I can relate to a comment from a mission president who was recently called to serve in Africa. He and his wife have long been involved with Africa, organizing and running a non-profit group. When he was called to return as a mission president, he asked the general authority who was issuing the call if he had been called because of his prior experiences and background. No, he was informed, the Lord gave you those experiences to prepare you for this calling.
Our missionary assignment overseeing the massive financial audit program across West Africa with an all-volunteer staff that is mostly untrained and auditing 1,000 congregations led by lay clergy who are often very new converts lacking any financial or organizational skills is a bit of a challenge, but I would hate to come into it without having been through the strange career shift I experienced six years back. At that time, after twenty-eight years managing numerous marketing functions at AT&T, including surviving annual rounds of layoffs for fifteen years running, AT&T suddenly retired me, a couple of years before my original plan.
And then, out of the blue, I was suddenly “un-retired” three days later to take over and run AT&T’s regulatory compliance team. I was on the hook to our CEO for ensuring absolute compliance with all rules relating to several federal communications programs, where any one of our 18,000 employees or contractors who touched those programs could mess up and jeopardize a billion dollar annual revenue stream at any moment. And I inherited the job with two strikes against the company because of various alleged prior transgressions. So I also had to make sure we met all the terms of two negotiated agreements with the federal government, under the unrelenting stare of our internal auditors, as well as a bank of federal regulators and U.S. Attorneys who were all itching to throw a big corporation under the bus. I very quickly learned how to manage a large unwieldy process with loose ends scattered hither and yon. And for the next five years, we absolutely nailed it; cleaned our slate with the regulators and finished my career on my own terms, culminating with the rarest of audit results where AT&T’s professional audit team could not find a single instance that raised any concerns.
Admittedly, in that role, I was a little more focused on delivering results than on fostering soft people skills. So shifting gears and working in this setting for the Church with a wide assortment of member volunteers across seven third-world countries, the concept of nurturing your fellow laborers is suddenly a much bigger issue. It really hit me watching a Church training video a couple of weeks back, where a manager with lots of outside experience was struggling when he came to work for the Church. A caring friend suggested that his managerial approach seemed more aligned with “The Terminator” than “The Good Shepherd”. Okay, that got my attention.
Fortunately, the other critical piece of this calling is that I get to partner with someone who has a lifetime worth of amazing people skills. Michelle has already won the hearts of everyone we meet here; the local employees, fellow missionaries, our security detail, vendors and the less-fortunates we pass along the street each day. They all think she is the nicest, most genuine person they have ever met. And when she reaches out to our auditing coordinates scattered across seven countries, they all pledge to do their very best to fulfill what the Lord would have them do and anything that will make Sister Clark happy. And it is all completely genuine.
Millennia ago, a nice Jewish man named Mortdecai suggested to his niece Esther that it was more than coincidence that had thrust this unassuming young Jewish girl into a pivotal role where she could potentially save her people from destruction. A series of unlikely events resulted in Esther becoming the highly favored wife of the Persian King who had issued a decree that all who worshipped Jehovah were to be killed. Esther alone could intervene and persuade the king to change his mind.
As He did with Esther, the Lord prepares each of us “for such a time as this”. Each of us will find ourselves in situations or with assignments where we are uniquely, but often unknowingly, prepared to carry out His work and bless His children. As with Esther, it takes faith, and a willingness to step outside our comfort zone, walk beyond the edge of the light and into the unknown, but when we recognize that the Lord has prepared us, and that whom the Lord calls, He qualifies, we humbly accept that with His divine assistance, all things are possible.