In all our years in ministry, everything we have done has pretty much been built from the ground up.
The Bible classes, vocational training programs, service projects, discipleship groups, English classes, woodworking instruction, IT training, and opening community centers to serve vulnerable children, we were the ones that God gave the vision to, and so we were the ones he expected to do the work.
In most cases, programs like ours didn’t exist. No one was doing the work we were doing in the places we were doing. Not only did we have to launch programs and plan the classes, but we were also the ones who did the teaching day in and day out interfacing with the children. We had to personally see what worked, what didn’t, and what could be improved upon.
We were the teachers. Because of that, we got to see firsthand the effects our actions had on the lives of the children we served. Part of what made us effective was that to us, those we taught weren’t just children, students, or orphans, they were people. People we knew personally, Luis, Katy, Silvia, Fatima, Geovanni, and Evelyn.
When we made decisions about teaching, we paid great attention to the details because we were personally invested in the lives of our students.
I was a teacher working face to face with the people God had called me to serve, and I loved it.
Most of our programs took place onsite at other orphanages and schools. This meant that we worked in partnership with, but under administrative structures that had a lot of work on their hands to keep their organizations running.
Over the years, we worked with a variety of authority figures, each with their own management style and criteria doing what they felt was necessary for the good of the organization. They made decisions based on what looked best from where they saw things.
I have to admit, many times, while watching from the bottom, it was frustrating to see a seeming disconnect on the part of the people who were making big organizational decisions. At times it seemed as if they didn’t really understand how their choices impacted the very people that the organization was there to serve.
Perhaps that is the fate of every boss, CEO, director, or leader. Regardless of the choices they make, someone somewhere is going to be unhappy with or negatively impacted by their decisions. Someone is going to be unhappy, and someone is going to disapprove.
Sometimes even with good decisions, change is simply hard, and even good changes can be hard for people to get behind when they are used to doing things a certain way.
Yet one thing stood out to me over the years. Leaders who spent time face to face with the people their organization was there to serve seemed to make better-informed decisions.
Managers and administrators who were connected to the people on the ground, who understood the realities of orphaned, vulnerable and broken children, were able to better factor in the consequences of their decisions in the lives of those they served.
I began to realize just how important it was to for a good leader to stay well connected to the people at the bottom of the totem pole. I told myself that if I ever found myself in that position, I would do just that.
As time went by, things changed. Our ministry grew from serving 12 girls in a small orphanage to running two community centers serving +150 vulnerable kids. Our programs provide spiritual formation, educational reinforcement, and family strengthening services to an at-risk population.
Little by little, as the effectiveness of our programs improved, more students wanted to participate, and our staff grew. We found ourselves hiring, developing, and training local staff to help us to reach the increasing number of children enrolled in our centers.
Naturally, this led to me moving into positions of greater and greater authority and responsibility. It meant letting go of being the person who did it all and taught all the classes and (2 Timothy: 2.2).
It meant that, pretty soon, I was the guy at the top making decisions that affected the lives of our staff, the children we serve, and their families. Now I was the guy at the top having to make the hard calls for the good of the organization. The decisions I made would have an impact on many, many people.
It scared me.
Was I going to become a disconnected leader making seemingly random decisions in the lives of those beneath me? Choices that, while they might be right for the organization, would be difficult for staff and the very people that we were there to serve?
I knew that my role had shifted. I had to see things from a macro perspective to steer and guide the organization in a big way. Yet I knew in my heart that if I didn’t stay connected personally to those we were there to serve, I would fail. If I didn’t personally engage with the kids in our program in a very personal way, then I would lose perspective.
Just how was I to find time to do that when I have meetings, planning, fundraising and legal responsibilities to see to?
After much consideration, I realized that while I might not be able to teach all the classes, I could teach some. I might not get to know all the kids; personally, I could at least know some of them.
Teaching is at the heart of our ministry. It’s why I’m a missionary first and foremost because I am called to make disciples by teaching all the teachings of Christ (Matthew: 28:20).
Not only am I called to it, but I love it. There is something so energizing about seeing a student “get” something that you are explaining to them. Being there when something clicks in their mind and they have that “ah-ha” Eureka moment is just so special.
So, in counsel with my wife, we decided that it was important for each of us to stay involved in teaching at least some classes on a regular basis. While we may not be able to know all 170 students and their entire families personally, we could at least know some.
We made a personal commitment to stay personally involved and connected to the grassroots component of our ministry, and it has born fruit.
Every week we take time teaching some of the woodworking, computer, and Bible classes. And you know what? It has kept us grounded in a powerful way. It keeps us aware that the decisions we make are affecting people we personally know, love, and care about, and that is a powerful way to maintain perspective.
It’s why our ministry here is called “Cadaniño” (each or every child in Spanish). Each child is important to God, and no matter how many big or important the ministry gets, serving one child well is what it’s all about.
We are working to make this focus a core part of our ministry’s culture. Imparting it to our staff members so that as they grow and progress into more significant roles of authority, they too will embrace an “every child” philosophy in all they do
I came across a quote by Maya Angelou that says “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” For that to be true, we have to be a position where we personally connect with people and pay attention to how what we do makes them feel