Jim Mather with Friends of Internationals

Jim Mather with Friends of Internationals

On this week's podcast, Marcus sits down with Jim Mather. Jim is the Director of Friends of Internationals. Listen to this week's podcast to see that in whatever you do, do it with all your heart and give honor to all you meet is the foundation for all that Jim does and Friends of Internationals. He reminds us of how we should honor people and that you never know what will come from a chance encounter.


Jim: Yeah. Good morning. My name is Jim Mather, and I'm the director of Friends of Internationals.

Marcus: Yay. Well, it's good to have you on the podcast, Jim.

Jim: Yeah, yeah. Thanks for letting me come and talk.

Marcus: Yeah. So, full disclosure, Jim and I have known each other for probably ... I mean, we've known each other for a while, but we've been friends for about a year now. Right?

Jim: That's right.

Marcus: I very much value his wisdom, and when we get together it's always a good time. So, I wanted to get him on here because I think Friends of International is an excellent program here in Mobile, and I think more people should know about it.

Jim: Yeah, thanks.

Marcus: Yeah. Well, to start off, we usually try and get some backstory of the person that we're listening to, and so why don't you tell us the story of Jim? Where are you from? Where'd you go to high school? Where'd you go to college? Are you married? All the backstory type stuff.

Jim: Yeah. I was born in Northeast Philadelphia and live in that area for most of that time, in the Philadelphia area. I went to high school in Westchester, Pennsylvania, just west of Philly, joined the United States military at the age of 18, served in the Air Force, and the military moved me around, and eventually came back to Philly for nursing college, just back to Westchester, and from there, back into the military. Been on sort of a nomadic life ever since, just following the lord. I met Christ as my savior in 1980 in the United States Air Force, and from that point, I think that's where the vision that I'm living out today really became more clear.

Marcus: No, it's very cool. I mean, where are some of the places that you've ... Just rattle off some of the names of places where you've lived, because every time I talk to you, you say ... We were just talking and you said Alaska, and I didn't know that.

Jim: Yeah. Well, the military obviously moves you around a bit. I was in three or four places in Texas, Washington DC-

Marcus: I'm so sorry.

Jim: ... Anchorage, Alaska. I loved DC. My son's in DC now.

Marcus: My hometown.

Jim: Yeah. Okay. There you go. So, Anchorage, Alaska, that was a very significant place in my life. Then from there, of course, overseas, Pakistan, South Asia, Nepal, India, Haiti, I think Nicaragua, a few places. So, I move around, but Mobile is kind of my headquarters now.

Marcus: That's nice, very nice. Now, you're in ministry, but I'm curious because this is a podcast geared towards business owners and people of influence here in Mobile, so we oftentimes go back and revisit the person's first job, and I'm not talking your first job as a medical professional. I'm talking about your first job flipping burgers or cleaning the floors or something like that. Were there any lessons that you took from that that you still remember?

Jim: Wow. I started off in the military, so immediately I got into a profession, which is medical laboratory technology, but probably the most interesting job that I took that impacted me and launched me into my next phase of life was as a dishwasher working in a restaurant. It was during the Recession, the Jimmy Carter Recession, and couldn't get a job anywhere getting out of the military, so I was washing dishes at a, obviously, minimum wage kind of a job. But I was a Christian at that point, and God told me, “Hey, just whatever you do, do it with all your heart.”

Jim: Unbeknownst to me, I had an encounter when a waiter was sick one day, I was waiting tables, who eventually turned out to be the vice president of the hospital where I got my first job as a nurse. I got a call over the loudspeaker at the hospital where I was studying. I was a senior, and the person that was calling me over the loudspeaker, everybody went, “Ooh,” because she was not just the vice president. She was also in charge of discipline in the hospital. So, everybody looked at me in the elevator. They're like, “Man-”

Marcus: You're in trouble.

Jim: I went in, and she confronted me, vice ... [Gail McKenzie 00:04:12] is her name. She scared the daylights out of me. She said, “Do you know why you're here?” I said, “No, ma'am,” and she said, “You waited on me at this restaurant, and I inquired about you, found out you're first in your class in nursing studies, and I want to offer you a job. Where do you want to work?”

Marcus: Wow.

Jim: I was the only full-time hire that year, and it was just ... God had me in the place, washing dishes, minimum wage, and that faithfulness. As you know, I work with college students now. I just tell that over and over again. Never think that a job is beneath you or above you. I mean, it's just wherever you are, be all there.

Marcus: Yeah. No, that's extremely important for people, especially folks that are listening to this podcast, because you never know what that chance encounter is gonna turn into. Right?

Jim: No, never.

Marcus: I mean, I've met numerous people over the course of the last, say, 10 years in doing this that afterwards you think, "Wow. It was a really kind of cool meeting," or something, and then you learn six months later why it was that you actually met that person, what the purpose was behind it. Right? There was something else that happened, or something else that happened. But no, that's really powerful. Now, you started in the medical profession as a nurse, and you are now in ministry.

Jim: Yeah. I was initially a laboratory technologist, which means, basically, clinical lab. You run the lab in a hospital. Thought I'd left that coming out of the military. I thought, “I'm out,” threw all my stuff, my work clothes and my books away, and thought I was going to be a missionary preaching the gospel. So, I went to Bible school in Dallas. I forgot about that. So, I was in Dallas-

Marcus: Dallas Theological, or-

Jim: No. It was actually called Christ for the Nations. It's in Dallas, and it's been around since the '70s. But anyway, I studied there, but after a year, I felt the lord speaking to me to get back into medical and started studying nursing. But I didn't have a clarity as to why, just sensing that that was something that I needed to do. Then in the process, once I got into it, I realized maybe the lord could use this in a similar way to what I thought theology would, which was to connect with people globally.

Marcus: Yeah, and heal.

Jim: Yeah, yeah. Well, and even not that. You just start, not knowing, because it turned out that out of 35 classmates, I was the only guy, and it was very intimidating. Early '80s, not many men in nursing. God used it way more to change me than to use me, because being among all these young ladies who really read my blind spots, challenged me on some issues relationally, it was very transformative.

Marcus: Wow. Very cool. So, how do you get from, I'm assuming, Dallas or Philadelphia or somewhere stateside to Nepal and India, and some of these far off lands?

Jim: Well, it all started about 1983 when I was taking care of a patient from Iran, working, still in school, not graduating till '85, taking care of a 26-year-old guy that had end stage multiple myeloma, and he was struggling with breath and breathing. He was really in a lot of pain, 26 years old. I asked him if I could pray for him, and he stopped me in the middle of my prayer and said, “You can't pray the way you're praying for me.” I was like, “What?” He said, “You can't call God your father. God doesn't care about me,” and it was just this huge spiritual encounter. That led me to begin to study other religion, study Islam in particular. That was the beginning point of encountering people that needed Christ, but couldn't even receive a prayer, and realizing there's a big world out there, that I might want to perhaps be used by God to help them not just have physical healing, but spiritual healing.

Marcus: Yeah. Very cool. I mean, that was here in the states and-

Jim: That was in Philly area, yeah.

Marcus: Yeah, and making the decision to go to these far off lands, how did that come about?

Jim: Just realizing ... After a few years, I met my wife. Probably the next year, I met Mary, and we began to get to know each other, and she had a similar encounter with ... She was a physical therapist, and she was taking care of people also from that region of the world, and she's like, “If you're gonna have a serious relationship with me, I just want to let you know my trajectory is moving towards the nations.” I was like, “Well, I have the same trajectory. Let's go together,” kind of a thing. We began to realize we needed some more training, so I entered back into the military to let them send me to Pensacola where I became a Navy nurse. At the same time, there's another Bible school that had a focus on missions in Pensacola, so we both went to school when we could, in between working and caring for young children. It was called Liberty Christian College, and that allowed us after a few more years to begin to travel overseas in the early '90s.

Marcus: What was one of the transformative experiences that you had while you were overseas ministering to these people? Is there something that kind of stands out amongst all that?

Jim: Yeah. I would say if I had to pick one experience, it was ... Just to give you our focus, we were helping people who were blind to regain their sight, with the hopes that this would not just heal physically, but be a transformative spiritual experience. But the most intense experience I had over there involved not restoring sight, but just bringing some healing in a different way to a woman who was in an isolated village where they practiced a thing called purdah. Purdah is where you're not allowed outside of your house for your lifetime, as a woman.

Marcus: Golly.

Jim: So, when we went to this village, because they had had a cholera outbreak, a few hundred people had died. We told them that we can get some other help, but we can also help your people that have eye issues. So, we went in, and we announced on the loudspeaker in the masque we're providing free care, but we noticed no women were coming. So, I said, "Why is that?" They said, "Well, they're not allowed out. They're not used to this." Eventually, I asked the leader of the mosque to make an announcement, said, "We are here for everyone," and the first woman that came out, haltingly, had had severe beginning of blindness because of what's called trichiasis, where the eyelash is coming into the eye and scratched the cornea, extreme pain, and just providing care for her was very, very powerful because she would never have been allowed out otherwise.

Jim: Then another woman who came in, she was probably about 35 years old, who came out, when I tested her vision, we could restore her vision with reading glasses. She was a sewer. The only thing that she said brought joy into her life was being able to sew, and she wept when I was doing the exam. I said, "Why are you weeping?" I said, "We're here to provide care," and she said, "Well, I have no money. I can't afford anything." I said, "For $2.00 ..." That's what it cost us. For $2.00, God changed this woman's life through restoring joy. It wasn't so much that she had lost vision. It's she'd lost the ability to do the only thing that brought her joy.

Marcus: Yeah, that's amazing.

Jim: So, I was like, "God, if I die today, I'll be happy because-"

Marcus: I'm good, yeah.

Jim: "... two bucks," obviously ... But then the other thing that God says to you is, "What if I'd not gone?" This is always the question of obedience, is, "What if I hadn't started that business? What if I hadn't invested in someone else's life?" I guess that's the story of It's a Wonderful Life. Same story, right? What if I'd never lived?

Marcus: Yep, yep. Very much so. Well, why don't you tell us a little bit about Friends of International? How did it get started? What is it? That stuff.

Jim: Yeah. Friends of International was started in 1996 by another man. I came in and directed in 1998, so over 20 years, but the vision has been to minister Christ, minister love, minister community to the international students at the University of South Alabama, which is a significant number. Since the beginning of the university, South has had international students. I met a guy that was in the first graduating class from South Africa.

Marcus: Oh, wow.

Jim: He came in for the 50th anniversary of the university. He's now a multimillionaire in South Africa.

Marcus: That's crazy.

Jim: Business man. Probably nobody knew. I bumped into him at that event, and he's like, “Yeah, nobody probably knows that I'm here, but I came back because this is where it all began for me.” So, these are impactful people, world leaders. 45% of world leaders today studied in the United States, so it's significant, and it's significant at South. So, we came understanding out of a prayer that I prayed in Pakistan, “God, I want to reach the whole world.” It's kind of an audacious prayer. “God, I want to reach the whole world. If it's possible, show me how.”

Jim: In prayer one day, I was just listening, quiet, and I felt the lord say, “International students.” So, I made the decision to relocate here. Even though things were going well in Pakistan, I learned the language, hospital was seeing people restored, but it was a change in assignment. It's like, you can be doing very well and achieving success, but there might come a time when you get that whisper from God, “It's time for a change,” but that takes prayer and wisdom and counsel. So, we have right now people from probably 50, 60 nations at South.

Marcus: Wow.

Jim: We're just building community. We have a house right across the street from South. They come over for dinner. Saturday night, we had a hundred people in our house for dinner. Insane.

Marcus: All right. I'm just gonna pause you right there and have everybody just take notice of what he just said. They had a hundred people over for dinner on Saturday night.

Jim: Yeah, yeah.

Marcus: That's crazy.

Jim: It's crazy, yeah.

Marcus: That is absolutely crazy.

Jim: But it's a good crazy.

Marcus: But I love it. Yeah.

Jim: Yeah, it's a good crazy.

Marcus: Yeah. So, you have dinners. I know you have Bible studies. What are some of the other activities that you-

Jim: One of the things that ... Early on, first few months after I got here, July 1998 I arrived, I was like, “God, what am I really supposed to do? I'm going from assisting an eye surgery, diagnosing eye disease, now I'm working with international students. I don't have a clue, really.” Love people, but the word came to me, Romans chapter 12, verse 10. It says, “Honor one another above yourself.” So, just basically, our vision is to honor the beauty of diversity, the treasures in every culture. So, we have what we call cultural celebrations.

Jim: February 2nd, we're gonna be having Chinese cultural night. This time it'll be not at my house. It'll be on campus, and so all the Chinese students, with our assistance, will share about their country, their culture, their secrets, their challenges, and we always mix it with as many of the five senses, touch, taste, sight, hearing, tough all the whole person, and then they just show off, but that builds bridges of relationship. This allows us ... I think honor is something that most cultures understand as probably the greatest way to build significant relationship. Right now, we're in a challenging time in our nation where we're almost into the shame culture, where we're taking social media, we're bending it backwards instead of forwards.

Marcus: Right. I mean, just as I've been watching you over the course of the last year or so, it's been very interesting to see how you use food, and dance, and music, and all these things that are culturally significant to people, because there's something ... My parents are from Brazil, and there's something about sharing your culture, and I'm not necessarily talking about me, because I have never lived in Brazil, but my parents very much enjoy sharing their food and their music, and talking about what it was like growing up in that country, and so by allowing somebody to share that, you're building relationship with them in a deeper way, and it's really just about ... I mean, you're not shoving anything down these people's throats. You're just providing them a mechanism to kind of express themselves culturally, and just being their friend, just being there.

Jim: Yeah, yeah. When you start talking about spiritual truth and transformative relationships, it's really almost rude to just take somebody to the 50th floor if you're not willing to walk with them in the basement, and every floor has something on it that's worth exploring. So, there's a progression of relationship that's really natural. Look at Jesus in all his encounters. There was no formulaic approach in Jesus. He was in insightful. He was prayerful, and he was sensitive to where people were. He was so bold as to be able to call them who they really were from his perspective, and that's sort of what I'm doing, and Mary, is we really, really love people, and that means we really have to get to know them. So, it's kind of a slow cooker approach as to a microwave approach to relationships. We're not in a hurry. When people know you're not in a hurry, they can be who they really are.

Marcus: Yeah, that's cool. It's very cool. Well, I know that you have an affinity for studying business as well, and so if you were talking to someone that wanted to get started in running their own business or their own nonprofit, what's the one bit of wisdom that you would impart to them?

Jim: That everything should be focused on the great Gary Smalley quote on the foundation level, which is, “Life is all about relationships. The rest is just detail.” There's a lot of talk out there about emotional intelligence, and probably around the year 1999 or 2000, Joey Scrivano, who was coaching the University of South Alabama tennis team, asked me to help him to be successful. He wanted to win a national championship, and I didn't know why he asked me, but anyway, it turned out we started leading retreats annually. When we started looking at doing retreats to help his team to succeed, it's all about team in relationships and business, is we started looking at guys like Patrick Lencioni and John Maxwell.

Jim: So, I guess at a foundational level, we always come back to trust as a foundation for a successful team, vulnerability, communications, accountability, all those things that are in Lencioni's book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, and that's what Jesus did, really. I mean, all truth is God's truth. I mean, to say, well, maybe if you're out there, you're listening and you say, “I'm not really necessarily a spiritual person. Maybe I'm an agnostic. I'm not maybe a staunch atheist, but do I really need Jesus? Do I really need spiritual truth?” Well, if all truth is God truth, and that's a leap of faith as well, but if it is, then there's no point in being successful in anything if relationships are not at your core.

Jim: So, my one thing would be to be honest. If you're leading, and you want to be an entrepreneur, and you want to be a founder, you've gotta be the most responsible person and leading in healthy relationships. So, how is my relational life? Who is sewing into me? No matter how old you are ... I'm almost 60. I'll be 60 this year. I've got to have a mentor, and I want to have a mentor till I take my last breath. So, letting people speak into my life as a leader, as a business director, CEO, whatever your role is, who is nurturing your soul?

Marcus: That's good stuff, man. That's really good stuff. Is there a person that motivates you from the business world?

Jim: Yeah. I would say Lencioni again.

Marcus: Again? Yeah.

Jim: I like the fact that he has a commitment ... Maxwell, maybe, John Maxwell.

Marcus: Sure. Yeah.

Jim: He's getting a little bit older, but he's still active. But both of those guys I read.

Marcus: He just did an interview with Ed Mylett, a podcast interview with Ed Mylett. You may want to ... I'll send you a link-

Jim: Yeah, thanks.

Marcus: ... if you want to check that out, because I thought it was really good. It was just interesting because I don't know that I oftentimes see him in that position of being interviewed like that, and he's accomplished so much. I mean, he's written so many different books. I mean, he's probably one of the most prolific writers on leadership that the world has ever seen, and then you start thinking about he started as a pastor and left because he knew that there was something that God was calling him to do in writing all these books. 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership was definitely severely-

Jim: Yeah. Some of these are great. Yeah. Oh, yeah.

Marcus: ... influential in my life, and so it taught me a lot about what it means to be a leader and relate to others, and not just kind of flounder in that role, but kind of [crosstalk 00:21:51]

Jim: One other guy on leadership I would say is a guy that's a ... It is a pastor, so a spiritual leader type, but his name's Wayne Cordeiro. He wrote a book called Running on Empty. He's written a lot of good stuff, but he talks about the fact that even when you're very successful, you need to create margin, and you need to have some balance because a lot of times your vision can consume you. But the reality of it is, getting back to spiritual health and soul health, is you teach what you know. This is one of his foundational quotes that I have running in my brain every day. You teach what you know. You reproduce what you are. So, even if you're functionally flowing in your gifting, in your abilities, in your dream, if your soul is unhealthy, eventually, people will get that, too. So, we don't want people to get unhealthy or imbalanced in our core team, because they watch, and it's like children. They watch our habits. They watch how we ... If you're burning out, they're gonna burn out.

Marcus: Yeah. Yeah, I get that. Wow. Any books, podcasts, people or organizations that have been helpful in moving you forward?

Jim: Well, I'm a big reader, for sure.

Marcus: What are your top two that you would give to people to read?

Jim: On a spiritual level, on a foundational level, probably Watchman Nee, who was a Chinese pastor back in the day, when it was Communist China. Well, it is still Communist, but it was radically-

Marcus: Really Communist. Yeah.

Jim: ... persecuting Christians, 1930s era. So, anything by Watchman Nee is very foundational on the spiritual side, and then again, back maybe on the secular business side, I've already mentioned probably two foundational guys. It would be Lencioni and then John Maxwell.

Marcus: Nice. Very good. Now, what's the most important thing that you've learned about running a ministry?

Jim: Obedience. Every year, I pray for some clear word from God. This year, the word is from First Samuel, chapter 15. To obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken or to listen clearly than the fat of lambs. I feel like God has no obligation to bless my good ideas, so if the lord isn't speaking, I should be very careful before I launch. So, I need to have a clarity, and this is, of course, again ... Andy Stanley's another guy. Throw that back out there. Andy Stanley has a great book on visioneering, which would be great for any entrepreneur to read, or business leader, or ministry director, is taking on the book, Life of Nehemiah. Nehemiah began everything in Nehemiah chapter one in prayer. So, prayer should be 70% or more listening, and 20%, 30% talking. God has something to say.

Marcus: Even within the talking, it's not asking for what you want. It's oftentimes praising God for what he's given.

Jim: Yeah. I mean, Matthew chapter four, verse four, Jesus said, "Man does not live by bread alone, but every word that proceeds from God's mouth." So, if I'm talking too much, like any relationship, the most valued thing in any relationship is to be heard.

Marcus: Right. Yeah. I hear that. How do you like to unwind? I know the answer to this, but-

Jim: Yeah. Well, I normally like to run. I like to run, but I'm not able to do that now.

Marcus: Yeah, exactly. So, he had a bit of a stumble, so he's got an ankle that's not quite ready for running, but I know that that's his therapy, getting out and just going-

Jim: Yeah, and I'm a big reader. I think that I used to read a lot differently in my 20s. The interesting thing about getting older is you might still love the same things. You just do them differently. So, in the early days I'm voracious. I want to get more, more, more. Now I'm more slowing down. I spend time ... If it's a really valuable book, one or two pages, I might read those over, and over, and over, because somebody that's got something from God, somebody that has something to give, there's a lot in what they're doing. Slow it down.

Marcus: Dissecting the details.

Jim: Yeah. So, I guess I'd say prayer and meditation, reading.

Marcus: Yeah. That's good. Where can people find out more information about what you're doing?

Jim: On a very active level ... Some people don't do Facebook, but we do have a Facebook group, Facebook.com/foimobile, or they can just Google me, and if I can, I can give out my phone number. I don't mind.

Marcus: Yeah, absolutely.

Jim: 251-458-7257. I'm not really into email so much. If people call me, I'll take the call.

Marcus: Yeah. No, he's a friendly guy, folks.

Jim: Yeah.

Marcus: Yeah.

Jim: I'll take the call. Let's go out to lunch.

Marcus: He's a professional friend maker, so-

Jim: Yeah. I love it.

Marcus: It's good stuff. Well, I want to thank you again for coming on the podcast.

Jim: Yeah. Thank you, sir.

Marcus: To wrap up, any final thoughts or comments you'd like to share?

Jim: Yeah. I think that if I could put in two or three sentences what is my purpose in life at this point, is I want to help other people be successful, and whether that's an international student, a refugee, or a businessperson, man, I'm at the stage of life that I want to help you.

Marcus: Yeah. You want to pour into other people's lives.

Jim: I want to pour into other ... That's where I'm at.

Marcus: Leave a legacy.

Jim: Yeah. So, if you're out there, come and see me.

Marcus: That's awesome. Now, I would encourage you, especially if you have a heart for internationals ... A lot of times, we don't think of Mobile as this hotbed of people from other countries coming here, but the truth is because we're a port city, and because of the schools that we have, we do have a significant population of people that are not from the United States.

Jim: I'd say Airbus is a big factor.

Marcus: Yeah, Airbus. I know that University of Mobile has a fairly significant number of people that are from outside of the country-

Jim: Yeah, they're growing.

Marcus: ... especially if you start looking at their-

Jim: They're purposely recruiting now.

Marcus: Yeah. Their sports teams are definitely pulling people in, and then University of South Alabama with the medical programs and stuff like that, they've definitely become known as a place for internationals to come.

Jim: The future world is a global world.

Marcus: It is, and we need to keep that in mind, and we need to not be idiots and offend everybody at every chance that we get. I know that's kind of a ... I don't know. That might be a button pushing on people, but the reality is these people are here. We are called to love people, and so we need to share our culture, and we need to allow them to share their culture with us and become friends and love on them.

Jim: Yeah, absolutely.

Marcus: Anyway ... Well, Jim, I appreciate your willingness to sit with me and share your journey as, I guess, a leader of a ministry. It's been great talking with you.

Jim: Yeah, thanks.

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