Margaret C. Ashby

Dialogue with an Adventist senior official of the Barbados Postal Service.

Little would she imagine that one day she would be called to serve her country in a high-level position. But today, Margaret C. Ashby is a respected government official and an appreciated senior manager at the Barbados Postal Service.

Born in an Adventist home, Ashby enjoyed church life in a country where 6 percent of the population is Adventist. However, during her youth, she drifted away from God. These hard times taught her about a God that was very patient with her, and eventually she returned home.

Her new relationship with God not only became meaningful for her personally; her career in the postal sector, which had started in 1977, took on a whole new perspective as well. After years in a seemingly-unnoticeable job, God impressed her mind with the idea of going back to school. She did, even though she did not believe in her abilities, particularly in mathematics – a compulsory subject in her chosen area of study. God helped her, and she eventually graduated with a bachelor’s degree in computer science and management and a master’s degree in natural resource management, and climate change.

Here again, God opened doors for her in her country and is still doing so also at the international level. Since October 2012, Ashby has been one of the two assistant postmasters general of Barbados and supports her country’s delegation in its capacity as chair of one of the committees of the Universal Postal Union, a specialized agency of the United Nations. Ashby is married to Michael and has two daughters, Lisa and Lana.

She is an active member and personal ministries leader in her local church in Barbados.

Margaret, tell us a little about your beginnings at the Barbados Postal Service.

I had just finished my general education. I didn’t dream big dreams for myself, because I was a slow learner and that was a real hindrance if I ever wanted to succeed in anything. So I joined the postal service. For more than 30 years, I was in the same entry-level position, in the area of customer service. There was no mobility, and I saw no possibilities for growth.

You are now in one of the highest positions. How did that come to be?

God did something special for me at some point. I was already married and had two little girls, but God made it clear that I needed to go back to school. Now, that was a bit too much for me. I was really afraid of mathematics – a compulsory subject if I wanted to continue studying – and my self-esteem was not particularly high. I had also been away from God for a certain time, so my faith in Him was weak. Yet it was clear that God wanted me to go back to school and that He had a plan for me.

In the meantime, you ended up with a computer science and management degree. Whatever happened to your fear of mathematics?

The very first exam I had to take to be able to resume my studies had a strong mathematics component. I thought I would never make it. But God pointed me to a mathematics book we had at home. That helped me, certainly, but yet when I went in the examination room I found that I had to solve not just individual problems but a complex set. I looked at the paper and was sure I was going to fail. I could not imagine what to do. So I took my papers and was ready to hand them in, empty, within the first 15 minutes of the examination. When I stood up to leave, something hit me on my knees, and I fell back on my seat. God asked me, “Where are you going? Look at the questions again, don’t look at the big picture. Go bit by bit.” That’s what I did, and I managed to answer all the questions. Once outside, I shared my answers with a colleague, sure that they were all wrong. But he said, “These answers are correct!”

Representing the interests of her country concerning postal matters, in a plenary session at the Universal Postal Union.

So what were the results?

First, my paper got lost. They knew that I had completed the examination, but could not find my paper. After three weeks it was found. Then after many weeks, I was still waiting to hear my score. One evening, on my way to classes, I heard the teacher’s voice and decided there and then that I just could not wait any more. With a boldness completely alien to me, I went to see her. She was in a class with around 30 students. I went in and asked her about my grade. She said: “There’s no reason to worry, Margaret, you got a B!” I immediately replied: “That is impossible!” The whole class laughed.

Would you say that God wanted to teach you something through your fear of mathematics and low self-esteem?

Yes, God wanted to show me that there was nothing too difficult for Him to do. On the same night, while driving off campus, I heard a distinct voice coming from my back seat, asking, “Margaret, when will you trust me?” I looked back, ready to reply, but nobody was there. I realized that God was interested in me and that success was available to a slow learner like me.

You must have learned your lessons well, because until recently you have been working as a facilitator in the area of self-esteem!

I think I’m doing better in that area now. I was asked to facilitate training in the areas of self-esteem and customer service during a recent orientation course for new postal employees. I found this a very rewarding experience, as I was able to tell my story and share what I believe God can do when we acknowledge that we need help.

How do they respond when you tell them about your faith?

The Adventist church is well known in Barbados and, in general, most of the population is Christian, so it is not difficult to discuss these issues.

Are you called to work on Sabbaths?

Generally, in Barbados, the postal service does not provide services on weekends, except when there may be a long holiday weekend. However, from the beginning I told them what I believed, and I stood firm in my decision not to work on Sabbaths. My colleagues have always respected my decision. They know they can count on me for everything else, and they appreciate that.

So one day you made it to the top. How did it happen?

I successfully applied for the vacant position of senior training officer at the Training Administration Division, the training arm of government. I would eventually return to the post office, 18 months later, to take up the position I currently hold. Throughout the competition processes – which led me to these two senior positions – I clearly saw God’s hand prompting and leading me. I remember, for example, that when I received a letter informing me that I had been shortlisted to be interviewed for the position of assistant postmaster general, I realized that I would be out of the island, attending my daughter’s graduation at Cambridge University in England. I contacted the government’s Human Resources Management Agency and informed them of my prior commitment. To my surprise, they waited for me to return from England, and I did the interview then. When the letter came announcing my appointment, I was in awe. God had been there every step of the way. And I knew He would always be.

You have not been in this position long, yet you are already representing your country in the United Nations system.

Barbados is chair of one of the committees of the Council of Administration, which is responsible for cooperation and development within the Universal Postal Union. These meetings take place twice a year with delegates from 192 countries. In this committee, we deal with development issues that are key for the growth of the postal sector on an international scale. It is an honor for Barbados to be able to lead the discussions in this area. I feel very privileged to be able to serve not only my country but also the other member countries of the Universal Postal Union.

Which area of the postal sector interests you more?

Innovation! I believe the Post has great potential for innovation. In certain parts of the world, that can also be its most challenging need. The Post has a long history, and we can build on that foundation knowing what works better, following the development of economy and society. I like thinking of creative marketing strategies that can take my Post office forward. Innovative creativity needs a good methodology, and this combination is particularly appealing to me.

Ashby in front of the Universal Postal Union's headquarters in Bern, Switzerland.

What final message would you like to leave with the readers of Dialogue?

First, I would like to say that being an Adventist is nothing to coward away from. I am very happy and proud to be an Adventist and be able to serve in the government of my country. God needs Adventists in every walk of life, and He has promised His guidance for anyone who is willing to follow where He leads.

Second, I would like to leave a message for students. I think that this is no accident that I’m being interviewed for a magazine for students. The worst thing you can do is to leave God out of the picture when you are studying. Many times you believe that the more time you spend with your books, the better you will understand things. But it is not so. The recipe for success is making sure that you have some responsibility at church and that you are putting your all in that responsibility. In addition, make it your habit to attend the scheduled services of the church. If you are a fast learner, you may do well on your own. But you can’t begin to guess where God could take you if you decide to serve Him first. If you’re not a fast learner, but God comes first in your life, He can put you over the top. Make sure you get involved in your church. God is there waiting. He has a special plan for your life.

Lorena Mayer, (M.A. in International Communication, University of Southern Queensland, Australia) works at the Universal Postal Union in Bern, Switzerland. E-mail: lofimay@gmail.com.

Margaret C. Ashby can be contacted: margaret_ashby@bps.bb.