ACKNOWLEDGING THE WORK OF OTHERS

Today I saw a post from a friend who moved into our previous vicarage in Birmingham two years ago.  He is a missionary from a former colony of ours (!) who spent many years living with his wife and children in a slum in the far east,  and has some very challenging things to say about how little we’re prepared to sacrifice for the sake of others.  He and his wife are a great couple.

They are making the vicarage into a centre for the study of urban mission, and he’s often on the speaking circuit, making contributions to this ever-moving area of study.  No probs with that at all.

And yet.  When we left Brum, we also left our colleague, a fellow-minister from a different denomination.  She is completely committed to the area, run-down as it is, with a shedload of social problems and high levels of population turnover – if you watched ‘Benefits Street’ then that runs directly behind the church and is therefore in the parish and gives an accurate picture of what life is like.

She’s been there 8 years and works consistently, full-time,  with a painstakingly-built neighbourhood network to make things better and easier for people.  In a multi-faith area she does not proselytise.  Her big ongoing project is to encourage people to stop dumping waste on their streets, and her most cherished hope is that, in a few years’ time when she moves on, people will have learned to appreciate a clean street and take a pride in it.

However.  I’ve noticed that often, the mish, in his numerous posts, letters and Facebooks, tells his story as if he is the only one doing anything there.  The neighbourhood is in desperate need, except now he and his wife arrive on their white chargers and the whole place will start looking up.

I’ve ignored this irritating habit up to now.  To a certain extent, I can understand why he does it.  They are entirely reliant on donations from supporters back home, and in such a situation there is a huge temptation to spin the information in order to encourage people to keep on giving.

The twin temptation is to build things in such a way that it is your kingdom.  You don’t share it with anyone.  Then you get all the praise.

I have no idea what his motives are.  I’m only commenting on experiences and observations I’ve had in the past.

I suspect it’s part of his personality, to think big and not be too concerned about details.  However, today I considered he crossed a line.  He had, he said, been to see somebody who ran a neighbourhood scheme to clean up some nearby wasteland.  This was the same person who started our community garden to such good effect some years ago:

before

Before the community garden was established

community garden after
community garden after

The mish commented that now they were going to ‘renew the neighbourhood from the ground up’.

I cracked.  I sent a private message saying we were concerned at the way he sometimes phrased things. He made it sound as if nothing was going on in the community until he came along.  We felt it was not honest. I suggested it would be more helpful if he outlined what others had already been doing for some years, and let people know what contribution he and his wife would make to it.

I know for a fact that he is not involved in any of the community schemes which have been running for some time to improve the neighbourhood.

He was a bit miffed with my comment, understandably, and said that it wasn’t so.  I replied, repeating that it was important to acknowledge and affirm what others are already doing in the same area.

He said he had ‘slanted’ it in such a way because the letter was just for friends and family.

Really?  When we were mission partners, our letters to family and close friends were more, not less honest!

I don’t think he has any idea what I meant.

It matters for our erstwhile colleague.  It’s such a deprived area with so few people to meet so much need.  She was hoping very much that they would prove to be friends and allies.  It is demeaning to her when he makes out nobody else has been doing anything there before he came along.  It is also deeply discouraging to her when she discovers that they are starting projects in the vicarage, right next door to the church hall, where she is already running such projects.  It starts feeling like a competition instead of collaboration.

It was worth challenging him for her sake, but I fear it will make no difference.

 

 

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7 thoughts on “ACKNOWLEDGING THE WORK OF OTHERS

  1. I ask myself daily…what is wrong with some people? He should be ashamed of himself instead of defending his behaviour. I’m glad you put him straight and really hope he reflects on your comments and mends his ways.xxx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Dina … I don’t think it will make any difference, but sometimes it’s worth saying something anyway. At least our old colleague knows she’s supported by people who know exactly how she must be feeling!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Gilly,

      Several thoughts:

      You have the mailing list of the update recipients, they will be incorporated into the emails you receive. If you keep one or two, even if you are cut out of the loop, you can, if you wish, still obtain ‘news’ from others.

      If you choose at sometime in the future to advertise what work foundations and developments you and others were successfully involved in and when, you have the avenue above with which to do it.

      Perhaps the Parish magazine/flyer could also be co-opted into demonstrating the continuing progression in recent times, of what was well founded and facilitated by others. Then of course, there are other media channels that can be set up to complement a blog, such as Facebook, and, (dare I say it) Twitter.

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      1. These are all good ideas. Our ex-colleague has her own work channels where her work is assessed and reviewed and she will have on file her written reports, which are a valuable asset especially if questions are raised in the future about the ownership of projects. She’s not great at social media and neither is anyone else in the church – there is a Facebook page but it is 5 years out of date – not good publicity! I think the true confirmation of the work that is done in that area, will be made by time. She works with local people so that there is ownership of projects and shared vision. By contrast, the work of lone wolves can sometimes disintegrate after their departure because they are not locally earthed. Not that I want anyone’s work to collapse! – but it grieves me that so much more could be done by cooperation than by competition, which is what this looks like.

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  2. I remember you writing about the development of a variety of projects while you were working in the parish, you also posted photos during their development. I can truly feel for you and the development colleagues you left there. You do have some useful evidence to back up the true position.

    I suppose your contact may only be the first salvo. Do you think Mish will take you off the mailing list if you persist in making him aware? It is in situations such as this, truth and Christianity do not take primary place. It does dound like ego overrules.

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