To Speak or Not to Speak?

That is the question, but you’re probably wondering why I’m asking it for a Mission Monday post. So, I’ll tell you. I recently had a conversation related to a cross-cultural worker who had only been in their country of service for one year. You know what that looks like—culture shock, full-blown language learning, and still in survival mode.

In the midst of all their own adjustment, they were struggling a bit with their team leader, who had been in the country for over twenty years and nearing retirement. As they discussed finances, it came to light that the team leader was prepared to shift money from a designated account to cover the cost of a vehicle requested by the local convention. For the rookie on the team, this had the appearance of not only something unethical but clear mismanagement.

What to do? Do you speak up or not?

Life on the mission field is not easy, as our very presence in a country can be tenable, relying on the good graces of a local church, convention, or government entity. When a person or group realizes they have the ability to control your future, there is a temptation to use it to gain favor. We could call it blackmail, but I’ll be nice and say it’s just a tit-for-tat scheme. This is so hard to face when it comes from those who are supposed to be Christian or those we serve.

The longer a person is on the field, the easier it becomes to get pulled into these games. We provide funds for good purposes at first. They are obviously in need or serving a group we can’t reach ourselves, so the money goes to a Kingdom purpose. As time goes on, we find that funds are controlled by one person or a very small group. The purposes become less clear and accountability shrivels up.

Seek to get the facts and understand the full picture.

Our responsibility as new arrivals and team members is to listen. Take time to ask about the history of the work and team in that area. Find out how things are done. Ask questions. This is not in an accusatory way or to trick someone, but to learn. Especially if you’ve never lived in another culture, it’s hard to understand how paperwork is handled and financial assistance is given to locals. Take in all the information you can. The more you know, the better you can serve and give input to the team.

When something doesn’t make sense, get clarification.

If you have a question about how tips are used to fast-track paperwork, or how the local churches are supported by the mission, ask. Be honest in your position on the team. Share how this is all new and strange to you, so you simply seek help in understanding. You’re not accusing, but asking to learn.

Once you hear their viewpoint or procedures, ask how they justify this as Christ-followers or foreign workers. Does this change the perception of locals toward missionaries? Does it make us look like the money-bags? Do they like us only because we give them financial help? These are innocent and honest questions that colleagues and leadership should be able to answer without getting defensive. It might give you insight into how things are done or it might raise further red flags.

When you feel convicted that something is wrong, speak out—but to the right person.

Conflicts arise on any team, and it’s important to know how your organization expects conflicts to be addressed and resolved. If they require you to speak to your immediate supervisor first, then do so, even if that person is the one you question. If you ask them in the right way, you will have your answer as to whether you move on to the next person or not. Their response will indicate if they are defensive, angry, abusive, or understanding of why you’re asking about an issue. If they are understanding, you might want to suggest that another colleague join you in the conversation, so you can better explain yourself and get more than one viewpoint.

If there is pushback to your inquiry, then you will need to move up the chain to the next in authority. The more you have things in writing (in emails) the better, but it may not be possible to document. However, be as clear and concise as you can to your superior, sharing that you are seeking guidance on this issue. Hopefully, in being clear about the perceived wrongdoing, their supervisor will realize that it is important for them to step in and clear up the problem.

Be willing to stand for your principles.

Living a life of integrity in this world is a constant battle, and if your team or team leader is not allowing you to live by your beliefs on an issue, you need to be willing to take the next step. If no resolution is found, you may need to seek a transfer or separation from your team. But, remember this: How we handle conflict with our teammates affects our witness to those we seek to reach for Christ. Choosing to stand up for your beliefs does not mean you speak negatively of your colleague or team. Contemplate how you will share any potential break with local believers or friends.

Bathe everything in prayer.

I’m using the word bathe for a reason. Anytime conflicts arise or suspicion of mismanagement grows, emotions enter the picture. Emotions muddy the waters. A bath of prayer washes them away. You will most likely need more than one! Pray before you speak, pray when you choose not to speak, and pray at every step of this journey.

Mission life, like church life, like family life is messy. Thankfully, the Lord gives wisdom to all who ask.

Grace and Peace

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