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Overhead

A Letter from Richard and Debbie Welch, serving in Guatemala

July 2018

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Dear Friends and Partners in Mission,

“…And lastly we have Myles. Myles is not actually a member of our team. He is here to provide the computer support for this project.”

“Lastly? What can you possibly mean by ‘lastly’?” Our German customer, host, and project manager was astounded. “I can’t believe that you would think that your computer support would not be considered as part of your team. What do you mean by that?”

By now, our project leader realized his comments truly baffled our customer. Attempting to recover, he responded, “What I mean to say is, Myles is not part of our design engineering group. He is only here in a support role.”

Our host was having none of it. “Are you telling me that you think you can make good on your deliverables to us without computer support? This is the silliest thing I’ve heard in a long time. Your computer support is vital to your work for us!”

Our aerospace composites manufacturing company had just landed a big contract: designing, manufacturing, and delivering composite components for a major European aircraft manufacturer. This was a big deal for us. And given its importance, I dispatched Myles, my lead systems administrator, to Germany to accompany the engineering design team to support the engineers and to interface with the German information technology experts. The conversation quoted above took place during the introductory visit to our customers in Bremen, Germany. As a manager of a support group, I found our German counterpart’s words to be a refreshing perspective on the role support people play in the success of the projects we undertake.

The engineering director making our introductions was not wrong in his words regarding Myles’ role on his team. In aerospace, where government contracts abound, accounting for different classes of labor is a vital component of a supplier’s credibility. Because of that, the distinction of our individual roles begins to take on a hierarchy that is often not healthy for the overall effectiveness of a team. After a lengthy career as a support professional in the manufacturing world, I had become accustomed to such endearing terms such as “non-touch labor” (for people who don’t physically “touch” the product), “overhead,” and my personal favorite, “non-value-added support.”

Why should we be sharing a story of Richard’s work history from 2004? As our work and ministry here in Guatemala has grown and matured, we have grown increasingly aware of how much the successes and abundant blessings of this work have depended on the “whole host of witnesses” who surround us and the ministry we do as PC(USA) mission coworkers here in Guatemala. The presence and impact of these people is felt not only by us, but also by our colleagues around the world. These are not people who regularly show up in photos about our work, but they are regular parts of God’s ministry in Guatemala that is being manifested through PC(USA) World Mission. As we climb into the back of a rickety 4-wheel-drive pickup truck to visit a remote indigenous village in the highlands, we take no small amount of comfort in knowing that should we need it, there are unseen individuals prepared to come to our aid should it be needed. In the funding stages of some of our major education initiatives, we can assure our partners that our specialists in the international transfer of funds are familiar with all the banking and governmental regulations that apply, and that they know the reporting requirements with which we need to comply to avoid problems and delays. When we visit our physicians here in Guatemala, it is such a relief to know that there will be no complications in covering medical attention received in a country other than the US. Even the letters we send and the presentations we make during our visits to the US are supported by talented and hard-working professionals who make sure that our communications are the best that they can be.

Yet, as mission coworkers, at times we witness some of the same distinctions in the classifications of our ministry endeavors that Richard experienced in years of private industry. In many ways, suspicion of certain job roles in the non-profit world are justified. Examples of “excessive overhead” (usually in the form of executive salaries) have made headlines. While good stewardship requires vigilance and oversight, we should always be careful not to exalt one person’s contribution to God’s work in mission over another’s.

“So, can you tell us the percentage of the support we send for your mission that goes to overhead and how much goes to the actual work you do?”

This is a legitimate and often-asked question we receive from people interested in our work. But lately, we’ve struggled with finding an appropriate answer. At one time we would have said 0%, because we see every expense as vital to our mission. Lately we’ve been thinking that the appropriate response is 100%. If we take to heart the words of the apostle Paul when he admonishes the Corinthians for exalting the work of one minister over another, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase” (1 Cor. 3:6), we need to acknowledge that all of us are “overhead.” God, through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, is the only one doing the actual “touch labor.” And for that we give thanks.

Even though we now find ourselves participating in a new expression of “touch labor,” we are blessed to count ourselves among the whole host of “overhead” ministers: those on the ground in their countries of service; those using their gifts and talents to provide needed support services from the World Mission offices; those who subscribe to Mission Connection news and letters, reading about and praying for each mission; those who correspond with and encourage mission co-workers around the world; and those who generously support the work of World Mission financially. We are all “planting and watering” in so many wonderful and God-honoring ways. Each labor of overhead support is a witness to the increase that God brings to God’s mission.

Richard and Debbie Welch

Read more about Richard and Debbie Welch’s ministry
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