The geese at Penhurst Retreat Centre, where I’m staying while writing this blog, are much loved by many of the staff and guests here.  So there was great excitement when six eggs were discovered in a nest in March.

This was followed by disappointment as the eggs passed their due date, and then elation as they were found to have hatched, and then grief as the goslings didn’t survive.  It seems that they were crushed in the nest by their mother.  Perhaps she tried to continue incubating them to keep them warm, not realising they now needed to be able to breath.

The incident reminded me of how mission workers, in their love and care for the people they minister to, can inadvertently cause them harm too.  There are many ways in which we can do this.

We can be paternalistic.  It can be so easy to think that people are not yet ready to take responsibility.  We trust them with little because we don’t think they can be trusted with much.  We don’t set them free to fly.

We can be imperialistic.  Even today when there is so much training and discussion about cross-cultural adaptation we can inadvertently think that our way is right.  We all know that “West is best” is not correct, but we might often use the words ‘Biblical’ or ‘New Testament’ from a western perspective which doesn’t necessarily relate to the local believers.

We can be controlling.  Even if we stand back from things, we can accidentally play the role of puppet master.  We control the purse-strings because we know how to be accountable.  We ‘advise’ the local leadership.  We can informally express opinions which are taken seriously by others.  We exercise influence behind the scenes which means things are done the way we want.

We can be effective.  I know many of you will be wishing that you really were effective, but some of us are so good at what we do that there is no obvious need for others to develop.  Our mentorees grow up in the shadow of a good leader and find there is no need for them, so they don’t hone their own leadership skills.  Then when we move on, they struggle, because they have to take over without much in the way of experience.

We can work hard.  Often our workaholic efforts (see my denunciation of the Protestant Work Ethic) mean that we do so much we don’t invite our local colleagues to share the burden.  Perhaps we don’t think they will do it as well as we would and we don’t want to compromise effectiveness.  But we can inadvertently leave little work for them to do.  Go and play golf instead and let them cope without you.

One day you will leave your current assignment, whether through retirement, re-assignation, or death.  The people working with you will have to manage without you anyway.  It’s better to let them do it now while you’re there to pick up the pieces with them, than to let them grow older but not wiser.

Only when you get off your nest will we see whether your goslings have thrived or been crushed.  So it might be a good idea now to stand up and see how they’re getting on.  They might be ready to fly.