by Alfred Johnston
When the Overseas Missionary Fellowship came to the Philippines in 1951 to help meet hitherto “unmet needs” one of those needs was the production and distribution of Christian literature.
When the Overseas Missionary Fellowship came to the Philippines in 1951 to help meet hitherto "unmet needs" one of those needs was the production and distribution of Christian literature. From a small beginning in local-language publishing in 1954, and a retail bookstore opened in a provincial town in 1956, the Lord led on to a nation-wide literature ministry.
By 1970, as well as operating a sizable wholesale (mostly imported books) and publishing house (mostly local languages) OMF Publishers had a large bookstore in Manila, with others in Baguio, Cebu and Bacolod Cities. In Mindanao, back in 1961, at the suggestion of an OMF missionary, a national corporation was formed to start bookstores. At the invitation of this group my wife and I spent six years there establishing Christian bookstores in six of the major cities. So these six bookstores had close ties with OMF publishers.
Though nationalization had been in our minds from the beginning, by 1971, for several reasons – among them internal Philippine legislation – we realized the time had come to give serious thought to putting the whole retail operation into the hands of nationals. Careful planning would be needed to ensure a smooth transfer. Also during the transition period the Christian public must not suffer any shortage of vital materials.
The first step of preparation was to move the wholesale and publications departments to a separate building and to make the Manila retail store fully independent. For several years before this they had been purchasing supplies from the wholesaler at a regular discount, the same as other retail bookstores.
The next step was to find mature, responsible Christian men, interested in furthering literature work, and to invite them to form a Steering or Advisory Committee. This committee – four men and one lady – met with the mission director and the OMF Publishers missionary manager bimonthly for a year or so. At these meetings the members were given all pertinent information about the literature operation and, together with the missionaries, planned the nationalization program.
A corporation would need to be formed. But already there was a national corporation in Mindanao – Mindanao Christian Literature, Inc. – owning the six bookstores OMF had helped initiate, and we had close relationships with them. It was suggested by one of the steering committee, a lawyer (It’s good to have a lawyer on your Steering Committee, if possible.) that we ask Mindanao Christian Literature, Inc. if they would be willing to expand their membership to include the rest of the Philippines and change their name to Philippine Christian Literature, Inc. So a new nine-man corporation was formed, with representatives from the three regions – Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, which agreed to buy the entire stock and fittings of the four OMF-owned bookstores.
Now, five years later, the number of bookstores has increased to seventeen, with three more being contemplated, as well as some ten extension outlets. In all, almost sixty national workers are engaged in getting Christian literature out to all corners of the Philippines. Apart from acting in an advisory capacity, no missionaries have worked with PCLI since the turnover. However, there continues to be close co-operation between the board and OMF Publishers.
Just a few words of caution before we proceed. (1) Actively prepare for nationalization and don’t wait for circumstances to force it on you. If you do, it will be too abrupt without adequate preparation. (2) On the other hand, don’t feel that this step will automatically solve all problems and the sooner the better. Endeavor to resolve known problems first of all. (3) Beware of a too complete withdrawal, especially if the new manager is inexperienced. A staged withdrawal, carefully planned and fully approved by the new board, is wiser. (4) Take care, however, that the new board is given freedom to develop. Do not be too rigid. New minds will most likely bring in new ideas. (5) Do not be too fearful. The more positive our attitude, the more appreciated our advice and help.
On the part of the national group there needs also to be realistic thinking. They must not take for granted that after nationalization there will be no more problems. Considerable know-how and wise planning are necessary. They should be willing for a transition period. A rush to change everything suddenly can upset staff and retard growth. Necessary changes should be carefully planned and introduced gradually.
During the meetings of the Steering Committee weaknesses should be faced realistically by both parties. If possible, these should be dealt with before the transfer. If this isn’t possible, then it may be best to work out an arrangement for a transition period (say three to five years), with some sort of joint ownership. During the transition period every effort should be made to remove, or at least minimize, the weaknesses. If department heads are not shouldering responsibilities as they should, give special attention to this area.
The most important factor in nationalization is that the mission or Christian organization be fully committed to it as a definite program and not subconsciously fear it as the inevitable. In order to ensure stability after nationalization, the mission owning group needs to give particular attention to certain areas:
(1) The organization must have adequate capital for its present operation, so that the new owners will not be forced to limit or cut down its scope.
(2) The operation must be at a satisfactory level, where the struggle for existence has come to an end. By satisfactory level we are thinking more of efficiency of operation than of size.
(3) Make sure that there is enough maturity and experience among the staff of the organization to carry on responsibility. Also, that adequate accountability is included in management so that the whole future of the work does not hang on the right or wrong decision of one person.
(4) The organization should be well rooted in the country. If necessary, adjust procedures to fit in with the local pattern and make sure equipment can be maintained locally.
(5) Foreign subsidy should be phased out. If this subsidy is only foreign personnel, adequately qualified national staff should be brought in, trained, and given responsibility well in advance of the missionary’s departure.
(6) If subsidy needs do continue for a time, definite plans for a decrease should be made. We suggest it should be less than 50 percent at the time of nationalization and decreased annually.
(7) If foreign funds are to be made available, definite plans for accounting should be made in advance. An approved annual budget is perhaps the most satisfactory way.
The preparation of staff is another important factor. Often staff, used to one manager’s ways, are reluctant to change. So there must be a definitely planned program of staff preparation. (1) Strive to impart commitment to the particular ministry and vision for the future of the operation. (2) Develop a team spirit, a sense of family unity and loyalty to the organization. (3) Let each staff member know his particular position and responsibility on the team; give each a job description. (4) Develop all legitimate health benefits, retirement, etc., so that staff have a sense of security. (5) Tell staff of the intent to nationalize and endeavor to get them, especially the managers, to accept this as a wise course of action. (6) Introduce committee management. The general manager should meet monthly with heads of departments and discuss constructively matters affecting the operation.
What happens when the keys are finally handed over? Do the missionaries disappear overnight? Again, this matter needs careful thought beforehand. I believe that missions should maintain a positive attitude to organizations they have founded. The need for which they launched the operation still exists – if it doesn’t, then closing out, not nationalization, is in order. Missionary help can be a valuable asset to a growing organization (a) to meet the dayto-day demands of the work in an area where there is no qualified national available, or (b) to open up a new area of development.
In phasing out missionary help the new board needs to give careful thought to any areas of weakness on the national side. It is best to be frank and realistic rather than allow the ministry of the organization to suffer.
The mission and the new board, along with the leaders within the organization, should carefully evaluate the contribution of each missionary and how long this contribution may be needed. Then definite plans should be formulated. There should be agreement about what specific work the missionaries are to do and to whom they are responsible within the organization. Some kind of contractual agreement should be written, with a job description and a definite time period specified; this can be supplied to both sides, including the missionary concerned. The missionaries aside from top leaders – will carry on much the same as before, simply recognizing and cooperating with the new authority. Responsible national boards or managers who accept missionary participation should not try to squeeze missionaries into a situation where they are virtually immobilized. The contract drawn up will help avoid this and provide opportunity for review when the problems can be faced and resolved.
Any missionary doing a specific job for any nationalized organization should be assigned a suitable understudy, preferably full-time, but at least part-time. While furlough can be prepared for in advance, sickness or home problems may necessitate a missionary’s sudden departure. So there are advantages in the board’s having the basic agreement with the mission rather than with the individual missionary, as then the mission may be able to find a replacement. If a national has understudied the missionary, he may be able to carry the load for a temporary period at least.
It may not be wise for all missionaries to stay on, especially the previous leader. There is always the danger of overshadowing the new management. Much will depend on the state of the organization’s development and how qualified the new leadership is. In some cases the missionary leader could leave immediately and the organization not suffer. In other cases, particularly if there is a hesitant, uncertain or completely new manager from the outside, it might be best if the missionary leader were out of the organization, but on call for advice and help if needed.
If a serious crisis arises within the organization, the mission should extend help until the operation is again fulfilling its ministry. There should not be the attitude of, "We won’t ask them," on one side, or, "That’s their problem now," on the other.
The above are general guidelines. Each case needs to be assessed individually, taking all aspects of the operation into consideration. Nationalization, like any other step in the Christian pathway, should be with complete faith in God that the organization will go on from strength to strength.
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