Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Success (?)

In this work we often find ourselves wanting and needing to provide progress reports to the kind and generous souls praying for or financially supporting it.

While we understand and desire that accountability and honesty with anyone investing in us or in Haiti, it can sometimes feel quite discouraging and uncomfortable trying to quantify progress or label success.

We (Troy and I) spend many nights sitting together asking ourselves what is being accomplished. Is it good? Do we believe in it? Do we feel good about it? We never want to get in a rut or get so comfortable with ourselves or our routines that we don't examine both our motivation and our trajectory.  We need to be asking ourselves difficult questions.

We have no desire to take donations from our church, family, and friends to live here if we cannot say at the end of the day that we are walking this path with God, being faithful to Him and doing things we feel honor Him and exhibit His love. Some days are really confusing because the things that happen in the course of a day aren't necessarily quantifiable. Some days we fall into bed asking each other "Is it right? Does this matter? Should we stay? Is God in this?"

American culture likes numbers, efficiency, and strict time-tables.  You've got to be able to prove yourself with stats and spreadsheets. In the sports world a new coach has just a few years to produce a championship team or he's out of a job. Even the American church wants to count how many butts are in the seats and how many people signed on a dotted line marked "follow Jesus" or how many will commit to come to the quarterly membership class.  In theory those are good things to value. Who doesn't want tangible outcomes? I'm not up for debating the rightness or wrongness of any of that today, I'm only saying that those sorts of western pushes for big numbers drive ministries working in other cultures abroad to produce reports that don't necessarily represent total truth.

Whenever I read reports out of Haiti spewing numbers, I read between the lines and wonder if the numbers are less about actual provable outcomes and more to please a culture that demands numbers. Accountability is good. We want it. More than that, we need it.  The question becomes, how do the expectations of one culture fit into the reality of working in another?

If we actually believed like Jesus did that touching one hurting person truly matters, that going the extra mile for one lost sheep is worth it, we wouldn't need to spend so much time counting and proving and counting and proving.

I'm thankful to be able to honestly share the struggles and not fold to that pressure of reporting big fancy numbers. The frustration lies mainly in the self-imposed pressures to chart it and prove it matters.

(Please read Beth's recent report in the previous post. An example of how failure and success are daily intertwined and often what separates them is inexplicable.)

Troy can spend entire day(s) with one timid and afraid 20 year old recently diagnosed and already ill with HIV helping to advocate for her medical care.  He can be at ease as one day turns into three while waiting to get her the tests she needs and fighting a broken, inadequate, and unfair medical system - knowing that he is not expected to quantify the outcome of those hours  ....  time with one person isn't usually looked at as success nor is it at all impressive when plotted on a spreadsheet  - but it matters and it's Kingdom work. 

Last night I read this in Gregory Boyle's memoir titled "Tattoos on the Heart" - it jumped off the pages and deeply resonated with me:
 

"People want me to tell them success stories. I understand this. They are the stories you want to tell, after all. So why does my scalp tighten whenever I am asked this?

Twenty years of this work has taught me that God has greater comfort with inverting categories than I do. What is success and what is failure? What is good and what is bad? Setback or progress? Great stock these days, especially in nonprofits (and who can blame them), is placed in evidence-based outcomes. People, funders in particular, want to know if what you do "works".

Are you in the end, successful? Naturally, I find myself heartened by Mother Teresa's take: 'We are not called to be successful, but faithful.' This distinction is helpful for me as I barricade myself against the daily dread of setback. You need protection from the ebb and flow of three steps forward, five steps backward. You trip over disappointment and recalcitrance every day, and it all becomes a muddle. God intends it to be, I think. For once you choose to hang out with folks who carry more burden than they can bear, all bets seem to be off. Salivating for success keeps you from being faithful, keeps you from truly seeing whoever is sitting in front of you. Embracing a strategy and an approach you can believe in is sometimes the best you can do on any given day. If you surrender your need for results and outcomes, success becomes God's business. I find it hard enough to just be faithful."




Success (?)

I find it hard enough to just be faithful.


tara

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

amen!

mbs said...

Love this post! How difficult it is to approach ministry from a western model of success. Love the quote from Mother Teresa. Going to "lift" it from you. Look for it on FB :-)

Keep being faithful!! Pray for all of us to be faithful in whatever circumstance He has placed us.

Sarah said...

This makes my heart happy. <3 I too find it hard enough to be faithful... Thanks for your encouragement T!

Jinlin said...

Dear Troy family, well done and well said. we are pioneering a work in China and all people want to hear is the success stories. In a world full of quantifying it is understandable and often what brings the donations; it is not kingdom. Strength enough for today's giants and continued hope for tomorrow is my current interpretation of faithfulness. thank you for your inspirational example of living faithfully. Lyn

Danielle said...

Thanks for sharing this. My husband and I spend many evenings racking our brains in much the same way trying to be obedient to what God wants...not what other missionaries want...not what churches want in the States. I also find it hard enough to just be faithful...glad that I'm not alone.