Perhaps in moving overseas, even possibly working with Christians for the first time, hope fills your sails. Won’t it be great working with people who share your vision, who you can trust?
But so often–too often–even as Christians, we inflict deep pain on one another.
Personally, in my spouse’s and my decades as missionaries, we have had that “betrayal” feeling an uncomfortable number of times. So many times, you’ll see, you might wonder if the problem is me!
(I wonder that, too.)
But instead, human nature acts as the common denominator, piled directly with our carry-ons onto a plane.
In hopes of helping you encounter your own possible future betrayal in ministry, I’ll seek to be honest here.
And perhaps you’ll witness the absolute necessity of emotional health on the field, both in yourself and the agency you serve. (Our emotions, Peter Scazzero writes, are a discipleship issue.)
Because it does influence the Gospel we display to others.
Rather than some veiled revenge or chance to tell “my side of the story,” I hope instead you see the question marks still bouncing around in my soul even now.
As someone who’s served in leadership, I can tell you as well as anyone that there are always two sides, always explanations on both sides that feel legitimate.
It won’t be pretty. But even in the Bible, God doesn’t spare telling the truth about how weak we still are, as Christians.
BETRAYAL IN MINISTRY, SCENARIO #1: “People like you fail”
We were in the internship program–a good one–for our mission when our leaders told us a fellow intern had cautioned we were similar to “a couple they knew who went overseas and failed almost immediately.”
The leaders wouldn’t tell us who it was, of course, but it raised red flags with them, they said. And they made a point of mentioning it to us. To their credit, a couple later told us they’d been the source.
The plot thickens: That couple reported to the same field with us. (As time would have it, two years later, they were off of the field and we were just arriving.)
I still scratch my head over that one.
BETRAYAL IN MINISTRY, SCENARIO #2: Wait. We were on Probation?
Our next hard-to-swallow “betrayal” in ministry came a year later as we sat down with our agency’s personnel committee to confirm our field assignment and set a date for departure.
During the discussion, a comment was made about us having been on probation the past year.
Puzzled, I turned to my wife. “Am I forgetting something?”
Neither of us could remember ever being told we were on probation.
The committee scrambled to change the topic. The committee offered no further comments about our probation, the reasoning behind it, or how our sending organization felt about us now.
My thoughts ricocheted for weeks.
Was it because I had questioned some things that happened in the internship program? The gentleman in charge, I knew, was of a culture where questioning authority was frowned upon. Was this a clash of cultural norms before we even arrived?
BETRAYAL IN MINISTRY, SCENARIO #3: “I am so sorry you got bumped out the door”
After arriving, the conflict grew more complex.
The national team leader was vocally committed…to a ministry opposite to everything we had been told our mission organization did. And we were the only international couple serving beneath him.
Needless to say, we felt caught between significant organizational disparity–all while political tensions in our host nation’s government also rose.
When betrayal means tears
Perhaps you’re seeing this one coming. In the name of legitimate political strife, our family was bumped out of the country. (Which is a nicer way to speak of the upheaval of one’s family.)
Curiously, at the same time, other missions agencies were plucking their global workers from the countryside, the front lines of the political strife…to place them in our neighborhood.
That one ended up being a heartbreaker. We had planned to stay there many years.
Our whole family, including our three kids, shed tears on our way to the airport in a nation to which we would never return. It would be two years before we felt we could open our hearts to a new people in a new country.
This particular betrayal in ministry, of course, wasn’t about the leaving itself. People leave the mission field nearly every day of the year. We felt pain simply in the manner in which we both entered and were removed–as if the deck were stacked against our being there, and without us being consulted.
Our removal was supposed to be temporary, but ended up being permanent. It was as if the pieces were arranged to bump us out the door while allowing leadership to say, “Oh, my goodness. How did that happen? We feel bad for you.”
BETRAYAL IN MINISTRY, SCENARIO #4: Confidences betrayed
After a particular term on the field, we returned to our passport nation on home assignment. During a visit to the home office, they debriefed us and asked a number of questions about the field, our relationship with our team leader and the ministry. We were open in our answers.
Unbeknownst to us, the committee shared back that information to the field leader in our new host nation.
He was not happy. When we returned to the field, he sat us down and essentially rebuked us for how we felt and told us his expectations for us.
I think he meant well. But this did nothing to build team relations. Further, we knew now we should never share openly with the debriefing committee in the future.
Yes, we relayed to the debrief committee about our trip to the proverbial woodshed. It was a case of good intentions, but harmful results and permanent caution.
To their credit–and perhaps because others had similarly been burned–the debrief committee modified how they shared information after that.
BETRAYAL IN MINISTRY, SCENARIO #5: “Let me take your team” …behind your back
For about eight years, my family and I served on one of our organization’s two in-country teams. The other team’s director–who was also the field director–came to visit and catch up on how things were going.
While I was out of the room for a half hour making arrangements for our lunch that day, he presented a proposal to the rest of my team. Why didn’t they all move to the capitol city, where his team resided, and eliminate us as a separate team?
That idea had never come up in conversation before. I had no idea he was thinking this. And I was reeling.
The longer I live, the more I realize these types of interactions can become par for the course when in leadership in any organization. Missions agencies are not exempt.
BETRAYAL IN MINISTRY, SCENARIO #6: “I can do better than you, friend”
Upon returning to our passport country, we started a website service for those entering missions.
Yet just as it was getting off the ground, a trusted friend purchased a competing domain name to start a similar service in direct competition, but with far greater resources.
That day we murmured in resignation, “Well, Lord, tell us when to stop. The handwriting on the wall is fairly obvious about where our website can hope to be in comparison.”
My disappointment crashed in waves.
In this case, we waited and waited, but nothing came of it. For whatever reason, the friend never proceeded with their plans. And in fact, their organization later handed us the competing domain name..
God works in odd ways. Yet the wounds of friends do hurt the most.
REFLECTIONS ON PAIN AND LOSS
Was I betrayed by my teammates and leaders? Or was this a case of imperfect people making imperfect decisions?
I can see it being both.
Did they know what I knew about the situation? Or could they have been forming decisions based upon uninformed opinions?
Were they choosing a course of action because of the facts–or doing the best they could, based on a previous “somewhat similar” situation?
I’m not sure I would say these kinds of events are “normal,” but they are common.
Looking back, I would say we sinful human beings hurt one another for lack of better interpersonal skills–skills that help us love each other–or even because of malicious motives.
As I mentioned, you can see how emotionally-healthy missions and ministry can make all the difference in the kind of Gospel we experience and pass on to others.
Hurts coming from those you expect to be your partners in ministry cause the most pain. And you least expect them.
The Log in My Eye
But apparent betrayal in ministry is also a painful reminder of what I do and say as well.
We often don’t realize the hurt we have caused other. We simply can’t see the harm or misunderstanding we caused, nor its profound impact.
Or we are convinced we did the right thing, even we didn’t do so in the best manner.
Later in reflection, I realized I was slow to initiate conversations with those over me to work through difficult questions. I tended to downplay the difficulty, or assume they knew, or that I knew their answer already. Of course, being the new man on the field for some of them didn’t add much credibility to my perspective, as you might guess.
With time, I also realized I needed to have pushed back more and talked more about what I saw happening. I was the person who was going to be most affected by the situation and its implemented resolution. So I also was often the person who had thought the most about the various aspects of the situation and some possible responses.
As part of the Body of Christ, I needed to be honest with my perspective and thoughts even if they didn’t seem receptive to them.
Mine, too, is a cautionary tale of good intentions but harmful results.
And on both sides? When any of us sins or is sinned against, we must seek reconciliation, recall who called us…
…and keep going. Because–like Jesus’ own example in betrayal–our reconciliation, and the Kingdom it represents, is worth our steadfastness.
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