They said it couldn’t be done. HOPE was looking to start a program in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). DRC is ranked last on the Human Development Index.
We were told the country wasn’t ready for our services. The poor wouldn’t repay loans. And it was impossible to work with DRC’s corrupt government.
But feeling called to serve the poor in DRC, HOPE set out to try anyway.
Here is the story of HOPE DRC—and a look at the dangers of success:
In 2004, we established HOPE DRC.
Growth skyrocketed: Within a few years, we were adding 1,000 clients per month.
By 2008, we were serving nearly 24,000 families.
But success is a dangerous place.
When we looked at our key indicators, they were all “up and to the right.” We were satisfied with our model and were dreaming even bigger dreams.
Where others had failed, we had been wildly successful. If we could achieve success in the DRC, we could do it anywhere. Slowly, we became proud of our accomplishments.
But in 2008, we experienced a humbling fraud by several colluding staff members. That—coupled with currency devaluation and lack of experienced management—led us to a breaking point in the DRC. From 2008-2009, we significantly decreased in size of outreach and operations.
But the primary danger wasn’t the rapid growth, the failure to adequately plan, or even local leadership. It was the state of our hearts.
In Deuteronomy, Moses warns about the danger of success:
“You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today” (8:17-18).
Instead of giving glory to God, it was too easy to say “Look at what we have done.”
Today, our program is slowly rebuilding. But I hope I never again have to experience this sort of painful course correction. True success requires faithfulness to the calling God has given us and a healthy skepticism of any “success” we might achieve.
Reflecting on the challenges we experienced in the DRC, here are some of the key lessons learned:
- Summary statistics can be grossly misleading.
- Growth can mask quality. A full picture of organizational health is rarely measured by key performance indicators. We may be enamored by growth, but we have to ensure that we are investing in people to truly achieve operational excellence.
- It’s all about staff and simple systems.
- Staff – If you don’t have the right people living your organizational culture, any model will fail.
- Systems – Growth requires simplicity and we discovered that checklists are surprisingly effective to ensure a consistent delivery of key functions.
- Pride is one of our most dangerous enemies.
- It’s not external threats, but our own foolishness that leads to destruction. Throughout Scripture, you find examples of God’s people who started out well but their pride got the best of them.
- When David slayed Goliath, he claimed his victory came from God. But later he trusted in the strength of his armies, believing his success was due to his own intellect and not God’s grace. His pride led to his downfall. His predecessor (King Saul) and his heir (King Solomon) suffered from the same problems.
I hope we experience tremendous success, but I hope we experience it on our knees in humble gratitude for what God is doing.