Ten years ago we arrived in Nicaragua. Two Global Partners missionary families had preceded our arrival, so for our national leaders, we were expected to do as missionaries had done previously: teach in their Bible institute and fill pulpits. This was the unspoken Position Results Description we arrived under, but not the plan we had before we landed in Managua. We were left with a choice: either the perception needed to change or we needed to concede to the status quo.
Our goals and the goals of the National church are the same: to see growth, leadership, health and Christ’s love demonstrated throughout Nicaragua and the world. The major differences come down to honor, timeline and partnership.
Like most countries outside of the major developed Western nations, Nicaragua is a hierarchical culture. This was one of my most difficult cultural transitions to witness and process. It has often made me feel awkward and uncomfortable. As my time in Nicaragua passes, I have learned that Nicaraguans show their respect by honoring others with invitations to teach, preach and lead. I have also learned that we westerners can honor our Nicaraguan brothers and sisters by allowing them the opportunity to teach, preach and lead over us. By taking their place, we fail to reinforce their agency as national church leaders.
As North Americans we are in a hurry. We want to hurry up and get to the field, we want to get settled fast, we want to immediately get started with our job description, and when we are done, we are in a hurry to move onto the next project. Nicaraguans, I have learned, have a much different flow and timeline. I needed to learn that relationship-based leadership actually views a rushed conversation as wasteful, exactly the opposite of what we are taught in our western culture. This is worth added consideration and can impact our western concept of leadership transition in non-western contexts. Even though the goals can be the same, our timeline is, more often than not, a different timeline than that of our national leaders. We are left resolving the dichotomy between completing tasks and refining people.
I have to admit a grave personal oversight, although I have read many books on leadership and taken a number of classes on the subject, it wasn’t until recently that I realized that the root word of succession is actually success. I failed to understand that healthy and lasting transitions are succession. Healthy transitions take place after an extended period of relationship and dedication. I once was meeting with a former Global Partners missionary in her 90s who asked me what we did in Nicaragua. After sharing for a few minutes she sadly said that they didn’t do many of the things we did, that they barely were getting people into church. I assured her that God used her time and efforts for His glory and ministry to the people she served. As missionaries we need to be utility players on God’s team. Whether it is the mission or the missionary, our roles and responsibilities are constantly changing, but there are always ministry needs.