Saturday, April 08, 2006

Organizational Failure

Last December (12/22 post) I predicted that Jimmy would quit the team. I learned this past week that, indeed, Jimmy and his wife were on their way home after only four months on the field. I have little first hand knowledge of the details, but I’ve been around long enough to read the tea leaves.

Jimmy and Joline (obviously not their real names) were setup to fail. They had their first child three months before their arrival and, because they are first time parents in their early 40’s, this miracle child became the center of their world. Nothing wrong with that, every parent should feel their family is the most valued possession God has given them. Jimmy wanted to wait for another few months to come over, but the organization insisted they get to their field immediatley. They arrived at the worse possible time of the year as the weather is atrocious in December. They had to immediately find an apartment, buy furniture and enter language school. All the time Joline is hating every minute, probably hating Jimmy for dragging her to a place she did not want to be. It’s my guess that it isn’t this country that’s the problem, any field would have been every bit as unacceptable.

Jimmy and Joline will now go to counseling for a month to assess their situation. After a month they will make their decision on whether to return or not. I’m not a prophet nor a counselor, but my guess is that the therapist will suggest they not return. I am certain counseling will be helpful, but the counseling is partly a face-saving measure for J and J, but mostly for the organization ("we did everything to help them"), before they resign.

I got into the business of training people for overseas work because of people like Jimmy and Joline, so I am obviously interested in the why people who do not make it on the field. I do not believe this couple are victims and they indeed bear some of the responsibility for leaving the field. Before they moved here they had made a short-term visit and seemed excited to live here, though I doubt that Joline was as excited about it as was Jimmy. After the baby was born everything changed, and this is where I believe the organization failed this couple.

When situations change it’s important for all parties to recognize it and be honest. J and J probably should have been asked to reevaluate their “calling” when they found out that Joline was pregnant. If J and J insisted they still wanted to be fielded, the organization should have done one of two things. One would have been to say to them they would not be fielded for another six months to a year. This is what J and J wanted, but they were denied. The other option would have been just to tell them that their situation had changed so much they would not be fielded. This is tougher, but someone needs to have the courage to say no to people rather than try to hope for the best.

Discernment is a rare gift. An even greater gift is having discernment and then making the hard decisions. Jimmy and Joline had little chance of succeeding on the field, the leadership knew it before they got on the plane.

My guess is that, in time, J and J will be fine once they get back to the states and settle into the surroundings they are both comfortable with. They will for years carry the stigma of a couple who raised a lot of money to get to the field but didn’t last. I’m sorry for that, because it didn’t have to happen. Some people are just not cut out to live overseas. It’s nothing to be embarrassed about. The greater issue is the process of their failure. I hope the organization will not scapegoat this incident and take a hard look on how to do things better, for the sake of people, for the sake of Christ and His work.