November 20, 2008

Time, Talent, and Treasure

I see one of my core roles as a missionary to be a conduit for my experiences to supporters in the rich world. That’s what reconciliation is about - bringing people together around the world. This is why I invest so much energy in this blog.

I’m also motivated to keep telling the stories of Itipini because many people have “put their money where their mouth is” and made a financial contribution to my efforts here. There have also been many people who have read something on this blog and offered to make a contribution. We always need more money and I never cease to be grateful for people who have supported us in this way.

But it is not just about money! I’ve written before on this blog how we need so much more than money to address some of the issues in this community. I am reminded frequently of a phrase we often hear at pledging time - time, talent, and treasure. I want to know how these three Ts apply to global stewardship.

It is easy to answer the treasure question. Lots of people contribute lots of treasure to make Itipini run each year.

I think a lot about time and talent when I am working with borrowers in our micro-credit program. The actual dollar amount to help them is quite small. Often what I find they need is frequent check-ins, constant encouragement, help working through temporary difficulties that seem insurmountable, and lessons in how to keep books and how to calculate profit margins and whatnot. When I am helping these people, I can’t help but think of all the friends and acquaintances I have who would be so much better at this sort of thing than me. And even if I am the right person for the job, there is too much work for me to do. It is this feeling of being overwhelmed that has forced me to put the brakes on expanding this idea. I would love several motivated and capable co-conspirators in this endeavour. What we need are more human resources, the time and talent of individuals who want to work on this issue.

The most important is time, I think. Even someone who knows little to nothing about business and finance (yours truly) can still be somewhat effective simply by investing time in people. The only thing necessary to build a good relationship (and relationships are a crucial first step in reconciliation I believe) is a lot of time. And the time commitment has to be substantial to be worthwhile. To the extent that I am effective here, it is only because I have made a significant (though still to my mind too short) commitment of time that has allowed me to learn a bit of Xhosa and build some relationships. Without either of those things, I’d be even more ineffective than I am now. The logical conclusion to this line of reasoning is that we need more missionaries all around the world.

There’s a lot of talent in Itipini just waiting to be tapped. The challenge is drawing that talent out and helping people here acknowledge their giftedness. (More on this particular challenge in a future post.) But if more people devote their time to it, it can happen and we’ll have more talent to go around.

Clearly, however, we operate in the real world and not everyone can devote their time and talent to global mission. (Nor should everyone - we are all called to different roles but I think lot of us could use a bit more help discerning our true calling.) Lots of people are donating their treasure so that I can use my time and talent here.

But I’m not satisfied by this answer, though. All of us should be making donations of all three Ts. I should be donating more treasure. There must be a way for people who support me (and others) to make use of their time and talent in a constructive way that also takes into account the practicalities of real-world living.

I don’t know what the answer is but I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately.