Friday, November 26, 2010

Success and the R.O.U.S.

“This goes completely against our model,” said the head of SIFAT.
“Ours too,” I said.

It was a recipe for disaster; we’d both seen these sorts of projects crash and burn before, and neither of us wanted anything to do with a fruitless money pit. We knew what most to avoid: top-down initiatives—particularly ones that started with a “great idea” by an American and involving a sudden large infusion of money/resources. Doing so almost always resulted in the community neither taking ownership of the project nor having the political capacity/motivation to effectively maximize the potential of the resources given.

Why in the world, then, did SIFAT accept a group’s offer to help build a SIFAT training center in Lusaka, and then Friendly Planet Missiology agree to help make it happen?

I’ve been procrastinating addressing this question directly hoping that I could find an academic way to articulate what we both had intuited. After all, I do seem to be pulling a missiological version of “Do what I say; not what I do” on this one.

Simply put, we agreed it felt like a force more powerful than us had thrust us into this endeavor—assuring us that we’d been cast as actors in a grand plan. Plus, despite all the reasons why it sounded like a very bad idea, it appeared to be the way forward.

This week I realized that I already knew what to say to such questions. When the wise leader Westley in the film The Princess Bride was told “We’ll never succeed.” he responded,

“Nonsense. You’re only saying that because no one ever has… We have already succeeded. I mean, what are the three terrors of the Fire Swamp? One, the flame spurt. No problem. There’s a popping sound preceding each. We can avoid that. Two, the lightning sand. You were clever enough to discover what that looks like. So in the future we can avoid that too.”

“Westley, what about the R.O.U.S.s?”

“Rodents of Unusual Size? I don’t think they exist.” 
[the viewer know he is fibbing, and they are promptly attacked by one]

I think that about sums up how I feel about the realities of trying to build a SIFAT appropriate technology training center on United Methodist land in Lusaka despite the limited capacity/size of the UMC here and that none of the leaders here knew anything about SIFAT until they were informed by their bishop in DR Congo that the center would be built.

Is this risky? Yup. Can we succeed? With the dream team of SIFAT, Friendly Planet, Bishop Katembo, our new Assistant Bishop, and many local leaders, of course we will. After all, we managed to overcome many of the dangers thus far. Am I’m failing to mention the challenges I know to be ahead? You betcha. Should you try this at home? I wouldn’t recommend it.

However, if you do find yourself stuck in charge of a problematic mission project [Pastors and mission chair folks: I’m especially talking to you], I’ll say to you what my family always says to me: Have fun storming the castle!

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