A Response to “Challenges of Partnerships between Foreign Mission Agencies and the Filipino Church”
Peter and Mary have served in Asia since 1980. In addition to extensive involvement in the Nepali church, they trained farmers, designed curriculum, taught, and wrote books. They have overseen work in eleven Asian countries and continue to live and serve in Southeast Asia. In their current location, they have helped develop an international school, and continue to mentor and provide member care to local pastors and expatriate fieldworkers.
Challenges of Partnerships and Some Guiding Principles
Mission Round Table 16:3 (September–December 2021): 45, 47
I want to thank Iljo de Keijzer for her excellent article regarding the “Challenges of Partnerships between Foreign Mission Agencies and the Filipino Church.” After studying the article, I reached the conclusion that this paper is much more than a work regarding the “challenges of partnership.” It also includes some important “guiding principles” that can be useful to many of us involved in partnerships. This is especially so for those of us who work cross-culturally in the South and Southeast Asia context.
My wife and I moved from the United States to Nepal in 1980. At that time, we found ourselves serving in a small, poor rural village. We worked as a veterinarian and teacher/educator, and thus obtained our visas from the Nepal government. We worked long hours and were also leading Bible studies and prayer meetings, building relationships, and helping others to establish a small church (which today is flourishing and has planted a number of daughter churches). Not long after we arrived, we found ourselves dealing with many of the same challenges that Iljo de Keijzer faced, as discussed in her article. Perhaps you can also relate to some of these challenges:
- In spite of living what most westerners would describe as a very simple lifestyle, we realized that we were perceived as being wealthy, with unlimited access to finances. In fact, we really were “rich” compared to our neighbors and friends, and we really did have access to many resources that could help further the kingdom of God.
- We desired to help build the church and serve the poor, but we were new and inexperienced. How, and from whom, could we learn to help and serve—without causing problems and creating dependency, and without setting ourselves up like local “patrons” whom others would almost worship mechanically?
- How could we understand our local partners and their real needs and help them to understand us? How could we develop close personal relationships and learn from each other?
- How could we work together with local believers to make decisions regarding the use of available funds; for example, who really needs help and who doesn’t?
- How could we help other expat workers respond appropriately to sudden, unexpected needs—without creating dependency? And, with respect to ongoing needs, how could we use our resources effectively—again without creating dependency?
- How could we examine our own hearts and willingly receive gifts as well as give freely to others?
We still work with local pastors who serve in rural areas and, these days, most of our pastor friends understand the outside world much more than they did forty years ago. In fact, some of them understand it better than we do! Most of them also understand our limitations with respect to finding funding for ministry and work. Even our local pastor friends are now often perceived by their rural brothers and sisters as being wealthy and having access to unlimited resources. In spite of the increased understanding of both expat missionaries and national pastors, together, we still see dependency developing; we are still learning to serve and work together more effectively; we still need to be able to regularly examine our hearts; and we still need to be able to both give and receive gifts from each other.
Even back in the early 1980s, a number of us younger missionaries were also beginning to see for ourselves the crucial role of partnership in church planting and disciple-making. We saw partnership as a way of working together more effectively, and as an expression of the parts of the body of Christ working together. And we believed that strategic partnerships with the right people would make our work more effective and sustainable. The lessons we were learning were consistent with the points that Iljo de Keijzer makes in her article. If I may be so bold, I would call these “Guiding Principles for Partnership” and would summarize and build upon them as follows:
- Partnership is mutual. Both partners need to give and take. I, as an expat, need to be ready, willing, and happy to learn from my national partners. This includes engaging in dialogue that allows me to learn what their real needs are and what things they consider important.
- Partnership leads to empowerment. Local partners can become confident to make decisions and become leaders in their communities and I believe that this leads to sustainability.
- The importance of personal relationships, especially within the context of partnerships, cannot be overemphasized. As we look over our years of working within the national church, it seems that long-lasting change takes place in the context of relationships.
- Character is important, and as de Keijzer states, “the greatest problems in partnerships seem to be caused by character compromises.” But how do we teach character? Now, after forty years of dealing with this challenge, it seems to me that the best way to teach character is to model it. And when we do talk about it, it is often within the context of personal relationships that we are able to most effectively communicate.
- Regular evaluations were mentioned as a way to prevent dependency. I would add that regular evaluation is also important in the context of building strong partnerships. Even in situations where evaluations are feared and avoided by our partners, taking the time for personal reflection of our own roles, responsibilities, and actions can help us demonstrate accountability and the desire to work well with others.
In summary, I agree with de Keijzer that there are challenges involved in working with local partners. At the same time, I agree that there are steps (Guiding Principles) which, if followed, “will help us to do partnerships and projects well and that these may lead to indigenous mission movements in the Philippines” (and elsewhere).