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Recently Mary Dykstra (Global Volunteer Coordinator for World Renew) and I (Wendy) were interviewed for the Transformational Networks blog by Bethany Beachum (Nehemiah Center). Below is an excerpt of that interview. I invite your questions on the topic of global volunteers and partnership.

1. What has World Renew’s Global volunteer program been learning about nurturing cross-cultural relationships of mutual learning?

Mary: World Renew just completed an evaluation of the global partnership program which surveyed partner staff, field staff, World Renew staff, churches and team leaders.  We are thrilled by these responses and the learning that is taking place. I think we always knew that this was a really exciting opportunity, but just seeing the enthusiasm of the churches in the field, it’s very exciting to see the boundaries of God’s church becoming global rather than being limited to a specific church.

One thing we have learned, and I think Wendy would agree, is that churches are really excited to learn more about the culture that they are visiting. From the evaluation, we also learned that the host churches are just as excited to learn about their new North American friends. You often have churches that come in not understanding a lot about the other culture. So it is really exciting to come alongside them and help them discover the new culture and how it can impact the work they’re doing in their own churches.

Another thing I have learned is you can’t apply the same model to both cultures. We recently had some reciprocal learning opportunities with a group from Honduras that went to Washington. And our first thought in how to prepare them was, “We’ll just flip everything we’re currently doing [for North Americans visiting the field] and use it with this group. However, the information I was using wasn’t appropriate for them.  And the information we would use for the Washington team to receive them didn’t work either. We had to sit down and rework it all.  So it wasn’t as easy as we had hoped.

Wendy: I was also impressed by the impact that was shown in the evaluation results. On the part of the North American churches, they’ve started evangelism programs that model those of churches in the field they visited. On the other side, the churches have reported they feel they have something to offer.

Mary: It was interesting for the partner staff that visited Washington. He came out of the visit with a realization and understanding that we, in North America, do things differently. He took notice of the different way the church in Washington reaches out to its community and how it doesn’t look the same as it does in Honduras. So he was excited to go back to his church in Honduras and share what he had seen.

2. What have been the biggest challenges? How have you been working to overcome those challenges? 

Mary: One challenge we are encountering with bringing groups into the US is we are realizing how difficult the US government is. We had hoped to bring a group from Uganda recently, but no one could get a visa. So we need to do some digging to discover how to prepare these church leaders to come to the US and how to meet the regulations and requirements.

Wendy: Another challenge that persists is the perception that North Americans have the money. We talk about how churches in developing countries are all about relationships. And yes, they appreciate friendship, but if they haven’t had proper training, they may start asking if the North American church can help them financially or in material ways.

Mary: Another challenge is unraveling this mindset that the North American church needs to bring things. These last couple weeks, I’ve run into a couple different times in which a church has left their clothing in the communities at the end of their trip. It’s difficult because North Americans are generally not the same clothing size and this makes things uncomfortable, but furthermore, it also undermines the part about building relationships by maintaining the handout piece.

Some churches ask how they can meet specific needs. It becomes a challenge when we don’t know that they’re doing these things [handouts] so we can’t help them think through what the impact will be and what their motivation is behind what they are about to do. Generally, though, most teams are pretty good about doing things through the field staff instead of giving it directly to the communities.

It’s interesting, too, the task-orientation and time-keeping of North American culture versus the more relational style of cultures in the Global South. There is a team who is on their third trip, and it is still hard to help them relax and work without a schedule.

So it is a big challenge to work at undoing all of the different stereotypes and mindsets to create a different worldview.

Wendy: Another challenge with groups that have gone before, is they often think they don’t need orientation, but this sometimes causes issues. I think it is important to prepare them before each trip, because people need that refreshed of how to think outside your culture again.

Mary: We realize that one trip is just the tip of the iceberg. There are always more things to learn and be challenged by.

We are trying to be more intentional in coming alongside the churches. Wendy has some workshops that she has been using that help churches identify who they are and the type of relationship they are hoping to develop. We then use that information to deepen the learning that the team that’s going will have. An important piece is to also go through this exercise and ask the same questions to the host team. This way both teams are able to identify things they understand differently.

Another challenge is when a North American goes on a trip, they are totally out of their context. When they are there, they are able to have this wonderful experience. But when they come home, they are right back to the life they left. It is a challenge to hang onto what they learned on that trip. So it is a question of how do you incorporate what you learned into the reality of your life.

We try to address this with follow-up on our end, but it is easier to do with individuals then it is with a team. Also, sometimes the churches are quite far away, so it makes it difficult to talk to the team face to face.

We do build on the debriefing for the next trip, using the things that people learned in the orientation before a team goes again. Someone who has gone two or three times may want to learn how to advocate. At that point we can connect them with the Office of Social Justice and encourage them to share with their church.

3. What are some best practices for how World Renew and CRWM might work together at constituency engagement on the field level?

Wendy: It would be important to have similar expectations for teams, but we are not familiar with how World Missions does this.

Mary: Some fields do it very well. They have a great working relationship between World Renew and CRWM. I wonder if this question shouldn’t be changed to include, also here in North America. I don’t know that we can really speak to the field level. The bridgers that work in both fields wondered about having a shared mission or vision statement about constituency engagement. Maybe that’s the next step is to create a shared vision?  We would like to open this question up for others. Is it possible to have a joint statement? What would this look like?

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