I recently submitted a quarterly report entitled “Partnership, ownership and a leadership wake up call.” I was the leader. I needed to wake up.
At the end of the report, I mentioned that it might have been called “The good, the bad, and the ugly” and I thanked our international partners for supporting us and praying for us through our successes and stresses. As the team leader for our multi-language translation project in Papua New Guinea, I reflected in this report not only on the Triumphs made over the last year but also on how our team is learning to adjust after many unforeseen difficulties had nearly spelled Disaster for me personally, my family, and other key team members.
In this and the next several posts, I will summarize the good and the bad from this past year and what we’re doing to get out the ugly. It’s part of what I’m doing to look critically at our past and make adjustments for the future.
This has been an amazing year of progress in terms of church partnerships and local ownership, Scripture use, holistic language development, and leadership development. While continuing to get more Scriptures translated and out into the hands and ears of the people, we have also been developing key relationships with district-level church leaders and fostering local ownership of this ministry and its fruit. At the same time, we have been widening our language development activities, which will contribute to language vitality and the use of God’s Word. We have also facilitated many opportunities for growing leaders among our PNG colleagues as they look to their futures in reaching beyond their own languages and helping other language groups in this widening Bible translation movement.
In hindsight, we realize that we attempted to do more this last year with fewer people, and it has nearly killed some of us. I have been functioning as the team leader and looking after various other jobs as they come up while still performing my normal role as a translation advisor/trainer. I have pulled other members of our team along with me in a vicious cycle of living under the tyranny of the urgent. Several unexpected difficulties took us from urgent to crisis mode on several occasions. Our whole team has hardly had a break from one activity to another, and so we are looking to learn from our mistakes and plan better for the future.
Computers can be a beautiful thing… if they work right. Otherwise, it can get quite ugly. My computer is now four-and-a-half years old. But often it’s not the machine’s fault. There’s also “user error.” I have sometimes spent 80% of my computer time simply waiting for it to respond, to reboot, to finish a task. So much for multitasking. I’ve known some of the issues for quite a while, but I also knew that implementing the solutions would mean a significant delay in the next urgent tasks before me. Oh! How I wish I had taken the time a year ago.
In the classic Clint Eastwood film The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, Tuco Ramirez (“The Ugly”) says, “There are two kinds of people in the world, my friend: those with a rope around the neck, and the people who have the job of doing the cutting.” Perhaps it’s that rescue mission–the desperate act of cutting the rope before the world around me dies–that has pulled me along in the never relenting pursuit of completing tasks without pausing enough to sharpen my tools. But even more critical than working with good tools is relying on the true Redeemer of the world. I must look to Him more desperately rather than feed my own messiah complex as I pretend to cut the noose from the necks around me.
On another occasion, Blondie (“The Good”) says, “You see, in this world there’s two kinds of people, my friend: those with loaded guns and those who dig. You dig.” I don’t think the pressure I feel is like that of someone holding a gun to my head. But it may be more on the level of another of Blondie’s quotes: “Two hundred thousand dollars is a lot of money. We’re gonna have to earn it.” But all those desperate acts of cutting, digging, and earning our keep — it too easily crowds out a bigger perspective, a greater Will. And without that, there really would be nothing left to say ‘Hold on!’ to the heart and nerve and sinew that are nearly gone.
If my life was broken this year, I simply watched the things I gave it to for too long, ever stooping to build ’em up with worn-out tools. It was ugly. It was time to sharpen the saw.
Sharpening the ugly saw
Required reading for me as a young missionary candidate (along with many other more theologically-focused works) was Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Here are the seven habits…
- Be proactive
- Begin with the end in mind
- Put first things first
- Think win/win
- Seek first to understand, then to be understood
- Sharpen the saw
As I think about the successes and failures of the past year, I can see that our Triumphs were partially due to following such habits as #1, #2, #4, and #5 above. Likewise in relation to these seven habits, I can see that we nearly met with Disaster because we failed to put first things first (#3), synergize with others (#6), and sharpen the saw (#7).
Those are seven great principles. And I also found the Results-Based Management planning that we did this last year in our project to also be a valuable tool. If only those dreams and thoughts, however, are the things that become our aim, become our master, I’m afraid I’ll fail to treat Kipling’s two imposters just the same. Both Triumph and Disaster merely pose in the place of a greater Master.
There’s the King of kings to walk with, and there’s a greater common Touch that counts with all men. In the midst of all our critical evaluations, our organizational planning and strategizing, we must not fail to live life abundantly now on this earth as our spirits walk in step with the Spirit of the King of all things, allowing him to write his Story on us and through us to all those around.
You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. –2 Corinthians 12:9 (NIV)
In the next several posts, I will give more details about the good, the bad, and what I am doing now to put first things first and sharpen the worn-out tools.