Principles, Assumptions and Values Undergirding the Partnership Initiative
World Missions, World Renew, Back To God, and Partners Worldwide are committed to strategies that enable high quality partnerships to take place between CRCNA congregations and groups and classes on the one hand, and the churches, groups, and partners with whom we are doing ministry around the world on the other hand.
A multi-agency task force has assembled this draft of principles that can help guide partnerships. This is wisdom from long experience in the field, both around the world and in NA. We want this to be a dialog among Southern congregations, southern partners, international staff, NA staff, NA congregations of the CRC.
What's Really Important
“All one Body we.” One in hope and doctrine, one in unity. One of the most basic and important assumptions we are making is that Christians all over the globe – of every race and tribe and nation – are one body in Christ. To experience this reality, to explore it, to witness to it, to nurture it – that’s our goal! That’s why we are so passionate about real, deep, intimate, ongoing healthy relationships. Combined, CRC agencies have 100s of years of experience in global partnership building. They know the cross cultural relationship-killers: assumptions of superiority, paternalism, assumptions of inferiority, crippling dependencies, leading off with handouts, assumptions of helplessness, helping instead of healing… We all know our own sinful tendencies to assume our own rightness and our own resourcefulness. Together we can learn to know ourselves all over again – as brothers and sisters in Christ with people of many cultures, languages, and experiences. Starting with a servant heart, we can respond to God’s call and work in partnership with people from another culture or country.
Spirituality. Kingdom realities underlie our actions! Every aspect of what we’re doing in this endeavor can communicate truth about God’s Kingdom, the Church, human life and creation. “By his power and for his glory” shapes us and our behaviors. We need to bathe our actions in prayer, and be very overt about acknowledging that it’s all from Him and through Him and to Him. Many North Americans don’t think first of the spiritual dimension of reality. Most others around the world believe this without thinking about it!
Relationship. Get ready to see this reality in a fresh way – most of the world sees relationships as at least as important as any other outcome, if not more. View the relationship itself as the reason for the partnership! NA folks tend to have their eye on the task, the results, and are willing to put less emphasis on the relationship to get the job done. Sometimes our eyes fall on “stuff” – what one has that the other does not. Motivations get bent out of shape. But in every moment, every conversation, every decision - the relationship is the treasure to be polished. Guard it, value it, build it - while you work together at the results or tasks. The relationship is of lasting value, and so are the impacts in lives and communities. Entering relationships across the boundaries of race and culture requires some vulnerability, much humility, openness. Our relationship to Jesus, out of which flow all our other relationships – that’s the reality that shapes all of us.
Humility and Learning
Do no harm. The story of missions and development is a story of good intentions that have too many times had bad results. Perhaps the most important lesson learned is to do a thorough examination of the plans from the very beginning to ask what might go wrong and how to do our best to make sure it doesn’t, and if it does to have a contingency plan to contain the damage. Good intentions do not guarantee against the effects of sin.
Start small. This is one of the oldest pieces of wisdom about development work and mission connections, but still is hard to do. One way to minimize damage is to do the “trial and error approach” on a small project, rather than a big one. Be modest. Create space and time for learning. Very small experiments can help avoid larger problems later. “Be faithful in small things…”
Ongoing. Closely related to the idea of relationship is the idea of the ongoing nature of the partnership. Most of the world understands relationships to be serious and lasting.
Nurturing short term into long term. Once convinced that long term relationships are the way to go, we can set up even short term service projects and one-time visits in such a way that longer term relationships can easily begin. No matter what kind of relationship, it has to flow from our relationship with Jesus. Is our contact strengthening the relationship – for others and for ourselves?
Face to face and hands on. Keep it real! Contact once or twice a year is important - it's also important to think about how to make it a two-way street. Prepare for visits by doing plenty of upfront communication with CRCNA staff, both in NA and on the field, about how to arrange visits and how to plan for the practical daily things. Think practical, simple, concrete: singing together, eating, exchanging recipes, cooking, learning or teaching how to carry water on your head, carve a coconut, use a camera, slice a mango, or shovel snow or… The key is to focus on ways to share experiences, exchange learning, and build a reciprocal, mutual, balanced relationship. Reflect beforehand about what you intend to learn from those you’ll meet. Be ready to receive graciously what is offered when it doesn’t fit your idea of what is a “fitting” gift! Think about what “exchange of gifts” you might even want to suggest – learning a new song, stories of God’s goodness, a new skill.
Flow or Reciprocity. This is the core dynamic of healthy biblical partnerships -- a back and forth flow, an exchange, a mutual blessing. God made us for relationships, for community, for enjoying each other and sharing our gifts. When we experience it among Believers, we are experiencing our truest humanity. These are the lines along which renewal runs. This is where we testify to each other of the deepest truths about ourselves - we are saved by grace alone, our lives are being restored, we value each other as fellow human beings, created, died for, reminding each other of love, hope, compassion, justice - these are foundational to our biblical world view and we witness to these realities powerfully in our relationships. Without this genuine dynamic of flow at the interpersonal level, the partnership misses one of its most important dimensions - mutual enrichment, refreshment, renewal. It’s in relationships that we learn to witness to the truth – with love, and also with honesty. It’s no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. An excellent book on this subject is Tell the Truth: The Whole Gospel for the Whole Person, by Will Metzger, IVP.
Guarding against dependence. The rule of thumb is: don’t do for someone what that person can do for himself. Don’t give or accept materials or money directly. The negative implications and consequences of a North American trying to “help” someone in another culture on a “person to person” basis are complex. Responding to a desire to offer help to someone within the first hour of being in a new situation results in negative consequences 99 times out of 100. This is one of the stickiest situations missionaries and field staff encounter. By giving through a CRC organization, wise decisions on how to use these gifts can be made by those who are fully informed about circumstances and are familiar with the local culture.
A story from a veteran overseas staff person: The individuals who did not get gifts will feel angry and resentful of the ones who did. Conflict, jealousy, and suspicion are introduced into the community and even into families. What seems like a small sum of money to a North American could be a whole year's income in a third world country. People will feel a strong temptation to become "best friends" with the rich white visitors just in order to get money from them. This can cause national Christians to fall into the sins of lying and greed. Imagine if Bill Gates joined your church, and said he really wanted to help, how would it affect the leadership and the dynamics of your congregation?
Traditional communities have many customs and practices that ensure that people are treated fairly, and that benefits in the community are shared with all members. For example, at a baby naming ceremony in West Africa the portions of meat are carefully divided among the guests, close relatives getting more, but everyone getting at least some. When a visitor from the outside gives to an individual, rather than to the whole group in public, you have disturbed a system of reciprocity and sharing that has been functioning for hundreds of years.
The same principle goes for giving large sums to one village, such as to build a school or clinic, while the neighboring villages get nothing. Or, giving money to one church's building fund while the other churches get nothing. Local churches are usually organized into groups of churches in districts, and they prefer to let all the churches share benefits, and discuss how those will be spent, rather than have one local congregation, who was lucky enough to host some white visitors, get it all.
Orientation and follow up makes visits a great deal richer. Prepare spiritually along with other preparations like visas and passports. The follow-up is as important as the preparation. Research suggests that what happens among participants after the experience is over is a key to lasting personal change. CRC Agencies have a goal to offer a complete experience that includes solid preparation, good leadership through the experience, and ongoing follow-up.