Ambition to Contentment: Learning a More Excellent Way

Perhaps he could become a musician, he thought, as he poured himself out on the keys. Or, as he looked out the car window at his rapidly developing hometown, Maybe an architect? He would marry the girl, settle down, have a few kids, maybe write a book? Even in his wildest imaginings he never would have visualized the life he leads now. God had different plans.

Philemon Hayibor was born in Ghana, West Africa. His parents, both first-generation believers, were heavily involved in the ministry of Cru (formerly Campus Crusade). His father quickly rose in leadership and became the national director for Cru in Ghana. At home, they regularly hosted students and volunteers from down the street and all over the world. He went on wild bush adventures and watched VeggieTales.

His family had devotions every day and some of his earliest memories are of sitting in the back seat of the family car and praying for hours during their many road trips. He would sit with God and talk to Him as he would to a best friend. It’s that relationship that has been the only constant in his life.

When Philemon was 13, his family moved from Ghana to the suburbs of Chicago so his dad could get his PhD. These were sometimes beautiful, sometimes dark days for Philemon as he struggled his way through navigating a new culture, making new friends, the challenges of adolescence, and an ever-distancing relationship with his Heavenly Father. At age16 he rededicated his life to Christ, promising a life of ministry in His name. When 18 rolled around he was ready to find a liberal arts school somewhere far from home to learn how to make as much money as possible and pursue his own ambitions. But he could not afford any of those schools, and his parents urged him to apply to Moody Bible Institute.

Miraculously, he was accepted, and begrudgingly he went. At Moody Philemon discovered a love for theology and the Word of God. He was confronted with the grace of God and surrendered his heart and his ambitions to the Lord once more. He became involved in a small Bible-believing, truth-teaching church. And he met his wife, Janelle.

While he was working on his Master of Divinity degree, God brought along another unexpected turn in the road: he was offered a part-time position as a counselor at Pacific Garden Mission in downtown Chicago. God was actively working to dismantle his ambitions and redirecting him. Philemon had no desire to minister to the homeless, but life in the city with a wife and school bills doesn’t leave you with many options, so he took the job. He was hired full time just before the birth of his first son, and four years later he is now the manager of the men’s program.

Three and a half years ago, Philemon was given the opportunity to begin working part time for The Navigators Chicago city director, Jay Neuharth. Even here, God has been stretching Philemon’s plans beyond his expectations. He began in an administrative position but is now the associate director of operations for The Navigators in Chicago.

During his time with The Navigators, Philemon has been humbled and amazed by the leaders’ generosity and care towards him. He says, “The Navigators have taken the initiative to develop me as a leader, and provided me with many opportunities for learning and growth.” Through his work with The Navigators, he’s been able to travel, attend vision casting meetings, and rub shoulders with and learn from many leaders from diverse backgrounds from all around the country. He has added a wide range of skills and experience to his toolbelt along the way.

Not only has he had many avenues for development through his work, The Navigators has gone above and beyond to give him resources outside the normal scope of his job description. Most recently, Philemon has had the opportunity to be a part of the Leadership Development Initiative. Over about a year and a half, LDI participants attend seminars, work through assignments, reflect personally and in small groups, and work one-on-one with mentors. The goal is to grow in their ability to lead in a healthy, God-honoring way wherever God places them.

Philemon is still going through the program, and he has already gleaned many lessons that are helping him in all the areas of his life. He says, “Every leader needs to make space for rest and loving union with the Father. It helps the leader lead well. It’s in those times the Lord shows the leader his or her true self, where he or she can heal and learn to shepherd the people God has put in his or her care.”

As Philemon continues to serve with The Navigators, he remains thankful for their ministry in his own life. The boy who wanted to design incredible buildings and play beautiful music is now an associate pastor, a program manager, an associate director, a husband, and a father. The lessons and resources he’s been given through The Navigators and the Leadership Development Initiative have trickled down and blessed every part of his life from family, to church, to work.

Is life everything he dreamed it would become? No. It’s better!

“Many are the plans in the mind of a man,
but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.”
—Proverbs 19:21 ESV

Story: Janelle L. Hayibor