Ray Martin, Former Executive Director, Christian Connections for International Health Print {sharethis label=}

 Monday, March 16, 2009 


By Evelyn Garland, Project Manager, Christian Connections for International Health (CCIH) 

 Ray Martin serves as Executive Director of Christian Connections for International Health since  2000. He has over 40 years experience as an international development and public health  specialist. He was recently the Chair of the 1600-member International Health Section of the  American Public Health Association (APHA), and received the Distinguished Service Award of  the Section. In a 25-year career with USAID, he was chief of the Health, Population, and Nutrition  offices in Zaire, Pakistan, and Cameroon, and also served in Ghana and Morocco. From 1992 he  worked several years on African programs as a public health specialist at the  World Bank before  becoming an independent consultant. His international career began as a Mennonite volunteer  in community development in Somalia and in refugee development in Tanzania. He has a B.A. in  economics from Goshen College, an MPH from Johns Hopkins  School of Hygiene and Public  Health, and completed the course work for a Masters degree in economics from Vanderbilt  University. He is fluent in French.


Getting started
CCIH: How did you get started in international health?
Ray: I attribute my interest in international development to my parents’ interest in missions. I grew up in a Mennonite family in Pennsylvania. Church was a very important part of our lives. My farming parents were very, very interested in missions. So even though I grew up in a rather geographically limiting setting, there was this window to the larger world because of my parents’ interest in missions. So when I was 21, I went overseas in voluntary service, 3 years in Somalia and Tanzania. That exposure to life overseas and the challenges and fascination living and working overseas convinced me that I wanted to spend my life in international development. So I studied economics, worked for USAID for a while, then switched from economics and program coordination into public health. The international interest remained. That is in a nutshell the pathway that brought me to this place where I am now working in global health with faith-based organizations.
The $ issue
CCIH: How did you finance yourself during your three years of volunteering overseas?
Ray: The Mennonite Voluntary Service Program financed the program but it wasn’t very costly. They of course had to get me from the United States to east Africa. They provided housing, which, when I was in the bush, was really just a mud hut with a grass roof. Food… the way I ate… wasn’t very expensive. And my allowance was $10 a month, back in 1961. I was not a very costly volunteer. But I didn’t have to pay for anything.
CCIH: Did you ever worry about your financial security?
Ray: No. I had a few dollars in savings because I worked in summers, but not very much. When I came back then, there was a question of financing college – I had only completed two years of college when I went overseas. But college didn’t cost as much  then as it does now. So just in  summer jobs, I could sometimes earn a good part of what a year of college would cost. I don’t think I even had to borrow money. The financial dimension was a little bit different back in the 1960s.
Making a choice
CCIH: Why did you, after graduating from college, decide to join USAID instead of a Mennonite mission or another Christian organization?
Ray: That question is one that I did struggle with. Since I had a very strong, solid church background, it would have been logical for me to have chosen to continue to work with an organization like Mennonite Central Committee. When I was overseas with the Mennonite Voluntary Service, I had some interaction with USAID. In fact, the office of the Christian Council of  Tanganyika where I worked was in the same building that the USAID office was. This gave me some exposure to USAID. Then after finishing college, I was thinking about “what I’m going to do next”. I debated quite a bit: should I go with some Mennonite or some Christian organization or an organization like USAID. My reasoning was, for my choice to go with USAID, that USAID had a lot of money, and a lot of influence and impact. I thought, as a young Christian professional, I could make a bigger difference by working for USAID. I’m not sure now whether I would necessarily argue that way or not.
But, regardless, I’m a very strong proponent of Christians working in secular organizations, but I’m also a strong proponent of Christians working in Christian organizations.In secular circles, I’ll defend the importance of Christian organizations and their contribution to international development. But I think it’s also important for many Christians to be scattered around large or small secular organizations, for example, the World Bank, USAID, UN agencies, where they can be “salt and light”, by working in these large secular organizations.
I really strongly encourage young people, if they are thinking of choosing a career with some secular organization, or even a for-profit corporation, if they feel confident that they can maintain their values and their Christian faith by working in a secular environment, to make that choice.It isn’t always easy, but  if they feel that they will not compromise their faith and values by working in secular organizations, I think it’s fantastic when they choose to be bold and pursue careers with corporations or governments or other secular organizations.
Journey of faith
CCIH: You mentioned that you started as a very traditional Mennonite. Now you run this organization (CCIH) that is very inclusive, bringing together members of many different Christian denominations. What has changed with your personal faith?
Ray: There were some pretty profound changes in my life and faith in those three years that I was in Somalia and Tanzania. I grew up in a very Mennonite traditional environment. And, here I was – a young man, in my early 20s, living in a Muslim village in Somalia, and then later working in an ecumenical setting at the Christian Council of Tanzania in Dar es Salaam. My eyes were opened to the variety of faith and religious organizations and experiences. My response to that was to broaden my own views about faith. I no longer was the, I guess you could say, “narrow-minded, protestant Christian” that I had been. So for me now, working in an ecumenical environment is one that I’m very comfortable with, and even working in an interfaith environment is one that I’m comfortable with.
I don’t think that working in an interfaith environment means that one has to deny or compromise your own faith or your own values. But one can have appreciation for the faith and spiritual experience of other people at the same time as you adhere to your own believes and values. And, also be open to opportunities to work together to achieve shared objectives. One of the attractions of working in the health sector, from my point of view, is that people from all faiths, or people with no faith, tend to agree that it’s better to be well than to be sick, and it’s a good thing to have public policies that help people from getting sick in the first place. Health is one area where people from different Christian traditions as well as other religious traditions can come together and work jointly toward shared objectives.
CCIH: As a Christian working in secular organizations such as the government and international organizations, were you outspoken about your faith?
Ray: I don’t think I can answer that question with a simple yes or no. In one sense the answer is “no”. I didn’t constantly get people into discussions about my faith or their faith. I didn’t go around asking colleagues whether they were “saved”. Actually, the Mennonite tradition that I grew up in… although in some circles there was an emphasis on preaching and telling people what you believe in, there was another strain, where the emphasis was more on living your faith. The idea is: if you lived your faith, then your faith and values would show by how you lived your life; and there wasn’t so much the responsibility of every individual to call people to God – you lived faith, you were a witness by the way you lived, and God called people to himself. So I didn’t feel that being a Christian meant that I had to very publicly and verbally be constantly talking about my faith. I didn’t hide it either. I think later on, actually, as I matured, I was even more willing and more likely to talk about my faith if the occasion was appropriate, but I didn’t force my way into other people’s lives on these issues.
CCIH: Now moving on to your current organization – CCIH. CCIH helps its members network. For students who don’t have a lot of work experience, and probably not as knowledgeable as professionals about international public health, what are some of the ways that students can successfully network with professionals?
Ray: This is a subject that I enjoy talking about. I think it’s a very important subject for a lot of young people. There’s always that conundrum of transitioning from college and university into a job, where a lot of the jobs won’t hire you unless you have two or three or five years of experience; but then how are you going to get the experience unless somebody hires you and allows you to get the experience?
A few thoughts. One thing that is hard for a lot of students to do is to realize that they have opportunities while they are still in school, at college or university, to begin this process of networking and building relationships with people that they can eventually use to try to find a job. My own daughter was this way. She thought, well, she was going to focus on getting good grades in school and then toward the end of school start looking for a job. Wrong! The way to do it is while you are in school, look for opportunities to see what people are doing and to be seen, to go to conferences, to go to seminars and workshops, to introduce yourself to the speaker if you can, and get your name known out there as somebody who’s passionately interested in global health or whatever.           
Volunteering is another good way. If you can do an internship or a semester program, whether it’s paid or not, if it will give you the kind of experience that you can build on as you try to get established in your career, take advantage of it. Also, even when you are in college, you can join organizations like CCIH, the Global Health Council, or the American Public Health Association, and get active in a committee or some project where you rub shoulders with veteran professionals and you can show your stuff. You become known by them, and they can see your work and trust that you can deliver. So later when you get to the point when you are looking for a job, you already have not only a paper resume, but you have a list of contacts of people who know you and say “oh, yes, that person helped on this project or wrote that paper”. These are all little handles that you can latch on to in trying to get your first job or get established in some organization.
Asking for informational interviews is another strategy. If you can identify ten organizations you would be happy to work for, see if you can just go visit them, and arrange for somebody from the organization to talk to you about the work of the organization, take you around and introduce you to some people, all these are tactics that can help you establish yourself in your own career.
CCIH: Let’s get specific. Take myself for example, when I was looking for a job, I was told by at least three people “well, go talk to Ray Martin”…
Ray: (Laughs) I don’t know whether that was good advice or not.
CCIH: … I had opportunities to walk by you at CCIH conferences. But every time I saw you, I thought “what shall I say to him?” I didn’t know how to start a conversation with you, especially a lot of times when I saw you, you were busy talking with other people. So, for someone like me, how would you suggest him or her start talking with you or other professionals?
Ray:     Well, one has to think about strategy. It’s true Evelyn, that you came to a couple of CCIH conferences and I didn’t even know you. But part of the problem is that the CCIH conference with 150 people is not necessarily a time when everybody can expect to have enough time with one individual like myself because there are so many other people. So you can strategize, be a little clever, a little wily, and try to find some other way outside of the conference. Well, of course you can try at the conference, too. I think if you would have come up to me at the conference and said “three people told me that I should talk to you”, I probably would have been flattered enough that I would have found some way of spending some time inviting you to sit at my table or something… (laughs) But you have to be a little bold sometimes.
Another way is to find a time when things aren’t so busy, or even after the conference, somebody could come up to me and say “well, I don’t have a lot of experience, but I have a little experience; and one area that I’m very interested in is this or that. I wonder whether CCIH could use my interest, volunteering if necessary, to work on some project.” That would be one way that you could get over this initial hurdle of making a contact. I find that most global health professionals have some interest in nurturing and mentoring the next generation of professionals who work in global health. Of course there is the problem that people are being overworked and they don’t have time, but that interest is still there.
It’s tempting to hope that somebody is going to deliver to you the perfect opportunity on a silver platter. But except for a few very lucky people, life just doesn’t work that way. You have to really work at it, and maybe sometimes go out of your comfort zone a little bit, and boldly making these first visits and contacts within your grasp.
CCIH: Here’s another situation. You go to an event. It’s pretty new to you. You don’t know a soul there, while everybody else seem to know each other. And, there’s a reception that follows. How do you network and take advantage of such an opportunity?
Ray: Well, I’ve been in that situation. Even at my stage of life, sometimes I go to an event, which is not the usual kind of event to me and I don’t know anybody, and feel a little uncomfortable, maybe a little intimidated. Again, it’s a question of boldness and being willing to go out of your comfort zone a little bit. It’s not easy just walking up to somebody and saying who you are and I want to talk to you. But if somebody has asked a question at the question and answer period, you can go up and say to them that I was intrigued by your question, and strategize, figure out a way to build on what little evidence about somebody that you have and see if you can go from there into having a conversation. Or, you can say “well, I’m interested in this or that, and I’m trying to get the views of different people on this. Could I ask what your opinion is?” You can invent the issue on the spot, make up the question on the spot, but you can use that tactic as a way of pushing your way into a conversation with somebody. If you are clever enough and strategize appropriately, I don’t think that it is impossible.
CCIH: Another question on networking. You meet a lot of people. How do you remember their names, faces, and interests?
Ray: One thing that helps is – of course a good memory, that certainly helps – but whether you have an exceptional memory or not, taking notes. I enjoy networking – that helps, too. Another thing is that if I have contact with some new organization, I start a file on my computer on that organization. Maybe I don’t have anything in the file other than somebody’s name, and their phone number, and email address. Same with individuals, either a database on your computer, a Rolodex, or 3 by 5 index files, have some system that works for you to note these names. Then if something comes up, and you think such and such a person would be interested, send them an email or call them; or do something, or the next time you meet them, say “oh, I read this”. To a small degree, being an effective networker may be a skill that you are born with; to a much larger degree, however, I believe that effective networking is something that you can learn.
Careers in global health
CCIH: Are there any alternative career paths in international health for people who want to stay in their hometown close to their family?
Ray: That can be a very limiting reality. If you live in the Washington area, or New York, or Boston, or San Francesco, that’s one thing, because in these major cities, there are lots of organizations that are involved in international development and global health. If you are in some rural community in Iowa or Texas, it would be much more complicated. In some places, there are churches that would want somebody to be a leader of their mission group, so there would be ways like those that somebody could be involved in international affairs, mission work, health, or agriculture development work with local churches. Many of these wouldn’t be paying jobs; some of the mega churches may have a paid missions person, but most churches would not. Another thing, a lot of young people will go overseas for a couple of years with Peace Corps, some Christian or other religious organization, or a secular NGO. One career pathway for somebody who wants to stay in his or her home community, would be when they are young and perhaps still single, to give a couple of years of life somewhere, and that of course doesn’t guarantee that you will have a job in international health when you get home, but having that experience is one that could lead to more likely being chosen for whatever opportunity might be there.
Other ways to support global health
CCIH: How can people who are not global health professionals contribute to global health?
Ray: I would say that becoming informed and staying informed would be a good start. That is a lot easier to do now in the age of Internet, emails, and listservs. Sometimes I’m surprised to find somebody at some way-out-of-the-way place, who is very well informed on global issues or global health issues. Be involved in a local church, and exercise your passions and interest on a mission committee or some kind of service committee. A lot of local churches would have some avenues where you can exercise that interest, again, probably not in a paying manner. If there’s a nearby university or school that has some international interest, that would be another possibility to check out. Some people feel called to a praying ministry. Pray, write letters or emails to missionaries, or “adopt” a health worker or “adopt” a project and support it. Occasionally you may go to a conference, so you can meet other people who work in international health and development.
A satisfying career
CCIH: Is there anything else you would like to say to students?
Ray: One thing that I often think of in relation to Christian students and their career choices Is that I believe in callings. I believe that God calls people to be a farmer or a teacher or a janitor or a specialist in global health. For me, I’m often struck by how much of Jesus’ ministry that’s recorded in the Gospels has to do with health and healing. I’m very convinced that those of us who feel called to work in medical work, clinical work, or public health are really very clearlyliving the values that Jesus explained in his life and values that he talked about. To me, any kind of calling is a worthwhile calling. But to be working in health and healing and public health is a perfect manifestation of Jesus’ values, and one that, for me personally, has been very, very satisfying.
[Personal note from interviewer, Evelyn Garland]
More about Ray Martin - Everybody’s buddy
When I first started working for CCIH, one of the many things I discovered was that when I mention Ray as my boss when I introduce myself to others, the typical response to that would be: “Oh, he’s my buddy!” I am constantly surprised by the large number and diversity of people that Ray knows, and the respect they have for him. He not only is active in the Christian realm, but also has lots of “buddies” who come from other religious or secular backgrounds.
Among all the global health and development professionals I have interviewed, Ray is the one whom I know best about. However, when it came to interviewing him, I found it surprisingly difficult. There are so many things that I would like to “dig out” from Ray and share with students and recent graduates, but there is only so much I can do with one interview. If you have any other question for him, don’t hesitate to ask!

Last Updated ( Monday, 29 September 2014 19:14 )