(photo source: http://www.understandingmormonism.org/wp-content/uploads/2008/06/mormon_missionaries.jpg)
I'm serious. I can go to any part of the world, and the best-looking hut in that area will have a missionary in it. During my work travels, I've been through numerous huts. Quite often, the people I've encountered have never seen another non-native person but for some caucasian guy with the Holy Bible (the only other thing that is equivalent is coca-cola). On one hand I get frustrated, but on the other, I'm seriously impressed. So how the heck do they do that?? And what can we learn from them??
Alanna Shaikh has done a brilliant write-up on the subject. Among her points are the following:
- Long Term Commitment: Missionaries come for the long haul. Once they come, they often stay for a long period of time creating trust and a relationship.
- Community Investment: They invest time in the community learning their customs and language. Further, they make the effort of living like them, generally eating what they eat and drinking what they drink. Again, the community honors the commitment and trusts them. Further, this level of investment guarantees that they understand the community well. Essentially they customize their initiatives to work with the psychology of the community.
- Focus and Consistency: Missionaries are darned focused on their target. Until the day they die, they keep a consistent message of converting everyone to their religious beliefs. Regardless of whether you believe in this or not, you've got to respect the level of focus and consistency that they bring to the table. There are never mixed messages. If you keep drilling the same thing over and over again, at some point, people will listen.
- Hard Work and Persistence: Missionaries are hardworking. You'll often find them on their hands and knees cleaning up with the rest of the locals. They don't act that much more different than the people they are working with.
- Good Role Models: They are good role models. Always clean, well-dressed, and polite, the missionaries present good model citizens. Its easy to want to follow them.
Essentially, if you've been with an International Development project in the developing world that isn't working, look at their leadership and compare them to the missionaries as stated above. You'll see quickly why they are failing.