About two months ago BMCF experienced a notable “first.” It wasn’t our first morning devotion- party combination. I don’t think it was the first time a goat urinated in our morning devotion shed, either. That morning we said goodbye to Bishop Masereka as he entered another retirement. I say ‘another’ because he’s now offering family therapy and counseling services, something there’s also a great need for in town. But with his retirement as Executive Director, BMCF officially entered into the period that is known as (sometimes with affection, other times with fear, always with uncertainty) transition.
Somehow in the few organizations I’ve been a part of, I have encountered transition. Two summers ago (that’s June-August for those of you tuning in from East Africa) I interned with the Crossing, a vibrant and life-giving church in the heart of Boston. The woman who provided the spark for such an inspiring and necessary community seven years ago, Stephanie Spellers, was on her way out. Needless to say, this caused a few ripples, even for people who hadn’t been there very long. About three quarters through my summer, Stephanie officially left, so much of my time there worked around the theme of transition. How do we prepare the community? How do we decide where we’re going next? Who will take over? Will anyone care anymore?
Fast forward to August of last year, when I spent two weeks with Tatua Kenya in preparation for my arrival in Kasese. While there I had a chance to delve into the work that the organizers were doing in their communities, and experience a powerful model centered on grassroots solutions working to address injustice in both Kenyan communities and “development” in general. Natalie Finstad, one of the co-founders of Tatua, is a woman with a similar drive to Stephanie and a contagious passion for relationships and community. In March of this year, when I spent one week with the Tatua crew in Nairobi at the half-way point of my fellowship. I was humbled to be a part of all our conversations that week that centered on refining the vision and mission of Tatua. To watch this big idea, “we want to work toward a just world,” distilled into very clear objectives and a value-laded vision for the future that everyone believes in was incredible. This happened in part because Tatua is in a time of transition: Natalie is soon leaving, and the organization is taking on new challenges and dreams.
Now I find myself involved in another period of transition at BMCF. It is equally exciting and feels just as unwieldy as those I experienced at the Crossing and Tatua. We are thinking about ways in which the foundation can anchor itself more deeply in the community. We are thinking about ways we can bridge the education and clinic programs for more holistic care in Kasese. For BMCF this is the first time without an executive director, just as it was in the Crossing and is in Tatua.
What one might see as a void can also be seen as a blessing. Of course, Bishop Masereka is missed and his absence is felt. At the same time, though, transition carries with it the unavoidable reality that the rest of the organization has to take initiative. If we sat around waiting for the next ED, people would inevitably feel frustrated about something or apathetic towards some new leader. At the Crossing, we pulled together the community and the very people who were experiencing loss and anxiety were the ones who cared for others in the same boat. At Tatua, a clear vision statement was painstakingly developed with contribution from everyone: co-founders, drivers, organizers, administrators, trainers, friends and volunteers. Periods of change allow for stronger relationships.
Last week in morning devotion we read a passage from the Gospel according to Luke (17:20-37), and it came with no small amount of debate. The Pharisees ask when the Kingdom of God will come, and Jesus responds by telling them it can already be here.
The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, “Look, here it is!” or “There it is!” For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.
Jesus goes on to say that the disciples will long to see the Son of Man, but they shouldn’t go off looking for him. I can imagine, if the disciples were hearing this at a time when they realized they were soon going to lose this guy that has radically changed their lives, they would also be nervous for such a transition phase. The disciples seem quite ready for the quick return of their savior; they wanted a short transition phase with a well-defined end. But Jesus tells them the point isn’t to wait until the Kingdom comes, and certainly not orient their lives around looking for his magical return at the expense of living here and now.
In these times of transition, I think it is far simpler to expect the next savior’s triumphant arrival. When a founder leaves, the quick move might be to hire a new one right away and then pretend as if nothing much happened. But that’s not what we’re called to do. That’s hardly ever a fulfilling or healthy response. The “Kingdom”, our vision and mission for an organization for example, is already here. It’s just up to everyone else left in transition to make it visible.