Admitting Failure

I stumbled across this video, and I think it’s worth every second of the 13 minutes it will take you to watch it.

OK, did you watch it?

This video resonates with me because as a marketing writer for Compassion, my whole job is to tell the successes of the ministry. And it’s great; I love it.

There are so many amazing stories out there to tell, that each week I have to cull through handfuls of stories and choose just one or two.

But what about the not-so-happy stories? What do we do with those?

In telling just the happy ones, do we unintentionally insinuate to you that your experience is going to be all roses and puppy dogs? I know from past posts that many of you have experienced what have felt like “fails,” such as when a child left the program and you never found out why.

I don’t think any sponsorship is ever a failure. Regardless of what happens five years down the line, the love a child experiences through sponsorship (whether from you or from the child development workers) and the opportunity to hear the gospel is never in vain.

But what about the times when the tangible “outcome” of sponsorship isn’t quite what we had hoped for?

One of my weekly tasks is to write the prayer requests that we send to our prayer partners in Canada. It breaks my heart every week to see the immense challenges facing the children.

Sometimes, we get prayer requests like this: “Pray for 15-year-old Jessica who is pregnant” or “Pray for Ian who is taking drugs” or “Pray for Daisy who was having suicidal thoughts and ran away.”

Sometimes we can paint a picture (intentionally or not) that if you sponsor a child, he or she is going to become a doctor or a pastor and live in a nice house and have 2.5 children and live happily ever after. But the truth is that these are humans, not automatons where we put a sponsorship coin in the slot and they come out shiny, happy people.

Just as we in the developed world can’t guarantee how our children are going to “come out,” we can’t control how a child in the developing world will “come out” (and who would want to, anyway?).

children walking along dirt road with one boy wearing a backpack

We need to be free to admit “failure,” because as the video says, that’s how we learn.

Maybe a 14-year-old boy left our program and got involved in drugs because he made bad choices, but maybe he also left the program because it simply wasn’t meeting his needs. (Or as they might say, “It was boring.”)

We need to be open to admit such a failing so we can fix the problem.

In this case, it might be that we really need some updated curriculum to engage adolescents in a way that’s fun, helpful and relevant.

(And guess what — our field offices are actually in the process of writing and implementing new curriculum for adolescents for this very purpose!)

But it also takes education — we need to educate you as the sponsor as to what the real needs are. And that takes honesty.

Many times the solutions to these issues aren’t “sexy,” as David in the video says. We might need a spreadsheet “sponsored,” or in this case, curriculum development paid for.

Just as it’s easier to get a well built than to get a spreadsheet sponsored, it may be easier to get a cute smiling child sponsored than it is to get a curriculum funded or a teacher trained.

This isn’t an ask to get you to start funding spreadsheets or curricula (though if you want to read about some of our Canadian office’s educational efforts, you can.) But it is to say: we need to be honest and open.

At Compassion, we fail. Things don’t always go the way we wanted them to or planned. We have to be discreet and discerning in what we share, but we also don’t want to paint the picture that we’re perfect. Because we’re not, and that perception only sets us up for even larger failures.

God has blessed us with amazing supporters who support us through thick and thin, and God continues to work through our ministry despite our failings, to our great honor. We humbly ask that you continue to walk alongside us as we strive, fail, and learn from our mistakes.

12 Comments |Add a comment

  1. Jim Intriglia January 21, 2012

    “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” ~Michael Jordan

    Failures can be tough to take; but what of all the children that benefited from the successes? Keep those failures coming and Poverty will be soon be a thing of the past.

  2. Martyn January 19, 2012

    What a great post – so honest. Life is tough, and doesn’t always go to plan, but the seed of truth is still being sown, and that is great. To those with recent failures, do not be discouraged, becasue it is not in vain.

  3. Megan January 18, 2012

    Great video, great topic. It is so important as Americans to not make Success our idol…sometimes failure is essential for greater things to happen! Thank you Compassion for your honesty, and thank you for the opportunity you have given me to be a part of something great…sponsoring a child in need. Shalom, and God bless!

  4. Jill Foley ~ Compassion Family January 18, 2012

    I love Compassion’s commitment to transparency. Over 17 years of sponsorship, I have been disappointed at times with children who drop out to get a job or move away. It doesn’t seem fair that after 7 or 8 years of investing in a child’s life they just leave. But it’s not about me, and God is in control.

  5. Marvin January 18, 2012

    This is a really good video and story. I have had 2 children leave the program for some reason… they just stop showing up the final letter said…. I think the point is we don’t really know at age 4 or 5 who will be an LDP student but they all get the same chance.
    The danger…we get so focused on doing good we forget about the big picture…developing people not programs….

  6. Alida Catcheside January 17, 2012

    Compared to many people in the world I am wealthy and have an excellent education. This isn’t because I worked (although I did) but mainly because I was born by God’s grace in a situation which gave many possibilities. Sponsorship redistributes grace and love. People have different starting points, it’s difficult to look at an end point and define it as a failure without seeing the journey. Even some examples of lives which we think of as falling short may still have travelled further than many of us do, just because the journey was so much longer and harder than we realised. Without sponsorship they may not have made it that far, and most importantly, they may not have met God or heard about him and he can take them further across their lifetime than we can ask or imagine. Improvements can always be made, but in the end God takes our best and HIS grace makes up the difference. Failure and success becomes difficult to define until we get to the other side of eternity.

  7. Jen January 17, 2012

    This is a great post. Informative, honest, and necessary. Thank you.

  8. Lisa Rice January 17, 2012

    It’s not the successes that keep me committed to Compassion. It’s your long-term faithfulness to work on our behalf in the name of Jesus. Thank you for your honesty and willingness to be transparent.

    1. Hannah January 18, 2012

      Amen! I also am committed to Compassion because of their committment to working in Jesus’ name. And I really appreciate their transparency. I also think that when we get to heaven and view the work in the lives of children, we’ll have a different view of success than we do now!

  9. Michael Patterson January 17, 2012

    I have been the sponsor of a child who was dropped from Compassion for behavior issues. This same child just 4 years earlier had written a letter that inspired my wife and I to go visit her. Ultimately that trip changed my life in so many ways, including the adoption of our daughter Daniela from Haiti. The sponsored child who was released from Compassion is still in touch with us-now through Facebook. Her life is not what I had envisioned it would be, but our sponsorship was certainly not a waste. She writes to me more often than ever and still calls me “Dad.” All sponsorships plant a seed for something bigger. One of the things I love about Compassion is the constant review of what is working, and what needs to be done differently.

  10. Mandy January 17, 2012

    I’m glad to see a post like this. It just makes me respect Compassion even more. It reminds me of that verse that says, “God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness.” If we can’t admit that we are weak or that we make mistakes then we will never see God’s strength made perfect. Thanks for this post!!

    1. garrett August 5, 2013

      I agree, if you aren’t failing, you aren’t trying hard enough.
      In business i consistantly fail, but dont give up easily. If you keep trying, eventually you will find something that works.

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