This is the eighth part of a series on our West Africa transmitter site from the personal involvement of TWR Canada President Ray Alary. Catch up on the ones you’ve missed:Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7
University student, Human Resource Director, Acting International Director, Operations Director of Africa, Project Manager, Trustee – Bible Evangelism Fund, husband, father …
As I look at all those titles, all those responsibilities, I say, “wow.” How many people would it take to do all of them? The truth was that one person was doing them all – at the same time – and that person was me.
I am titling this blog, “I simply got tired.” This is the story of how I got to the point where I couldn’t do it anymore. It was why I never took the time to grieve, why I got to the point where Sandy said, “I live in Johannesburg, and Ray comes to visit me.” Recently I looked at my schedule during that period and thought, “How and why did I do that?” I really did just visit Sandy. As I look back, I say to myself, “If you had all that responsibility in the office, why would you even attempt to do four university courses all at the same time?” That alone required 20 to 30 hours of time each week. Unfortunately, I had gotten it into my head that if I was going to hold the above positions, I needed a piece of paper saying I was qualified to do them. I did complete all but one of those courses in the end, but that is not the real story.
The real story is that these were special times. We were building the West Africa transmitter site. We were attempting to get the license signed; it was promised, but the actual signing took a number of years to finalize. In the end, we did get the documents signed but not because of all the meetings. They were signed because of a friendship Abdoulaye Sangho, the Region Director for TWR West Africa at the time, had with one of the director’s sons. In Africa, relationships are everything. We needed someone to say we were credible, and, once that was established, we were able to move the process along through the legal process without a challenge.
Reverend Stephen was gone, and while I couldn’t be a father to the African leadership, someone had to make decisions, someone had to make sure that the ministry continued. Leading the ministry in Africa is complicated. It isn’t one or two cultures; it is many cultures, each one different. Each situation and each country had to be handled differently. Everything was somewhat complicated, doable but never easy.
When three of us shared the responsibility, each one of us had our own gifts. Stephen’s was working with all the cultures. Andrew had been with TWR almost since it started so he knew the history. He was also African so he knew the cultures far better than I did, and he knew most of the leaders far better than I did. I was the nuts-and-bolts guy; I made sure that we could function operationally, and I was the person who worked with all the European and American partners. Before Andrew and Stephen passed away, the travel was shared evenly; now there was no one to share it with. Suddenly, I had to do all three jobs.
So, what happens when you find yourself in a situation like this? You don’t have a lot of choices; you either stop doing ministry, or you work harder with longer hours. Work becomes the centre of everything, and your family takes the back seat. (In a future blog, I will share the lessons I learned through this. However, I will tell you right now to always take time for your family. They are what refreshes you. They are what actually allows you to carry the extra load.)
Ministry and work can consume you. Your every thought becomes about getting the task done. You wake up in the middle of the night thinking about it. You go to sleep thinking about it. You talk about it at the supper table, when you are with friends (when you have time for them). In my case, I should have seen the warning signs. I had seen them in others and had taken preventative measures to make sure they got help. But I didn’t see them in me. Every day I got a little more fatigued. I got a little testier. I slept less, thought more and just kept going, thinking that if I got through today, tomorrow would be better. It didn’t get better, not because of major problems but because of the volume of activity and things that had to get done. And it wasn’t because we didn’t want to do something about the situation. The issue was that it takes time to find new leaders. It takes time to reorganize, and the staff was still whirling from all the tragedy that had taken place in such a short period of time.
Every person has a breaking point. The body is an amazing piece of machinery, but, like all machinery, if you don’t maintain it properly, it eventually breaks. Being a mechanic, I know all about this. I know that the way to avoid this is through preventative maintenance. However, I was so busy looking after things and other people that I neglected one very important piece of the TWR machine: myself.
What happened next came like a whirlwind. One day I was OK, and the next day I was basically broken. I was out of energy. Suddenly, the machine couldn’t run any longer. It was like a stripped gear in a transmission: once that gear is stripped, the transmission doesn’t work any longer.
I remember coming into the office one morning and breaking down like a baby. Yep, “breaking down like a baby” is the only way to describe it. I was crying and was surprised about that. I was tired, but I hadn’t stopped to address what was going on in my body and mind. The proper term is “burnt out.” My body and mind were telling me I was going to have to deal with that reality. I had run the race and was no where near the finish line, and I had to admit to myself that right now I would not be able to finish that race.
Burnt out … that is the term used today. I was going to need to make adjustments. I was going to have to step away for an undetermined period of time. We started by calling the TWR International president to explain the situation. He was very supportive, and the ball was put in motion. I was tired, and I needed a rest.
As a leader, I questioned God, “Why would you let this happen to me?” The simple answer was, “Ray, this is all part of my perfect plan.”
I’ll share the rest of the story next week. For now, I will tell you that it would take days, weeks and months before I could see his plan taking shape, but, as always, he did have a plan. And getting me tired was part of that plan.