Long ago I remember going to an interview for something I’m pretty certain was actually some kind of pyramid scheme. There were a bunch of other folks there and we’d get called into different rooms and told about how great the job could be for us and at one point I got called in for a private interview to “assess my leadership potential.”
The interviewer asked me about my strengths and to explain how I would react in different situations. He also asked what I felt my weaknesses are and I was clueless as to how I ought to respond. I felt like I was Superman and I was being asked what my kryptonite might be.
It is a question I’ve had to contemplate a lot over the last decade or so. Every time I go into an interview and get asked about my weaknesses my answer becomes more and more refined. More recently a potential ministry partner came and sat in my office and asked the same question.
Well as you can possibly tell from the extreme lateness of this most recent newsletter, one of my personal weaknesses is organization of both my office and time. I am frequently behind on emails and on updating Crossing Cambodia’s Facebook and Twitter. Plans to get things taken care of quickly often times are pushed back many times until it is nearly too late or no longer relevant. I often start my days with the intent to pound out an article or two and find myself distracted by setting up the garden in the back of our new facility, assembling a tent for a lunch area, coordinating volunteers, catching up on expense reports, or any other of a dozen tasks I often assign myself to do instead of the ones that I need to get done sooner rather than later.
I have been told by teachers, professors, and business professionals that one of the keys to success in life is to recognize your weaknesses and not to try and hide them. Don’t just sit on your strengths and hope they’ll outweigh your weaknesses, but address those weaknesses and find someone or something to lift you up. It is an approach similar to how we choose to approach street children in finding what is lacking in their lives and fill in the gaps.
However, in missions and non-profits, very rarely are weaknesses shared for fear that an organization might suffer a loss of donations or potential talent. Newsletters usually only report the good news. The stories that make our hearts warm and fuzzy, but not so often when we fail or make mistakes.
When I struck out with the intent to start a new ministry that would become Crossing Cambodia, I did so with the goal of being wholly honest with our donors about when we make mistakes or when our projects aren’t working like we hoped they would. To trust in God to meet our needs and to be good stewards of that which He gives to us. And so in the past year we’ve done a lot and made some great progress in reaching out to street children and learning to make our ministry more effective, but we hope to share with you what has not worked, where we still struggle, how we are seeking to improve, and to ask for your help. The following are a few of the areas in which we’ve struggled and made mistakes and a few of our plans on how to get better, but we would like for you to pray over them and if you feel that you have some good advice on what more we can do let us know so that we can be effective in our ministry and with God’s resources.
Over the course of the last year we have struggled with getting the right staff people in place or with effectively training them according to their job descriptions. We have had to rewrite a few job descriptions and have had to let a few people go. Our system worked fine at first with only 2 full-time staff, but starting in August we will have 6 full-time staff persons in addition to myself.
At present we are writing a staff manual with an official conduct policy and policies relating to treatment of students, staff, and our facilities. In July we will spend at least an hour every day for as many days as it takes to fully review and explain this manual and what we expect from our staff here in Cambodia. This is our first step, but we would greatly appreciate advice from anyone who has experience in administration with a church, ministry, or non-profit so that we can teach our staff to be as effective as is possible.
Loss of a Student
Back in August of 2013 we started with 6 students and to our great dismay we lost one 2 months into our new mission because we could not figure out how to keep him motivated. Because of his age the school will not accept him again into the first grade and we do not know how else we can help him at this time. It is deveastating to think that we failed this boy in what might have been his last chance to go to school. Especially as we set out with the goal to find a way to help the kids that other organizations were sometimes unwilling or unable to help. In August 2014 we have the opportunity to enroll 5 more students in our program and we intend on making sure we have the right pieces in place to support these kids, to get them into school, keep them there, and put God’s love into action in their lives.
Since April we have instituted a plan to invite the families of our students over to our center for dinner every other month and to sit and talk to each of the parents or guardians about how their children are doing and what they can do to help us. We know that often the families and parents are not in a position to help, but that we at least need to communicate with them so that at the very least they can verbally push their children to keep on working with us.
We are also changing up the way we group our students. Next year we are going to switch from a 5 student mixed group to boys and girls groups to try and encourage stronger bonding as a group and with their respective leaders. While the students will still be in a mixed setting in the classroom and at lunchtime, hope that the leaders will be more able to connect with their students provide strong role models to keep on encouraging and supporting our students.
Finally, we also tried using ice cream and video games as short-term rewards (a.k.a. bribes) but we know these are not a long-term solution nor are they sustainable. We need help in the form of volunteers, both Khmer and foreign, that are just willing to come out for a while and spend time with the students, to let them know how much people care for them.
Finally, I have struggled with my own organization skills which has made communication difficult and often lacking. A lot happens here so there is no shortage of things to write about and a newsletter should be coming out monthly, not whenever I can get enough written to make one. As the leader I frequently find myself feeling like I need to take on many of the smaller tasks of accounting, paying bills, fixing up our facility, shopping for supplies, and even picking up kids. I am consciously trying to hand off many of these responsibilities to Sokly, our local Ministry Director, and forcing myself to trust that she has been trained well enough that the money is going to get accounted for. I would greatly appreciate your prayers for me as I learn to delegate more of the jobs I consider important to others so that I can focus on communicating with the people who make our work in Cambodia possible.
We have also been blessed with a few volunteers in North America who will be responsible for taking student reports each month and turning them into a report that will go out to all the student sponsors via email. Please pray that we will be able to get this process formalized to make sure our supporters are getting the information they need and are able to communicate with students.
There are lots of ways in which we hope to become better stewards of the resources God has given to us and so that we can be more effective in reaching out to street children in Cambodia. However, we ask that in addition to your prayers for our ministry, that you would please let us know what your thoughts are on our ministry. We may not be able to address everything, but we earnestly want to know not just what we have done well but what areas you feel we have done poorly in and any suggestions you might have for improving these areas. And of course we will always appreciate if you would like to move our here and help us too!
Send me an email at Greg@crossingcambodia.org with any thoughts you would like to share!