Zac Hood is the founder and director of Sports Servants, with whom he has spent the last eight years serving the Belizean people by initiating indigenously led organized sports programs in churches, schools, and communities. Their mission is to empower children and transform communities for the present and future generations. With a growing population of young people in the Majority World, Zac believes sports is a common and beloved language for almost all cultures. An aspiring missiologist and/or missions leader, he is seeking full-time cross-cultural missions work as he finishes his MCS degree in Mission Studies.
In rural Belize, leadership normally comes from a group instead of an individual. Within that group, the eldest are held highest in regard. When a gringo (“white person”) is around, they usually defer to him or her over a Belizean. In the United States, there is normally one person in charge, who (I say this tongue-in-cheek) is at least louder and more confident than anyone else. We are used to that expectation. So, when several gringos came to Belize to initiate organized sports programs, the Belizeans, accustomed to mission trips from their use of English and close proximity to the United States, were ready to hear from the old, wise American leader. However, I was a twenty-two-year old who really looked about fourteen.
This created a conundrum for the Belizeans. Where was the alpha leader of the US group? We did not have one. I felt passionate for the Lord and his call to Belize, but unequipped and lacking confidence as a leader. My belief that the Lord could come through my weakness was the only strength I had, and it blended beautifully in the cross-cultural setting. Over time, I began to see my Western leadership limitations as a sign of grace for both our ministry and Belizean leadership. My quiet, reserved nature mixed well with people who wanted to be heard and establish trust before making decisions. We had to listen and learn from each other as I had few answers and the Belizeans knew their communities and culture best. Today, we can laugh about our first meetings and enjoy the kindness with which God brought us together, regardless of cultural differences.
There is still tension though. As we (Belizeans and I) seek to empower more indigenous leaders, we know the cost of leadership in Belize is great. My experience with Western leadership is that it is much more celebrated and honoured in terms of its position and authority within the community. It appears to have more benefits than burdens, and one can easily forget that Jesus Christ is the one to be served. In Belize, leadership is more servant-like, and comes with heavy burdens. There is the inevitable reality of harsh criticism from peers, and the likelihood of failure and exhaustion due to limited time and resources. Therefore, it takes a great deal of courage to be a leader. The position rarely comes with benefits—simply greater stress on top of one’s normal responsibilities.
Now, at 30, I feel my understanding of leadership between the Western and non-Western world has grown. My goal now is to engage mostly at a relational level with those in Belize who are emerging as the country leaders for our programs. Through these relationships, Belizeans have taught me to see both the servant and burden-filled nature of leadership. To be an authentic servant leader means having courage when the critics are crowding the room and the odds for success seem out of favour. However difficult or burdensome a leadership position might be, our admitted weaknesses and fellowship with others can be sufficient when held in light of Christ’s transforming grace that calls us all into humility.