Building Relationships for Fruitful Partnerships

A Response to “Challenges of Partnerships between Foreign Mission Agencies and the Filipino Church”

Jaap den Butter

Jaap and his wife Marieke are from the Netherlands and have served with OMF Mekong Minorities since 2002. For almost sixteen years, they lived in one of the CAN countries in the Mekong Region, where they worked with an NGO, while they focused on one of the UPGs in the area. Since 2018, they have been living in Chiang Mai, Thailand where they are now the Sector Leader of Mekong.

 

 

 

Building Relationships for Fruitful Partnerships

Mission Round Table 16:3 (September–December 2021): 46-47

Many years ago, a colleague and mentor said to me: “If you keep working with the existing church, you will never see a biblical church movement among your target people group!”

I was upset about it. Is that not what we are all about? Partnering with the local church in order to further the kingdom? Has God not planted this local church in this place to use it for his glory? Why would I put this aside and just do my own thing?

Over the years, I have come to see what this colleague meant. It is not easy to fruitfully partner with local churches while pursuing the vision God has given us. During our years serving among one of the unreached peoples in the Mekong Region, we have seen relationships with local churches quickly go into meetings where the main topic is financial support for buildings. Hopes we had for the local church to fully come on board the vision of a Church Planting Movement among the unreached peoples of the area never really came to fulfilment in the way we had envisioned. On the other hand, we have seen personal relationships built on trust and mutual understanding become very fruitful in ministry among a people group.

I am thankful for Iljo de Keijzer’s clear analysis in her article about the different aspects of partnerships in the local context. It challenges us to learn from our mistakes and look for ways to partner well.

Without repeating everything de Keijzer has said in her article already, I would like to highlight a few things that caught my attention.

Partnership is mutual and relationships in partnership are important.

These two separate headings in Iljo’s article stood out to me most. They seem to be open doors, but are so important. We can say it easily that partnerships are mutual, but how often have we been in partnerships that are driven by our own agenda or by the agenda of (one of) the other partners? I think these two statements, the mutuality of partnership and the importance of relationships in partnerships are very much related to one another. I had to think of a phrase we use in the Leadership Matters Course: Meaningful relationships are built when we reveal ourselves to others and others reveal themselves to us.[1]

A relationship leading to a fruitful partnership needs to be mutual. We, as foreign missionaries, need to reveal ourselves to our potential partners and I wonder sometimes if we are really good at it. We need to know our own distinctives and what we have to offer, but—maybe more importantly—we need to know what our needs are that could be met by our local partners.

In working towards a partnership, we need to spend more time listening to what the distinctives and needs of our potential local partner are. So, besides the importance of relationship in partnership and mutuality of the partnership, I would like to emphasize that we work towards equality in partnership, recognizing our own needs and the needs of our local partners and working together on equal ground towards meeting each other’s needs and, through that, meeting the needs of the communities we are serving.

Are we willing to be open and vulnerable towards our potential partners? That brings me to another highlight in de Keijzer’s article: the heart behind relationships. Let’s keep checking our motives in starting relationships. How often have we started a relationship with the idea that this story might look good in our newsletters? Or how this relationship may fit our goals and objectives? We may even think we know already what our potential partner or target group needs and have preset ideas on what a partnership should look like.

Are we initiating a relationship and a partnership focusing on our own needs and agenda or are we intentionally focusing on listening to the challenges, needs, dreams, visions, and goals of our potential partner? This can be a challenge when we have a strong vision and mission and a masterplan for our ministry. In what ways can we hold to our own insights and beliefs while being open and adapting to the vision and mission of a potential partner, empowering them to implement their ideas and plans in their own culturally sensitive way? I would like to see more discussion in our organization on how we can do this well in our day-to-day mission practice. In what ways can we apply the guiding principles in Iljo de Keijzer’s article and Pete Q’s response?

I am looking forward to seeing more discussion on this topic. Let’s strive towards meaningful relationships that lead to fruitful partnerships.

 


[1] Leadership Matters Course, International Training Alliance, https://wetrainleaders.org (accessed 6 November 2021).

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