We messed up. Most times I want to end that sentence with a question mark. We messed up? Truth is, we all mess up, sooner or later.
- Thomas Edison – scores of failures before the light bulb
- Abraham Lincoln – lost dozens of elections
- Albert Einstein – expelled from school because he was a dunce who asked too many questions
Blah, blah, blah, yada, yada, yada. The quantity of motivational pep talks in no way compares to the quantity of embarrassment one feels after a failure. Call it what you will — mess ups, screw ups, failures, errors in judgment, inexperience, sin — it still hurts.
We came to Bolivia after my husband got his Business Administration degree and after we attended one year of mission school. With a ten week old baby strapped to my chest and my hands clasping the toddler fingers of our two-year-old and our three-year-old we stepped onto Bolivian soil with high hopes for our internship. The mission school program required two years: one year of classes, three months in Mexico with an affiliated missionary, and then back to the States to finish the year with classes. We did the first year of classes. We knew we wanted to serve in Bolivia. We knew that a missionary couple affiliated with the school had been in Bolivia for seven years. We asked for a modification to the program. Considering the ages of our kids and the fact that we knew we wanted to serve in Bolivia we asked about a year long internship serving at this ministry as the second year of the program. They approved our request.
We stayed the year in Santa Cruz, Bolivia (11-01 to 12-02). Then we went back to the States for a few weeks to visit family and supporters. Before that first trip back we decided we wanted to do one more year with this ministry. They agreed to that. We came back and worked even harder.
During those two years we: started 64 bible schools, oversaw an outreach program that facilitated the bible school students teaching moral formation to 50,000 public school students, taught two classes each at the local bible school, ran the children’s ministry at the church, participated in the G-12 discipleship system of the church, and traveled extensively throughout Bolivia doing conferences for pastors and church leaders. We were also intensively learning Spanish. Did I mention we had three small children as well?
In our non-denominational, independent circles people applauded our fervor and passion. Our time commitment was coming to a close and we began to discuss what came next. Tensions had been building and we felt like some things would need to change if we were going to continue with this ministry.
The discussions became muddled and personal. Many hurtful things were said. They told us they would like us to connect with their ministry and come under their covering. We decided it would be best to tell them that we would no longer be working with them.
That’s when the proverbial fecal matter hit the gyrating, bladed appliance.
- told the operations in our charge had grown too fast and things were unbalanced.
- told to relinquish all our financial partners’ information.
- accused of owing thousands of dollars to the ministry.
- visited by lawyers threatening to take us to prison.
- immediately removed from every position and our keys were taken away.
- slandered and the church members were told to stay away from us.
- told to leave Bolivia and never return.
I was stunned. I knew things had become tense. We had seen things we didn’t agree with. That is why we were stepping away. We turned in our official letter of resignation from the volunteer positions we had assumed as interns. It was shoved back across the desk, rejected.
I was baffled. We didn’t receive a paycheck from them. The people who partnered with us funded the operations and covered our family budget. They had asked us to consider staying on with them. We decided not to. So why didn’t they just let us go? Why did they have to make life so difficult for us?
Why did they banish us from Bolivia?
We messed up? Yes? No?
Our options for how to respond dizzied me. We could: cower, blame, defend, reason, negotiate, formulate excuses, quit, throw a fit, accuse, cry, shrink back, play the victim, bend under the oppression, fight, etc.
Through many tears and prayers and the advice of our home pastor back in the States we decided that it was not necessary to leave Bolivia, but that we would start out afresh in another city. We liked Cochabamba best of all the cities we had visited. We moved.
— — — That was ten years ago. This November marks 12 years for us in Bolivia. — — —
In my mind I replay scenes from those first two years as missionaries. I want to say that all has been redeemed; some has, not all. I wish it never happened the way it did; but it did. I would like to have a better starting out story; but we don’t.
The regret tally marks scratched on my soul still burn. What could we have done differently? In retrospect the list is enormous. At the time, though, I believe we did the best we could with what we knew.
I would like to dress this up with a bow and a pretty ending. We could compare the numbers from our first two years and the following ten. Since our move to Cochabamba we: started a K-12 Christian school, pastor a church of 100+ people, help thousands of pastors throughout the Spanish speaking world with conferences and online resources, have provided care to 53 orphans, published a more than a dozen books, employ more than 60 Bolivians, mentored 3 career missionaries, and own the only bowling alley in town.
The balance of numbers feels superficial. We are not newbies any more, but we are nowhere near done with life. I am 37 and my husband is 38. Who knows how this thing will finish?
Does it do you any good to know we messed up? That we feel wronged? That regrets loom over my head like ominous vultures circling a bleeding carcass? That my dutiful dedication to the works of the ministry often find their motivation in paying a penance or seeking validation?
If there can be any good sucked from hearing our tale of woe it will not have been told in vain. Maybe the good comes from knowing we made it through. We are still serving as missionaries. Bitterness didn’t beat us.
I fear my words will be interpreted as complaining or moaning. I worry you will feel sorry for me – which I want none of, for it does no good to wallow.
Hurts come. Each situation is unique. I feel unqualified to advise anybody walking through relational struggles. I can only speak of character and say:
- Keep a tender heart before the Lord
- Forgive Forgive Forgive
- Learn and grow in spite of the pain
- Pray Pray Pray
- Love people
The words of Maya Angelou might give you solace.
“Do what you know to do. When you know better; do better.”
Pray with me this prayer attributed to St. Francis
Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.
– Angie Washington, missionary living in Bolivia, South America
Do you find yourself disillusioned, discouraged, disheartened, defeated, or destroyed?
What are you doing to keep yourself moving through this valley?
Who can you trust at this crucial time?