An Inspirational Must-read Book

Susan Page
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Wednesday - March 28, 2007
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A must-read book is It’s Not Okay with Me by Janine Maxwell. Not a book for the faint-hearted or the poor in faith, it’s a true story - her story - of what led her to SubSaharan Africa, what she’s witnessed, and how each of us can make a difference there.

The title above the cover photo of orphaned children in front of their “rubbish” hut isn’t subtle. The Herculean struggle that children face in Africa 24/7 is simply “not okay” with Janine Maxwell, who firmly believes that if people simply know the truth it won’t be OK with them either. Her book takes you miles beyond Oprah’s academy for girls, Angelina, Brad and Madonna’s orphan-shopping adventures and Bono’s helping-Africa-should-be-fun “Red Campaign.” (All good, but leaving much out.)

Here in Hawaii for the Hawaiian Island Ministries (HIM) Conference (March 28-31), Maxwell, a gregarious, witty mother of two preteens, will talk about why local folks should go to Africa with her on one of the many trips she and husband Ian lead through their organization, Heart for Africa ( I’ve been on three trips and am heading to Swaziland, Malawi and Kenya this June/July). Heart for Africa takes North Americans to Africa on short term missions to do real, meaningful work in orphanages, child-headed households, slums and poor villages, and - most important to Maxwell - to be transformed just as she was.

Janine Maxwell didn’t always lead missions to Africa. For 16 years she led one of Canada’s most successful marketing firms, which she started at 24. With Fortune 500 clients - Disney, Kellogg, Kraft and Coke - she lived her dream: custom-built home, BMW, luxury vacations. Then on Sept. 11, 2001, her world flip-flopped.

Chapter 1 details her harrowing - literally running - escape from a hotel by the World Trade Center. Her husband was on an American Airlines flight, her children were in Toronto and suddenly marketing corn flakes and Coca Cola seemed so trivial. Her controlled life was out of control. Months of depression and introspection followed, then an eye- (and heart-) opening mission to Zambia, staying at an AIDS testing center, showed her that God was leading her far away from the executive board-room. She eventually closed her company in 2004.

“I thought I would always own my successful marketing company, always be making money and always be designing creative campaigns,” says Maxwell. “But now I am a missionary, of sorts, and designing a new kind of campaign.”

Maxwell first trip to Africa in 2003 took her to Kenya and a slum called Kipsongo near the Ugandan border.

“As we drove in to the town the stench that came through our closed windows made my stomach lurch ... Each hut was a mosaic of very dirty, once colored garbage. Each layer told a different tale of history like the layers of wallpaper in an old kitchen. The 18,000 inhabitants of Kipsongo did not have a single toilet, outhouse or pit latrine. ... Where was I? What was I doing here? This was crazy. My head was spinning ...”

But on a later trip, Maxwell found 8-year-old Lillian, who weighed 12 pounds. “Lillian sat wrapped in an old piece of burlap. She was a skeleton. A living skeleton.” I won’t spoil Chapter 7, but, through Lillian, Maxwell saw God’s hope.

Maxwell describes her book as “a story of how God is truly calling ordinary, everyday people to step up to the plate and make a difference in the world. I always thought that it was priests and pastors and reverends who were supposed to be doing God’s work. But apparently I was wrong. There are far more of us ‘ordinary types’ than there are religious leaders. Each of us has the power to change the world - imagine the transformation that could occur if we put pride aside and unite together. Imagine.

“I want everyone to look into the eyes of an African child and see the hope that I do. I want everyone who says, “It’s not okay with me either,” to act! To do something to make a difference.” In her book, she shows you how.

Meet Maxwell at the Heart for Africa booth at HIM, Hawaii Convention Center ( Order It’s Not Okay With Me at or

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