Third in a Series by Mike Whittlesey

Read Part II
As if the work of transforming a nation isn’t difficult enough, the John Maxwell Team members working in Paraguay had the additional challenge of a language barrier to overcome. The country actually has two official languages, Spanish and Guarani, an indigenous language not spoken anywhere else on the planet. Fortunately, there were a host of local volunteers eager to work as interpreters to assist the Maxwell Team instructors. While not completely fluent in Spanish, Heather Marquez used an introduction she composed in that native language to serve as an icebreaker with each of the groups she taught. Still, the work of interpreting the material being presented by the instructors was an important part of conveying the concepts the Paraguayans were eager to learn, even if those translations resulted in some humorous consequences. For example, because there is no Guarani equivalent for the word “goosebumps,” Heather Marquez’s attempt to express the genuine excitement she felt working with Paraguayans was literally translated as “chicken skin.”
While it was surprising to many that the Maxwell Team members were essentially working as volunteers, such a personal and financial commitment fit perfectly with the phrase the people of Paraguay had chosen to describe the work being done in their country: “Transformation is Within Me.”
Prior to leaving the country, Heather Marquez was already seeing encouraging signs of commitment. At a government facility where she was training, the country’s Minister of Finance asked, “How do I know if everyone has started their round table activities? How do I track that?”
“He said ‘I’m going to personally make sure that everybody in my organization goes through this process,” Marquez recalled.
Affirmation of that commitment came when he arranged to have her presentation recorded on video for the benefit of the other 800 people working in his organization who were not present that day. Wherever Marquez went, a very high level of commitment seemed to be the prevailing attitude. One of the interpreters she met on Monday, for example, was already starting his first round table by Wednesday.
“That’s very telling for the commitment level they are trying to achieve,” Marquez commented.
Later in the week, an interpreter asked Heather Marquez a very direct question.
“Why are you here doing this instead of in your own country?”
Her response, the interpreter noted, was very similar to the answers other Maxwell team members had offered him.
“Our country is not ready for it.”
At first, Marquez thought, how sad it is that all of us [Maxwell Team Members] have that same feeling.
“Then I realized, what are we going to do about it? We should be doing something with this. It’s not a one and done for us. It [transformation] begins with creating partnerships in the community to make it a reality,” she declared.
One of Heather’s first speaking engagements upon her return from Paraguay was in Dubuque, in support of the Circles Initiative, whose mission is “to build collaborative circles of support that strengthen community, inspire tolerance, eliminate barriers and connect resources for those living in a cycle of poverty, so they may lead themselves and their families to permanent stability.”
“Their level of engagement and enthusiasm to learn and gain the tools and resources to get themselves to a different level was so incredibly rewarding. It was amazing to be a part of that,” Marquez said, admitting how difficult it can be to make fundamental changes when it comes to relationships.
“The toughest realization a client has come to is the realization that there are times in our lives where our current relationships no longer serve us for where we want to be, and we have to make decisions on that. When you have relationships that have stood the test of time for years and years, you’re very comfortable with them. Once you step back and realize they’re not actually positive or productive relationships, it’s really hard to figure out how to make those changes.”
As she reflected on her meeting in Dubuque and time spent teaching in Paraguay, a question came to Heather’s mind, along with the realization that those experiences were not yet truly complete: If one John Maxwell team member can be the catalyst for change in Paraguay, then why can’t those of us here in the Cedar Valley be a catalyst for making changes in our own community?
“Waterloo has a TON to offer,” she said.
“If you want to make a change, you can start making a difference. I want to be a part of empowering people to see our community in a different light. Connect with people, believe in them, and grow from there,” she added.
About a year ago, Heather Marquez sat down and composed a purpose statement describing her vision and mission as the CEO of Mind Links, LLC, the company she founded in 2014. In it, she referenced building confidence in clients that are weighed down with beliefs that no longer serve them and helping them to overcome the obstacles that prevent their potential from being reached. Looking back at what she wrote some twelve months ago, her words, while just as true today, also serve as a call to action.
“It sums up what we did in Paraguay and why I have to try and do something here to fulfill that purpose statement.”