A storyteller gathered a crowd. They were a mix of his regular fans and outsiders. He said:
“A certain man owned a hotel franchise. Local owners paid him a small percentage of profits to use his respected name and resources. The sprawling empire grew to include thousands of locations at home and abroad. Reviews were great for decades. Even as the market changed, people still recommended his locations to their friends. Most continued doing well.
Then someone quietly filled out a comment card at one location. They claimed they were bitten by a rat in the night. The franchise owner was shocked, but his first reaction was to keep the whole thing quiet. So many good things were happening at the other locations. It would be a shame to damage those efforts with this news. After all, the local manager would certainly deal with the problem.
Not long afterward a similar report landed on the desk of the franchise owner. Assuming it to be the same old report, he reached to brush it aside. His hand stopped. It was from a different state. This time a finger has been gnawed off. Rats were suspected. He wondered aloud if the person should have worn gloves. The rat wouldn’t have been tempted then! This sounded like another job for the local manager. He grabbed a manila file folder and quickly labels it “rats” before dropping the note inside. Nothing to see here.
Over the next year, the file grows thicker. In one big city, a toe was lost. A girl in a farming community lost a nose. A boy was reported to have been bitten repeatedly for years because his parents just loved visiting the place. The owner liked these people. He always respected customer loyalty. He was sure their boy would be fine. Kids are resilient.
Yet, the nagging concern grew. What if word got out? So many rewards members would lose their favorite spot. Some franchisees might break away and quit sending their dues. He was hoping to launch 200 new locations soon. This could put it all at risk. He decided to make some calls.
He pulled his file. It was much fatter than he realized and got stuck coming out of the drawer. He opened to the middle of the stack and dialed the number.
The first local manager was shocked. He’d never heard of the rat problem but promised to keep an eye out. What a relief.
The second promised that the rats have been run out. He hated to kill them. Last he saw, they were headed far away from that location. They weren’t going to be bothering that manager again. Some comfort.
The third manager was offended. He had taken a liking to the rat at his location and proudly confessed to have been feeding it for years. “It’s really been acting more like a cat. I trust it now.”
He called a fourth location but was met with silence. Probably the rat answered the phone he joked to himself. The rat smiled and hung up.
One by one the reports continued. Guests checked in. The rats devoured. Over and over again.
He quit answering most of the requests for help. His lawyer suggested that the less he knew the better. He agreed wholeheartedly.
In his silence, those who had been attacked began to find each other. They started talking. The franchise owner was shocked by suggestions that he shut down certain locations. “I can’t do that,” he finally told one reporter. “I am just the franchise owner. I don’t actually own the locations.” As he walked away, the reporter shouted: “But they have your name on them, don’t they?” He kept walking.
That night, the owner lamented that it seemed some of these people just wanted to burn it all down. Imagine. With thousands of locations and he only knew of 700 hundred infested with rats. Why should that raise any alarms? Think of the mission!
When a report releasing the news claimed to be a bombshell, he wasn’t shocked in the slightest. He knew all those stories. Old news. He was just surprised that other people were so shocked. Don’t they know that rats are out there? He guessed some of those reports were false while others could hardly be pinned on him. He would make a few statements, rally his regional managers to support him, and all of this would soon blow over.”
The storyteller paused. The response of the owner seemed so ridiculous that it was hardly believable to many in the crowd.
“What then should the man do?” the storyteller asked.
Without hesitation, a cynic in the back shouted, “Nothing! It’s not his fault.”
The storyteller was sad. Not everyone had truly heard.
Finally, a little girl in the front row, face scarred, hands bandaged, whispered, “Whatever it takes to make it right.”
The storyteller smiled. Glistening eyes locked with hers as he spoke this simple truth: “The mission is never more important than the people because the people are the mission.”
Mark Fugitt holds a PhD in Historical Theology and is a pastor and adjunct professor of religion, ethics, and history for Missouri State University and Spurgeon College.