Monday, September 27, 2010

My Creative Mission

I am a missionary.
There may be a lot of biases from that, but I don’t really mind now.
My job is to lead groups of college students into a deeper relationship with God.
And to do that, I would have to grab their attention.
Get them out of addictions.
Be an elder brother.
Even if it calls for some somersaults, spins, spur of the moment gatherings, jamming, partying, and even out-of-this-world pieces of advice, I’d do it.

Because otherwise, I would be another boring preacher, struggling to tell the world how awesome our God is.

Fortunately, it’s starting to pay off.
For the past weeks, we have been struggling to hold a Catholic prayer gathering called “The Feast” (established by Bo Sanchez), in the Manila Central University (MCU), in Caloocan. Just to give a background, we have succeeded doing this in other schools such as UP Diliman, University of the East and the Polytechnic University of the Philippines. The attendance would not go lower than 300!

We already have at least thirty student-volunteers for the MCU Feast.
That’s a lot.
And for more than three months, we waited.
And in between we created so many bonding moments, that there was nothing else I could ask for.
The surprise finally came.

We were at last given verbal approval to hold the MCU Feast.
But we had to do it in 9 days! (This normally takes three weeks to a month)
The rest of the story was phenomenal.
All the students were mobilized, each given a specific task to perform, and with strict deadlines. They had to rush t-shirts, posters, music rehearsals, and venue approvals. Taglines had to be thought of, d├ęcor had to be bought, money had to be budgeted, etc.
It was chaos in its most creative form.
And before my very eyes, I saw the Feast coming to life in a matter of days!

It was all a success, until the school dropped a bombshell on us.
A day before the event, the written approval had not yet been secured.
Apparently, it had decayed on the desk of one of the higher-ups, thus postponing the “dream.”
And the greatest thing? Not one of the thirty students buckled.
We went through the pain together. We comforted each other.
Now, they’re on the verge of planning a better, bigger, more blessed Feast in the future.

How did we manage to survive such a creative challenge?
Strong, understanding, and meaningful relationships.
Relationships that don’t judge, undermine, nor intimidate each other.
These relationships are what makes missionary work worth more than the price we’re paid.
And I believe that just like us, these relationships are what propelled Pixar to be who they are now.

I have enumerated three non-negotiable conditions by which creativity would thrive in my work as a missionary, based on the Pixar experience.

1.      Missionary work should be surrounded by loving relationships. This encompasses all that Pixar does. From its idea gestation stage all the way to its postmortem practices, I believe that no creative process could come out if their working atmosphere were all of criticism, evasion, and mistrust. They had a culture going. It was an environment passed on from its first directors, to each person in the company. And this culture could never be taught, if it were not for its founders.
In missionary work too, one can never attract people to God if he is a “walking problem”! Once a missionary settles with his mission territory, he should be a living example of positivity, love and joy.

2.      Missionary work relies on creative people, not on creative ideas. “The Feast” is a breakthrough in Catholic evangelization. But however great the idea is, it would never have thrived under mediocre people.

Just like how Pixar would get a dinosaur, or a robot, or a toy, and give life to it, missionary work does not stop after gestation. It needs the best team for it to thrive. Fortunately, my team had people who can do all kinds of stuff: photography, accounting, music, computer graphics, dance, engaging people, etc. And they were the best in their fields!

Some religious groups, organizations, even parishes would fall into the trap of “reviving the dead.” They would come up with new ideas, and try to sell them to members who have already been burned out from the community. The result? The new ideas flop, and the old, “revived” members once again have a reason to leave.

3.      Missionary work should be transparent. I love how the physical spaces of Pixar were literally interaction spaces. This translated to open lines of communication and a sense of equality between boss, and subordinate. I love the idea that Pixar would outwardly give the impression that “not because they were successful, they were doing everything right.”
Missionary work should also be a level playing field. There should be neither boss nor subordinate. There should be no exclusive holder of knowledge. There should be no hidden grudges, bondages, and agendas. If the missionary and the mission area are not open to each other, the mission does not succeed, because spirituality is inevitably translated to physicality.

            Creativity will thrive given the right situations and the right timing. I believe that all workplaces need these environments; however they are not templates for all kinds of work. In essence it is still up to us to create, grow and thrive in whatever work we choose, lest we miss the point of working itself.