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Painting Walls and Shifting Structures: Committing to the Complex Work of Holistic Change

Updated: Oct 17, 2023

As evidenced by the dozens of variations across multiple channels devoted to absolutely nothing else: people seem to love a good home renovation television show.

I would consider myself as one among those people.

In the matter of one 30-minute episode, the people on these shows are somehow able to take a complete disaster of a home and turn it into a decorated masterpiece. They start out with atrocious wallpaper and horrid carpet and finish with a home worthy of the front cover of a magazine and tears of joy.

There is something so satisfying about being able to quickly consume these unbelievable transformations. However, in all of my personal indulgence in such shows, I have come to realize that there seems to always be some sort of complication along the way.

I am tempted to suggest that these “unforeseen” obstacles that the renovators seem to always be able to remedy could possibly be scripted and conflated to add some drama to an otherwise linear plot, but I just cannot make that claim. I know better. And you know better, too, if you’ve ever taken on any kind of D.I.Y. home renovation project.

The process never quite goes as planned, things are always connected and correlated in ways you never expected, and each project normally takes greater investments (of not only money, but also time) than you were originally anticipating.

Sometimes these complications result in having to compromise other ideals and sometimes they change the completed outcome altogether.

One thing that I have learned through these shows, though, is that there is nothing more devastating to plans and hopes and dreams than realizing that the house being renovated is not structurally sound — that there are issues with the foundation.

Instead of being able to focus on ideal countertops or additions to the outdoor landscape, repairing the security of the structure of the home becomes (because it must), the primary focus above all else. In fact, everything else is negotiable, except for this.

It makes sense, though. Even if the structural complications do not pose an immediate threat, it does not make much sense to choose to paint walls and decorate rooms before addressing the issues that affect the security and longevity of the house as a whole. Doing such temporary fixes while the foundation remains in a state of distress will, at some point, prove useless.

The security of a house ultimately matters more than an impressive appearance.

Okay, you get the picture. But how does any of this correlate with reframing modern missions?

Too often, missions, as they have been carried out, have focused on (both figuratively and literally) painting walls and adding impressive decor to situations without ever getting to the core of the foundational deficiencies that threaten the security and success of the entire structure of development.

Though missional aid and development efforts may create a more appealing reality to some degree or may carry out a solution to one issue, if the whole of the system that has created the singular need being addressed is not thoughtfully taken into consideration, the work invested will not be able to be sustained.

Here at Kindred Exchange, we define sustainability as the active process of facilitating programs and practices that create lasting and holistic change.

Holistic change requires moving back from our micro-goals, no matter how well-intentioned, to address the macro-cycles and processes that contribute to and are affected by our efforts.

Often, much like the optimistic D.I.Y. home renovation projects, in committing to the work of holistic change rather than short-term improvements, plans do not quite play out exactly as envisioned, you begin to see how connected and correlated every small issue or need is with greater structural systems and intricacies, and the investment of time and energy and relational commitment will be significantly more intensive than anticipated.

Thoughtfully analyzing and mapping out every contributing factor creating the need we are trying to address and every off-shoot effect of the solution we are working towards is a necessary step in addressing the reality of our ethics and the potential for sustainability.

What is the need that you are trying to address?

What is causing this need? What are all of the factors that contribute to creating and perpetuating it?

Where is there a gap between the need and the resources available?

How can that need be met in a way that can be sustained without outside influence?

How can we come behind and support the process of bridging the gap between the need and those who can provide the answer to it within their own community?

How can our processes of engaging not just provide momentary solutions to deeply rooted structural deficiencies?

In what ways do we need to be willing to shift our gaze from our well-intentioned micro-goals to the macro-implications of our engagement?

Where have we been figuratively painting walls within structurally unsound buildings and believing we are creating change that can last?

If we want our engagement in cross-cultural relationships and development work to generate lasting good, we must be willing to move past surface level improvements that may look impressive, but that neglect foundational insecurities and therefore will inevitably crumble.

Committing to the work of creating and sustaining structural soundness will not be easy, but it is ultimately the only option that will last.

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