Skip Navigation

Commentary: Making A Difference: Every Employee Counts

By Sherri Thiel

In my travels for United Methodist Communications, I’ve had many, many “light bulb” moments.

My most recent was in Uganda for a summit on theological education. I meet a little girl named Aisha. Abandoned by her parents, but beaten and starved first, the three year-old had a curved spine and was left-handed – a no-no in Uganda I learned. Being left-handed myself, I’m always aware of where I need to sit not to bump my neighbor, but I’ve always thought it as a blessing.  To think a child was beaten because of this quirk of Mother Nature just hurt my heart and destroyed my joy in the beautiful surroundings.

In Buenos Aires, it was a family living amongst trash piles beside a polluted river and here in the U.S., it was picking up the personal debris of lives affected by Hurricane Katrina.

In Zimbabwe, I watched small, happy children set in the middle of a rocks chipping away to make gravel and realized these kids were responsible for the survival of their families. During the same trip, I had four, 11-12-year-olds, soldiers point their automatic weapons at me though I didn’t understand a word they were saying.  These incidents really made me re-examine my own life.  God has used these many experiences to make me think and to inspire me to use my work as a way to help bring change in the world.

When I am on the road, whether it’s to an African village, a South American factory, or a Louisiana homeless shelter, there is never a shortage of images and stories that take my breath away, cause me to count my blessings, or inspire me to do something on behalf of others.

While in Uganda in August, the light bulb flashed on once again. There among top political leaders and theologians from all over Africa, I clearly saw the connection between our work at United Methodist Communications and the world.

Through our technological expertise, guidance and stewardship, all rooted in compassion, we are truly able to be a gift to these extraordinary people.

When I’m on the road – whether it’s to our commission meeting in Dallas or a gathering in South America, I represent the hard work and philanthropic concern of every United Methodist Communication employee. Our staff is seldom distant in my thoughts. No matter if the agenda is –distributing bed nets to prevent malaria or holding abandoned African children in my arms – or the far more ordinary business of convening meetings and balancing budgets, I do it with the staff in mind. It is only because of their commitment, sacrifice and expertise that I am empowered to act on the agency’s behalf.

Unfortunately, I realize that many of the people who are responsible for the efforts we express in the world are for the most part office-bound. Their inspiration comes second hand – through a photographer’s lens, a producer’s script, a reporter’s pen, or a supervisor’s report. Most of our staff must rely on those of us who are the eyes and ears for the agency to see, hear and share the world of difference United Methodist Communications is making.

Frankly, I worry it’s not even possible to do enough to let the staff know just how very much they are valued. Thank you’s can never be said passionately or often enough.  I’m not sure any amount of money can truly measure the intrinsic reward of doing work that has mission and meaning.


As a consequence of being anchored here at home, some staff members may feel disconnected from the mission of the agency. Some may not feel assured that their work matters. And some may become so engrossed in the “business” associated with their work that they miss the miracles that are occurring in the world because of what they do. I want them to know, that beyond their long “to-do” lists, beyond the routines associated with their jobs, beyond the numbers that show up on the bottom line…they are making a difference to very real human beings.

Getting staff out to annual conferences each year is one small way we really do try to help them engage with others. Another way is by bringing stories and images home through UMNS, UMTV and other media. And then there’s word of mouth. We hope our staff members who are privileged to see firsthand the results of what we do will share the good news with co-workers. But sometimes the transformations we inspire get buried under the tasks we shoulder.

My hope for everyone on the United Methodist Communications staff is that they will know in their heart that the work they do here goes well beyond the task at hand. It’s not just designing a brochure. Not just creating a marketing strategy. Not just paying an invoice. And they’re not just going to another meeting. The sum of all our ordinary efforts is so much greater than they can imagine.

I have to admit that I’m incredibly proud to be part of the United Methodist connection. This denomination is always somewhere in the midst and mix of so much good that is happening in the world – be it in health, education, empowerment, justice, healing, spiritual growth and more. But as proud as I am of my denominational connection, I am most proud of the people I work with here at United Methodist Communications.

To my co-workers: I am proud of you and I want you to be proud of yourselves as well. Together we are doing work that matters. Our hours at the office add up to more than checked off lists of assignments. Your generosity with your time and talents is a humane and loving thing to offer others who are struggling to be heard, struggling to be helped and struggling to be healed. Because of YOU, the world within reach of United Methodist Communications is changing for the better. It’s been said many times before, but it’s the truth…every person here is making a contribution, is making a difference. And I just want to say thank you.