and the lunch was over too soon. I like to think that as that lunch took off, so did our friendship and working relationship.
We all immediately found that CJ was amazing at literally everything he did.
He’s a great speaker – whether at youth services, teaching classes, or in a conference.
He’s one of the best I’ve seen at transitioning from one moment to another. Imagine a very serious and heavy point in a meeting, which needs to transition to a high energy segment. CJ could do that well. I would sometimes intentionally create those contrasting moments just to see how he’d connect the two gracefully.
He is also amazing at raising leaders. His first role was overseeing our work in the provinces. By the time he left, we had amazing regional and local directors.
At one annual Staff Summit, with all our campus missionaries gathered, I played a game with Perci Paras, then School of Campus Ministry home room teacher. We tried to remember as many names as we could. After successfully identifying dozens of people, Perci and I were tied with only two forgotten names a piece.
When CJ heard of it, he named every single staff member we ran into without missing a single person. Then he stepped it up and identified their spouses too. Perci and I learned that though we taught these people at the school, CJ had visited each of their cities, been to their churches, and knew their families.
He didn’t just work hard. Work was fun. UFC was a regular topic at the office. This nice guy had a really mean side, which made prank-playing a constant part in the office. My favorite was when I sabotaged his script while he was hosting a graduation. But he made sure he got back at me too.
I could go on and on. His experience, skills, and wisdom guided us in the right direction and kept me from making hundreds of bad decisions. In Dan’s words, “Before I joined the office, I thought you were really good. Now I see that CJ was the secret all along.” (What a friend.)
Soon the question came up: What if CJ gets reassigned to lead something else?
I gave the same answer every time. CJ is driven internally. I can’t get him to leave if God tells him to stay. I can’t make him stay if God tells him to go.
Soon that statement came true. CJ was recently asked to be the senior pastor of our church in U-Belt, a role I’m sure he’ll fill very well. Thankfully, that means we still get to work together today.
Things I Learned From Working with CJ
1. Always build a strong relationship with the people you work with.
CJ and I weren’t friends when we started. But we are now. This happened because we knew that you produce the best work when you trust the people you’re with.
2. Work with people who are self-motivated.
I can’t tell you the immense security and confidence you get from working with someone like that. He was never low energy. He came in every day ready to give his best.
3. Look for character over everything else.
Charisma gets people’s attention. Competence gets you promoted. But Character is beyond price. Look for someone who you know will do the right thing no matter how difficult.