by Dr. Florence Muindi with Introduction by Tom Bassford
“Are we as good as our marketing?” Are we really creating sustainable change or are we just simply wrapping new versions of relief and betterment in the language of “sustainable transformation” and selling that to donors to raise the next round of dollars?
One of the disappointing realities that I’ve faced being a part of the church world is that we don’t always live up to our own theology about truth and integrity when it comes to marketing what we’re trying to do. It’s as if we have convinced ourselves that the end justifies the means and therefore we don’t need objective, evidence-based evaluation of our work. Anecdotes are enough…all other inquiries are unwelcome.
But I would argue that both the moral integrity of the church as well as the good we seek to do are at stake. We must not only open ourselves to the research and critical evaluation of outside entities as a way to validate both the success and shortcomings of our work but seek it out and embed it in the very DNA of what we do. Sure, we may have to adjust some of our marketing, admit some failures and even tweak our models but no endeavor, no matter how worthy, moves forward for long that isn’t grounded in an evidence-based reality of truth. Come on church! After all we are the ones who preach, “The truth shall set you free.” Let’s take our own advice and lead the way by adopting a more evidence-based approach to the good we are trying to do.
Dr. Florence Muindi spoke at this year’s SATtalks about the work they are doing through Life In Abundance and one of the things I was deeply impressed with was her example of engaging an outside organization to evaluate the effectiveness of their work. I asked her to write a short article about the courage it took and here’s her story…
Life In Abundance – Measuring Impact
“Joshua, be strong and brave! You must lead these people so they can take the land that I promised their fathers I would give them. Be strong and brave. Be sure to obey all the teachings my servant Moses gave you. If you follow them exactly, you will be successful in everything you do.” – Joshua 1:6-8
Many of us in the mission field can relate to this passage, whether we are standing alone or side by side with a brother, sister or spouse, we feel as if the Lord is charging us to be strong, brave and to obey the calling He has on our lives.
I remember walking through the streets of Ethiopia as a missionary some 20 years ago and feeling completely overwhelmed by the needs I saw everywhere. The realization came over me how ill equipped I was and that I could not do this on my own. There had to be a better way and I found myself opening up to the idea that God might want to do something new. It was then I let go and allowed God to take hold of my ministry and breath life into it by refocusing our efforts.
Overnight the mission and vision of Life In Abundance became clear… we were to challenge the local church and empower her to become the agent of change within the community. Although the new direction came overnight it took years of hard work, courage and obedience to work out the model and see the long-term impact.
As we journeyed with the Lord, He counseled and realigned along the way. The ministry grew and so did the need for council, new board members and greater accountability for outcomes and long-term planning purposes.
Stories of change and empowerment began to roll in from community to community and we could not have been happier. For 20 years we marched on into battle while doors continued to open for countries that we never imagined we would be serving. Communities were being transformed and they were able to sustain themselves without our involvement. It felt as though the Lord had shown us a promise land for this ministry and we had arrived. Success! Good job, “well done good and faithful servant”; something we all long to hear from our Heavenly Father.
And yet God is forever at work, refining the good work that He has begun in our personal lives as well as our ministry. So it was with Life in Abundance, He was not finished refining us and just like our early steps of faith into a new model this refinement process took courage and obedience.
In 2015 as we set around the table with our board and strategic partners we were given a challenge unlike any we had encountered to date. These wise and invested leaders challenged us to open our model and our claims of success to an outside organization for evaluation and validation of our claims. Here’s what they said:
“We have walked with Life in Abundance, we know you, we believe in your mission & model – but for the longevity of Life in Abundance… if you are going to come to the table and talk “community transformation” and “sustainable impact”, you need more than anecdotal evidence of success. We advise that you a have study done of your work – measure the impact…”
You can imagine our concern. What if the report does not capture what we believe the work is doing? And then a whole stream of questions coming from a place of fear and uncertainty…Why do we need to prove something that we know works? What was the purpose of the study? Was it for validation or exaltation? Is it our concern or purpose to know the full fruit of our labor? Will this study derail the work we are called to do?
My life’s work! 20 years of it now put under certain scrutiny and knowing full well that we would need to be prepared to make adjustments to the model if the results were less than our expectations. But God is faithful and once again He affirmed original challenge… “Be strong and brave, and obey.”
So, in June and July of 2015, we invited the Institute for Urban Initiatives to embark on a focused study to examine the extent to which our model of development has a lasting impact on the communities we served. We settled in our hearts that, whatever the outcome, we would take it as Word from the Lord and make the necessary changes. We would not claim something to be true that could not stand the scrutiny of honest evaluation. After all, we are a people who believe the truth will set us free! It is important for us to say this because the world is looking at the church and it expects us to be true and transparent with our claims.
When the results came back we were overjoyed, they exceeded our expectations! We could not have written a better story or shared a testimony that would have done what this report has done for us. For 20 years we had only anecdotal evidence that our work was successful and had long-term, sustainable impact. But now there is evidence; written, documented proof that the church can be the agent of lasting change in a community. (To read the full report Click Here)
This whole process not only shined a light on the impact of our model but it has taught us the value of measuring results and opening ourselves to the evaluation of an outside organization. It took courage and obedience to take this step but in doing so it has given us an even greater zeal for the work we are doing. It has also reminded us that if we obey and heed the words to be strong and brave, He will do the rest.