Monday, May 19, 2014


I visited a hospital in West Africa several weeks back.  It has nice facilities and the staff I met are good people.  But there was a problem.  Two of the four floors were closed and the second floor barely used at all.  The hospital did not have functioning equipment and, though there is a steady stream of patients every day, if a person has to have an x-ray or blood test they are referred to another hospital.  Great potential, tremendous opportunity for outreach to a predominantly Muslim community, all lost reduced down to one word…overreach.

It’s a classic example of what I see in missions in many places throughout the world.  The person or persons responsible for launching the medical facility were trying to do too much.  Their reach exceeded their grasp.  Vision is of course vital in moving forward on any endeavor and if a person or organization has no vision they prefer managing what they have rather than leaning forward toward growth.  It’s a fine balance, managing and vision.  The “bean counters” in the organization are forever telling us that we can’t afford it while the visionary argues that we walk by faith, not by sight.  Finding the balance between status quo and entrepreneurship boils down to one simple rule, defining your purpose.  The hospital in West Africa is heavily in debt and on the verge of collapse for two reasons.

First, by trying to do too much and in the process they lost their way on what they were suppose to be doing.  The hospital was never the foundational project.  The organization began with reaching neighboring villages with water projects, schools and establishing churches.  Health care is always an issue in the village so a medical clinic was introduced, which then led to establishing the hospital in the major city in the area.  Rather than concentrating on one village and meeting the local needs they branched out to other villages, which drove the vision for a major medical facility.  By the time I observed the projects neither the villages nor the hospital programs were functioning well and all in financial stress.  They were just trying to do too much; they were not doing one thing well.

The second reason for the lack of focus relates to “chasing the money” rather than building a strong foundational purpose.  When analyzing this project it was easy to see that the whole system was a house of cards, a social ponzi scheme.  I am not suggesting that there was evil intent on bilking anyone, but rather money from the west was underwriting projects and short-term teams were giving time and money to programs they were interested in.  Staff was hired, wells dug, construction on churches and hospital were initiated.  However, because the main thing no longer was the main thing, the tail chased the dog.  Well meaning donors drove the agenda, which in-turn drove the people in Africa to try and follow-up all the projects launched.  In the end money designated to feed school kids ended up paying the salaries at the hospital, and money earmarked for a well project supplied support for a church building; a classic case of robbing Peter to pay Paul.  Eventually donors wanted to know why the wells weren’t being dug and what happened to the wheel chairs the church in America bought? (They are stored in the third floor of the hospital storeroom.) Designated money still comes in, leaving the general operational funds in the red.

I know some of the people in this project quite well.  They are good people.  However, due to overreach many have lost a lot sleep, some on the verge of emotional breakdown.  There is not one project started that is not worthy of support, but we (western missionaries, short-term teams and national workers) need to understand we can’t do everything.  Do one thing well; don’t be sidetracked to do twenty other things. 

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