In my public speaking, I’ve often defined a “calling” as the confluence of the “Can Do,” the “Want To” and the “Led To” of your life—the intersection of your abilities, interests and discernment. Recently, my personal journey has led me to the inescapable conclusion that discerning God’s guidance is the most important aspect of our calling. My life has changed so rapidly, in profound and unexpected ways, that I can only surmise that I have somehow become a better and more willing listener to God. Accordingly, He has revealed His plans for me in clearer and more explicit terms than I have ever imagined.
This is a story of my journey and how God’s hand has led and sustained me along the way. As background, I grew up as a “PK” (Pastor’s Kid) and the grandchild of Christian missionaries. I’m grateful that there has never been a moment when God was not real to me and that my “nurture” was such a blessing in my life. I was always the “save the world” child and grew up wanting to adopt a child of every race (much to my mother’s concern). Having graduated as a legacy of a seriously Christian college (Wheaton College), I used my education degree to teach in the Chicago public school system and assumed I would likely do so for a few years, then marry, raise a family and live a typical family life.
But things took an unexpected turn and after five years of teaching, I found myself working in sales for The Coca-Cola Company. To my knowledge, I was the first person in my immediate family to go into business – actually quite devastating to my parents (as evidenced by their initial reaction to the news when they worriedly asked how they had failed me!). And I didn’t marry until I was 37. So much for my plan….clearly, God had another plan for me.
Fast forwarding about 25 years, I had risen to become Senior Vice President, Global Customer Leadership at Coca-Cola. The skills that I had acquired through teaching had helped me transition well in sales, and the company had encouraged me to pursue (and paid for) my MBA. Through a wide variety of challenging and meaningful assignments, I had traveled the world (nearly 5 million miles) and gained a wide range of international experiences and relationships I could only begin to appreciate.
My work centered on bringing diverse global partners together to work around common agendas and to grow our business. I interacted with, and learned to influence, our value chain with leaders from our customers, bottlers, division management and our own senior executives. While I certainly had my share of work challenges, I learned to be result-oriented, fair, tenacious and resilient–and to mentor others in navigating similar waters. All of this I enjoyed (the “want to”), while at the same time, I came to realize I was pretty good at it (the “can do”).
I came to love Coca-Cola’s global business model and to understand, first-hand, the critical role of business in the world. In fact, I began to write and speak about this beginning in 1998, advocating for the reality that ethical, sustainable business serves to build God’s kingdom here on earth, by creating the wealth, jobs and assets that can help lead people out of poverty. I came to believe that God needs His people not only in the minister’s robing rooms, but also in the courtrooms, classrooms, operating rooms and even in the boardrooms. My personal mission field became the global Coca-Cola system and the good it could do by advancing the economic well being of communities around the world.
"I came to believe that God needs His people not only in the minister’s robing rooms, but also in the courtrooms, classrooms, operating rooms and even in the boardrooms."Bonnie Wurzbacher
In 2010, the Company acquired its largest U.S. bottler, Coca-Cola Enterprises, and the massive reorganization and retooling of the business models created yet another opportunity for me. I was given the chance to help shape and launch Coca-Cola’s commitment to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, to use their business model to enable the economic empowerment of five million women (and their families) in this decade. This 18-month assignment also took me directly to the qualifying age for early retirement (that’ll be my secret!) and the chance to shape a new “life after Coke”.
This new chapter held great appeal. I was well established and somewhat sought after as a speaker and author. I served on the Board of Trustees of a wonderful theological seminary, was elected to the Board of a public company whose leadership I admired and respected, and was ordained as an Elder in a church that was making a powerful difference in the world for good and for God. My husband Steve and I were splitting time between two homes that we loved in Georgia and Texas. The blessings of a great marriage, friends and family were abundant, and I was even starting to see some positive signs in my oft-neglected golf game. I could easily say that things were working out just as I wanted. Then I learned that God had other plans for me–plans that He had been shaping in my life for many years.
This was when World Vision came rushing into my life. World Vision is the world’s largest Christian humanitarian and development organization, making a huge difference in nearly 100 countries by tackling the core issues of poverty, justice and child endangerment. I love their self-description, “Our vision for every child, life in all its fullness. Our prayer for every heart, the will to make it so.” (I like to think of their work, as one of their leaders describes it, as “…putting the hand of the at-risk poor into the hand of the at-risk rich… so that both can be blessed.”)
Shortly after my retirement from Coca-Cola, a World Vision leader, whom I knew, began recruiting me, assuring me that “Aslan is on the move!” Apparently, he was right. I had promised myself, as many mentors had urged, not to make any big decisions for at least one year. While a surprising and flattering array of opportunities had presented themselves, I did reach an agreement with World Vision US, based in Seattle, to consult part-time for one year on their gender equity programs and major donor strategies. I grew to love World Vision–both the work and the people.
Six months later, I was contacted by a headhunter asking if I had ever heard of World Vision and if I would be interested in talking to them about a senior executive position with their International Global Centre. (I haven’t misspelled “centre” – the job, a new position as Chief Resource Development Officer, would be based in London.) London??!! That was not my plan, but the job description, competencies and experience required for the position were positively eerie–I thought that I was reading my own resume!
One of the ways that I have learned to think of the “led to” aspect of a calling is to be watchful for the “open doors” and “closed doors” of the journey. I’m convinced that God will allow opportunities to arise, to help us make wise choices, and will close the doors that are not consistent with His will. This process gives us perspective and teaches us the serenity and patience to wait on His perfect timing and to surrender ourselves to trust fully in Him. He doesn’t make mistakes, and He doesn’t act in arbitrary ways–and He does so in His timing, not ours. When the right door does open, if we are in tune with God and abiding with Him, the impact is both powerful and convicting.
Of the many ways He made His will clear to me (perhaps another article), let me share just three:
During the course of the interview process, I attended World Vision’s “For Every Child” conference in Chicago. I invited a very accomplished Christian businesswoman, who I knew only slightly, to attend as my guest. To my surprise, she not only knew of World Vision: she also knew of the search underway. I confided to her my hesitancy to make such a massive change in the life that I loved, and she listened tenderly as a friend and promised to pray for me.
Early the next morning, I received an email from her. Here, in part, is what she wrote: “I don’t think it was a coincidence that we connected yesterday. All week I felt God was asking me to pay attention–He wanted me to deliver a message . . . You mentioned that you are not sure that you want to get back into a full time endeavor. Were you the one He was preparing me for all week? So I asked this morning in my prayers . . . One thing kept surfacing–so I want to share it. It’s not what you want, it’s what He wants. I don’t know what He wants–but I did want to encourage you to seek that with all of your heart. And I am praying that He make His wishes clear to you. This passage came to mind:
"‘Then he said to them all, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.'"Luke 9:23-24
This was a verse I had heard often, but hadn’t really understood until then. I don’t think our meeting was a coincidence either.
"God sent his Holy Spirit to deliver a message that I needed to hear audibly and unequivocally, and He did it through this godly woman and at the perfect time."Bonnie Wurzbacher
Once my husband and I had decided to say yes to World Vision, the logistical changes in our lives were huge and daunting. We would be keeping our Georgia home, but selling the home that we had built and loved in Texas and establishing a London residence. Incredibly, our home and the large property it occupied, sold on the very first day it was offered. Even more amazing is that the couple that bought it intends to put it to a holy use as a retreat for missionaries and a place of study for Wycliffe Bible translators. The timing was perfect for them, too, after having sought a place for nearly five years. They told us of their prayerful conviction that God had led us to build and furnish this home precisely for them. We were overjoyed that all that we had done there would be used in such a missional and worshipful way.
Still, no journey of this magnitude can be taken without its moments of doubt and despair. Although we found a lovely “flat” and were able to complete the transaction and all the laborious details that went along with it, the adjustment just seemed overwhelming, especially an ocean away from friends and family. Driving on the “wrong” side of the road and the car was among the least of the barriers. Just as the isolation began to take on a critical mass, we learned that our next door neighbors, John and Dianne, were a couple that we had known and liked for nearly twenty years, also from Atlanta. Their travels had taken them far and wide, particularly over the last ten years, and we had lost touch. But the renewal of this friendship, their happiness in reconnecting with us, not to mention their willingness to “show us the ropes” of London living, could not have been more timely or received with more gratitude.
I really don’t know how doors fly open any wider than this. I do know that I’m watching for them more intentionally than I ever have. As I watch, I also abide. As I abide, I am full of assurance that God has placed me right where He wants me and that He has prepared me and promises to sustain me in doing the work that He wants to do through me. It’s a very good feeling, one that I would pray for every willing heart.
Bonnie Wurzbacher has held various executive and global leadership roles at The Coca-Cola Company in sales, marketing and management, rising to Senior Vice President, Global Customer & Channel Leadership. Bonnie is currently engaged as a Senior Advisor to World Vision, the largest Christian humanitarian organization in the world, working in over 100 countries to tackle the causes of poverty and injustice. She and her husband, Steve, have homes in Atlanta and Texas and one son, Daniel, who is married to the former Jessica Fry.Read More Articles by Bonnie Wurzbacher