“It’s not saying what’s comfortable, it’s saying what’s right,” says Williams, the head of HR for a hospital in the Middle East. “That’s what redemptive work looks like.”
Williams, originally from South Africa, moved to the Middle East because he wanted to be a light in an area of the world where Jesus is less known. However, his job brought him to a very diverse, international workplace where he isn’t always working side-by-side with locals.
“I had to wrap my head around the fact that my ministry at the moment is doing excellence in the workplace. My ministry is serving the people around me well. And some of them are locals, even some on my team,” he says.
Williams views his work as an opportunity to impact his colleagues in the hospital as well as the surrounding community through how he lives and leads every day.
“So, HR is recruitment. HR is sitting in some really important meetings (and) making big decisions with key players like the CEO. Not many people get to connect with them daily (like) I do,” says Williams. But it’s not all strategy sessions with key stakeholders. There are also daily operations his team moves forward such as contracts, appraisals, leave, as well as hiring and firing.
No matter the circumstances, HR involves people so it’s about “how we show compassion, love, and grace,” he explains.
“HR is an interesting place to be in. It’s busy (but) I feel really fulfilled,” Williams shares. “(It’s) an opportunity to just be light.”
So, what does it look like to be a light while working in a hospital in the Middle East?
“When you come to the Middle East, the biggest, most glaring thing you’ll find is that people get paid according to their nationality, even if they’re doing exactly the same job. That feels grossly unfair and I get to see everybody’s salary,” Williams explains.
“So, redemptive HR work is me coming in and saying, ‘Hey, is this right? Is this fair? Is this kingdom?’ It’s coming in and challenging the organization, challenging ourselves,” he says.
This often means having hard conversations that aren’t always received well because there’s a clear financial impact. But slowly, things are changing - both at the hospital and in the lives of Williams’ colleagues.
“I’ve got this HR manager. Our relationship was so strained because she was currently functioning (in) my role and had to be removed for me to come in. But I really trusted the Lord (and) I dealt with her in compassion. I put myself in her shoes,” says Wiliams.
Then one day, she showed up at his office door struggling with a physical difficulty. After a few minutes, he asked if he could pray for her. She accepted. “In that way (I) just got to connect with her,” he says.
“There’s all different ways, if you just look for the opportunity, to create space for conversation. Don’t be afraid of it. Go for it! And definitely don’t force it,” he says.
Williams attributes much of his professional success in this sometimes challenging cross-cultural work environment to his unique, God-given shape.
“It’s like I was made for what I came into,” he shares because it definitely wasn’t a warm welcome. The two previous HR directors lasted only a matter of months. With such high turnover, new leaders were often viewed with skepticism.
Would Williams be the third to go?
“The biggest thing the Lord gave me is (that) I’m so relational,” he says. “So, from the moment I came in, I started engaging with (department heads).” It was just five minutes here or 15 minutes there, of informal moments in between meetings that God used to build connection.
“The Lord used my shape – to be relational– and it just worked! (It) was incredible to see how God can use what you naturally are, what he’s gifted in you,” he says.
Williams even made an effort to spend much of his time meeting and engaging with the teams in various departments. This was radically different than previous HR leaders who only reached out when there was a problem. Slowly, the organizational culture began to change.
“A lot of who I am naturally started coming through and that gave me life,” Williams says as he reflects on his work and the culture being formed at the hospital.
So, what does it look like to approach your work with a kingdom lens? For Williams, it’s about doing good work and genuinely caring for the people around you.
“Just be genuine,” he says. “Be yourself, love well, (and) do excellence because you can share the gospel in the most creative, incredible ways. But if there's no excellence behind it, people will look at what you're saying, but they wouldn't really accept it because your lifestyle doesn't reflect it.”
And if you’re curious about what it could look like to take a job in the Middle East, like Williams did, be sure to connect with a coach on a 10-min Discovery Call to learn more.
Scatter Stories is a monthly series highlighting how God is using everyday people in everyday jobs around the world to make a kingdom impact.
Read more of Williams and Jenny’s story as they unpack their journey to working and building a life in the Middle East:
Written by Kristin Boyd