Exploring the Challenges of Partnerships between Foreign Mission Agencies and the Filipino Church

Looking at the Filipino context, Iljo de Keijzer discusses the challenges frequently faced in one aspect of twenty-first century Christian culture—partnerships between foreign mission organizations and the local church. She provides a range of examples to highlight complexities that must be addressed for partnerships to flourish.

Iljo de Keijzer

Iljo de Keijzer has been serving in the Philippines since 2005. She has been mainly involved in different types of training for the majority of church leaders who do not get to go to Bible school. She is the Preaching Movement Coordinator for Langham in the Philippines. She also collaborates with Increase (a network focusing on Theological Education by Extension) and other like-minded organizations.

 

Exploring the Challenges of Partnerships between Foreign Mission Agencies and the Filipino Church

Mission Round Table 16:3 (September–December 2021): 36–43

INTRODUCTION

In this paper, I will explore the challenges of partnerships between foreign mission organizations and the Filipino church, especially with regard to finances. I will use the framework for critical contextualization created by Paul Hiebert. He recommended that we deal with the old (beliefs, rituals, stories, songs, customs, art, music, etc.) consciously in a process that neither rejects nor accepts it uncritically: (1) gather information about the old, (2) study biblical teachings about the event, (3) evaluate the old in the light of biblical teachings, and (4) create a new contextualized Christian practice.[1]

This framework was originally created in a time (1980s) when missionaries often rejected almost everything foreign to them in the culture to which they were bringing the gospel. In time, a counter movement of accepting everything in the host culture uncritically emerged. Though Hiebert’s framework was developed to evaluate traditional religious rituals for the sake of new believers in a certain cultural context, it could also be adapted as a framework for evaluating how we do partnerships in missions. The same steps can be applied for doing partnerships in a contextually appropriate way. I will go through the four steps adapted from Hiebert’s framework and apply these to partnerships in the Filipino context:

1.      Analyze what is happening at the moment (the old ways);

2.      Study partnerships in light of the Bible;

3.      Evaluate the old ways in the light of this biblical teaching; and

4.      Suggest some possible steps towards a new contextualized form of partnership between the foreign mission agency and the Filipino church.

Poverty in the Philippines is a real challenge for all mission organizations serving there. Disasters take place almost every month and the economic system also keeps the country in poverty. In response, many projects are created to help alleviate some of these. The verse “For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish” (Mark 14:7a NRSV) is true in the Philippines. Culturally, the Philippines is a country that is also very familiar with the “patronage system (ninong and ninang or “godparents”) and the concept of utang na loob—“indebtedness.” While helping society run well in general, these can become very challenging as they give too much power to those with money.

STEP 1: Analyze what is happening at the moment with regard to partnerships and projects in missions (the old ways)—stories about missionaries, partnerships, and money

In this section, I will look at some cases of failed projects/partnerships and attempt to identify where they went wrong. These are mentioned not to criticize (as most of these were undertaken by experienced missionaries with a heart for the Filipino people and who had at least a basic cultural understanding), but to aid our learning. The examples come from different mission organizations.

The first issue faced is that people usually see the missionary as the giver.[2] The more remote the location where the missionary serves, the farther away the donors are from the people he serves.

I was based in Sariaya, Quezon. In OMF, we usually do not talk about money, as we trust God to provide for our needs. My Filipino co-workers would send to me anyone who needed money. It upset me, since it is impossible for me to help them all. I discovered the reason for their behavior only after two years, during an informal fellowship time with the friends who had become my kumare and kumpare (what one would call the godmother and godfather of his/her child)—they asked me how I ended up being so rich. Then, I realized they thought I was so rich that I did not need to work anymore and could just come to live and minister in the Philippines. I learned a lesson that day. I do need to talk about money at the right time! When responding to requests, saying things like “I will pray for it” or “I will check if the project still has money left for this” can be little ways of showing that we, personally as missionaries, are not the benefactors.

When an Iman—Islamic religious or community leader—asked a missionary for some materials to repair a barangay hall—local government center—the missionary said, “We will talk with the team to see if there is still money in the project.” At times, you need to give to maintain good relationships in the community. If there is money in the project, sometimes a small gift goes a long way. All went well, the relationship was strengthened, and goodwill in the community was created—at least until the mainly local team took a foreign missionary along. From then on, bigger sums of money were requested. The people thought they had identified the source of the team’s money. Tension arose between the leaders of the community and the team. The community felt the missionaries only gave a little from the abundance of foreign money that they must have access to. This problem grew even bigger when a family asked for help after their water supply was cut off. The foreigner felt so bad for them that he went to pay their bill immediately. He thought he was being a good neighbor. The team helped him see that he should bring those decisions to the team so that they could together determine whether there is dependency already or if a sudden, unexpected need had arisen where help is needed for that one time.

A project to provide livelihood to a remote village worked really well and brought the people income and many came to faith at the same time. When time came for the project to be closed due to the missionary’s departure, the local people that were helped felt betrayed. It served a good purpose, but caused problems when it had to be closed.

A mission group serving in the Philippines gave salaries, buildings, and equipment to each church and pastor of their denomination. The churches multiplied and the denomination was growing significantly. After many years, the budget ran low. The mission group started preparing the church for a change (over a seven-year period!). Pastors were to be supported by or receive salaries from the churches they served. Only their local missionaries were to continue to receive salaries from the mission group. This created a lot of pain and misunderstanding. People felt that serving a church was considered less important than planting one or providing training. Some of the older pastors felt they were entitled to their salaries and did not even want to be accountable for their hours and ministry. They had always received a good salary and felt that they had a right to it and that nobody should question them. These are some of the challenges we face.

Similarly, a local NGO planted two hundred house churches. They did it through paid salaries for workers, sponsorship programs, and medical work. Money is needed to plant churches, but foreign money tends to create dependency. Partnership between the foreign mission and local church planters has been vital, but if the foreign mission completely withdraws their financial support, the churches will face a very difficult time. This happens when a local organization is built on regular foreign support that allows them to work well.

As these examples show, money is needed for planting churches through partnership, but how can we do this without creating dependency? The support from abroad really helped in the church planting efforts of these groups, but it also created a sense of entitlement that saw the rich West as being obliged to give money. Using money in church planting and partnerships is not a simple black-and-white or right-or-wrong case. It is complicated and many deep issues are involved in finding the best way of using money for furthering the kingdom of God.

Pastors Lito Silang and Renz Punzalan were students in the fifirst ABCCOP TEE teacher training and became teachers in the second one.

The Alliance of Bible Christian Churches of the Philippines (ABCCOP) saw the need to revise their Theological Education by Extension (TEE) program to equip their pastors.[3] For the growth of church plants in the whole of Luzon, more equipped teachers were needed to provide local training for all these new churches. Outside funding from partners was used to revise the curriculum and train new teachers. Outside funding was not used for the TEE program itself so as to ensure its continuation. I feel that has been a wise decision.

In a positive way, many scholarship projects have created empowerment and scholars have given back to their tribal or urban poor communities. However, as very few scholarship projects have received funds from graduates, it is difficult to continue supporting incoming students without outside funding.

STEP 2: Look at partnerships in the light of the Bible

I will turn to examine the biblical and theological foundations regarding the problem of partnerships for helping the poor. Partnership is a word that is often used in mission and relief work, but is hard to truly achieve if initiated by full-time, highly-educated foreign missionaries This is because the money needed for the partnership often comes from the same foreign party. Inequality quickly plays an unavoidable role.

In the Old Testament, we find in Isaiah 65:17–25 a good picture of the ideal world to come, where prosperity, peace, and contentment will be shared equally by all God’s people. A similar message can be found in Micah 4:4, where all will live in prosperity and peace, enjoying their own fruits. How then can we anchor our initiatives in this “not yet” era we are living in? How can partnership help us to move towards this ideal world to come?

Partnership is mutual

In 2 Kings 4:8–37, we find a special partnership between a rich woman in Shunem and Elisha the prophet. Elisha often passes by her house on his journeys and knows he is welcome. At some point, a special room is built for him. Elisha, in what seems a human response, would like to give something to this lady. At the advice of his servant, Gehazi, he promises she will have a child. She did not ask for this. A boy is born and, after some years, he died in her arms. She bitterly tells the prophet, “Did I ask my lord for a son? Did I not say, Do not mislead me?” (2 Kings 4:28 NRSV). From the woman’s words, we can imagine what she must be thinking: “I did not ask for a son, but you thought you had to give me one and now he is dead.” Another important clue that helps in interpreting what is happening here is that God had not shown Elisha what had happened to the woman. As missionaries, we may not be comfortable about accepting things given by our local partners and feel we need to give in return. The above story suggests that such a human response may not be wise. Can we accept it graciously when local partners give something to us?

It is also astounding to see that Paul takes offerings from the Gentile churches planted during his missionary journeys—the “missionary churches”—instead of the other way around, to help the poor in the Jerusalem “mother church” (1 Cor 16:1–4; 2 Cor 8; Gal 2:10; Rom 15:26–27). If the people among the Gentiles have shared in the spiritual blessings of the Jews, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings. This is different from how we often do missions—missionaries tend to give both spiritual and material blessings. Paul is appealing to their utang na loob or “indebtedness” to those who helped to get the gospel to them.

Elisa Helpt een Arme Weduwe [Elisha Helps a Poor Widow] by Caspar Luyken. Etching on paper, 25.2 × 20.3 cm. From Rijksmuseum, httttp://hdl.handle.net/10934/RM0001.COLLECT.146492.

Partnership gives empowerment

The story of the widow’s oil (2 Kings 4:1–7) is a good illustration of empowerment being preferred to the “dole out” option. She was empowered by Elisha with a business plan to provide for her sons. Her dignity as a working mother was preserved. It can be a temptation for foreign and local missionaries alike—do we give what is needed based on what God asks from us or do we give what we think people need? We may even think that if we give them this or that, they will be obliged to come to church, thus resulting in a bigger church. Recently, a friend who leads an NGO in children’s ministry had to deal with a worker who stole a portion of the relief packs to give to contacts of their church in the attempt to get these people to join the church.

Patron-client relationships as a form of partnership

When Paul speaks, in 2 Corinthians 8:19, of a generous gift he is administering, he does so in the language of patronage, but his use of haplotes here indicates “generosity arising out of the purity of mind.”[4] The NT might accept patronage as part of culture, but in Luke-Acts, we can note a bright ray of renewal, a form of radical patronage, where, according to Heen:

(a) the cultural worth of a patron does not necessitate the diminution of clients, (b) the gift itself (charis) is accepted for the theological mission of the church and the social values it advances, and, therefore, (c) a patron’s wealth does not buy inappropriate influence in the affairs of the ekklesia and/or the expectation of unconditional loyalty.[5]

In practice, the missionary is often seen as the patron, since he is the visible person who brings the good—the material and spiritual teachings. Therefore, there is a tendency for the local people to serve and please the missionary. Missionaries sometimes try to say, “No, it doesn’t come from us, but from people outside (or inside) the country.” Beneficiaries would then attempt to get to know these “unknown” and “unseen” benefactors. They will be curious to learn how to connect with and get on the good side of the patron. One task for the missionary is to point them to the real patron (God)—a beautiful way of evangelism. Pointing them to God as the ultimate Patron will usher a deeper curiosity and understanding of who God is. In short, patron-client relationships done biblically are modelled when the abovementioned three aspects of radical patronage are seen.

Within the church, a Christian patron is not to anticipate the social norm of loyalty he would receive outside the church.[6] Luke-Acts as well as Paul seem to warn against the wrong use of patronage (1 Cor 9:12–15) and show its good uses when people give from the heart (Theophilus, Phoebe, and Lydia).

Importance of relationships in partnerships

One thing that does call for our attention is the relationships that can be observed in Scripture. Paul had a close relationship with Philemon. The women who supported Jesus, some of whom had been healed by him, travelled with him at times and cared for him. Phoebe was commended not just for the money she gave as a benefactor, but her involvement in ministry was much deeper and recognized as such (Romans 16:1–2). What is the relationship between local churches and the distant benefactors in another country? Partnerships require time and relational investment, not just accepting or giving a big check.

In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, we find a view about giving that is also seen in the Philippines. People do not save money for their own future needs, but give from their plenty and others will supply them in their difficult times (2 Cor 8:13–15). Though this sounds beautiful and biblical, in practice, it is abused by many. Some people work extremely hard since their whole family seems to rely on them. How to apply this sharing from plenty and having others help them when they are in need is extremely challenging in the Filipino context.

The letter to the Philippians gives us perhaps the best example of partnership between Paul and the church in Philippi. Paul thanked them for their sharing or partnership (κοινωνίᾳ) in the gospel (Phil 1:5b). It seems, from the context, that they continued in both sharing the gospel as well as helping Paul and the poor church in Jerusalem financially. They had a long-standing relationship from the first day to now. In verse 7, Paul continues to explain why: (1) they hold Paul in their heart (as Paul holds them in his), and (2) they share with Paul in God’s grace (3) both in the practicality of imprisonment as well as the defense and confirmation of the gospel.

Intended use of funds in partnerships

What Paul gathered from the “missionary churches” was for the poor in Jerusalem, the home church. It is important for us to realize that times have changed and ministry is done differently today compared to the times of the NT. Having richer people in the places we serve who can provide for snacks or Bibles might be better than receiving all funding from our mother churches in the West. Collections in the Bible seem to go to the poor and to the full-time missionary (Phil 1:5 cf. 4:16). This provision for the physical needs of the poor might be compared to the relief and development projects today. But when we take the principle to mean assisting others in their spiritual ministry (Sunday school materials, electric bills, etc.), we have no biblical command or precedent, except to support the person doing the work so that he can do this full time instead of part time.

The role of the heart in partnerships

In the NT, we find the example from Paul about offerings—that God loves the cheerful giver (2 Cor 9:7)—and, in the letter to the Philippians, he writes about the example of Jesus, who emptied himself for us (Phil 3:7–8). The heart of the giver is important, not just the gift!

STEP 3: Evaluate the old ways in the light of biblical teaching

Partnership is mutual

In partnerships, each mission organization has its own goals for a project; it is important, however, to hear the other party’s goals and motivation. A genuine partnership forms when both parties share a common vision. A partnership where parties hold different visions or objectives is a recipe for disaster. By listening, one can better understand the other party’s goals and manage expectations. Trust can be built that way and there will be less room for misunderstandings and miscommunication.

  Talking with and listening to the local people to understand their needs

As OMF Philippines, we experienced challenges in our partnerships despite the fact that we had mutually defined our relationship as partners. Usually, OMF provides the money and partners do the distribution and reporting, but there was a time when this was different. The group we were partnering with was given money; they did not have a ministry in the affected province, whereas OMF did. Our partner did not consider giving the money to OMF for us to do the work and reporting, but found another local partner to work with to distribute the money. Even when the relationship is longstanding and mature in many ways, building a truly mutual partnership remains challenging.

Can the church plants also contribute to new ministries? It is astounding that the offerings of the people in the church of Jerusalem were to aid the poor (Acts 4:34–35) and the offerings Paul later gathered from the “missionary churches” were all for the poor in Jerusalem. Paul’s missionary team was supported by the “younger church” at Philippi (Phil 4:10–19). But no precedent can be found in the Bible, let alone any command, to give toward the ministry of another church.

Partnership gives empowerment

Here are some questions to ask ourselves. Do our partnerships empower the local church? Or does the mission organization dictate every step and control the management of the church? How do our projects empower the people we serve? A good project must empower people and communities and respect their dignity as human beings (as in the story of the widow’s oil in 2 Kings 4:1–7). Dependency robs people of their dignity. Empowerment restores or reinforces a person’s human dignity. Empowerment can lead someone to discover the joy of meaningful work and the joy of being able to help others and provide for their own families.

Patron-client relationships as a form of partnership

A major difference between our context now and the times of Paul should be noted—many missionaries now tend to serve the poor, whereas Paul seemed to go mainly to the cities and find those of influence. On the one hand, this might be a lesson for us in that we might do well to find people of influence in the communities we serve so that less money from our home countries will be involved. On the other hand, it is good to remember that Luke-Acts is not prescriptive, but descriptive, so one needs to be careful not to blindly copy Paul. In the Philippines, we need to redeem patronage once more, like Luke did in Luke-Acts, so that it becomes a good cultural as well as biblical value.

Importance of relationships in partnerships

As early as around 2000, a trend appeared—sending money instead of missionaries, since fifty locals can sometimes work for the cost of one missionary family. However, one thing occurs when the West subsidizes the work of churches and pastors on the mission field—potential growth is stalled because of the mindset that it can’t be done unless an overseas benefactor provides the funds. Jealousy often develops among the pastors and churches who don’t receive assistance towards those who have developed a pipeline of support from the United States or other rich countries. In the long term, especially if the support is not sustained indefinitely, it creates a patronizing dependency and difficulties for those pastors to readjust once the salary stops.[7] As sensible and appealing as this strategy may sound, more and more mission observers are pointing to the hazards inherent in “just supporting nationals.”

It is not al­ways easy to discern when sharing of resources is justified and when re­straint for the purpose of promoting self-sufficiency is wiser and, in the long run, the more loving response.[8] There is still a need for missionaries and it is important to alleviate poverty, but how can we find a way that does not create dependency on the West for continued church planting and instead encourages local ownership in the area of funding church multiplication and indigenous mission movements? This remains a difficult question to answer.

Intended use of funds in partnerships

In the New Testament, people were using collected offerings to provide for the physical needs of the impoverished—what might be called relief and development projects today. We see that churches sent out missionaries, like Paul and Barnabas, and local people in the planted churches were also supporting the missionaries in their ministry. So, a case can be made for local missionary support here.[9]

The role of the heart in partnerships

The greatest problems in partnerships seem to be caused by compromises in character. As Bishop Efraim Tendero shared:

Christianity is not so deep here. The Philippines is known as the only Christian nation in Asia, but it is also regarded as the most corrupt nation in this region of the world. How can Christianity and corruption go together?[10]

Or, in the words of Bishop Noel Pantoja of the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches (PCEC), in an interview with Christianity Today: “This oligarch-controlled, patronage political system plays an important part in slowing down, if not utterly neglecting, the rehabilitation and rebuilding of the [Typhoon] Haiyan-affected areas.” He added that “Faith-based groups do not have a better track record in resisting corruption, especially those that are pork barrel fund-related. We have been advocating against the use of pork barrel funds by evangelical [and] Pentecostal Christians.”[11]

  Devastation wrought by typhoon Haiyan

Rich local Christians can create the same problems as foreign missionaries. Once, at a national gathering of a big denomination, a rich person came for an activity and demanded that the whole layout of the room be changed according to his preference. In view of the many gifts he had given to the denomination, the denominational head was not able to refuse this unreasonable request due to utang na loob or “indebtedness.”

Does the giver feel a solidarity with and a responsibility for fellow believers in need, like what Jesus taught? Are gifts given from the stance of a benefactor or of a servant? “I am among you as one who serves,” said Jesus. Does the giving win the lost? Or does it cultivate a culture of dependency? Paul was willing to become all things to all people in view of his single-minded objective—to win as many as possible and as widely as possible. So, today, one test of any mission agency’s partnership should be its evangelistic effectiveness. Does the money free people to do evangelism and discipleship, or does the support cause them to look to the donor for ministry direction? Does money invested promote or retard long-term indigenous church growth and evangelism? These are not easily measured, but reporting and regular interviews can at least partially monitor effectiveness.

STEP 4: Suggest some possible steps towards a new contextualized form of partnerships between the foreign mission and the Filipino church

Partnership is mutual

Can we accept something in return from those we serve? Or do we need to write it off? As a mission organization, we need to work hard to find ways that will bring out the reciprocity of the partnerships because it will not suffice to just give money to partner organizations. Organizations like Habitat for Humanity and Gawad Kalinga (Give Care) provide land, housing, and other needs with the aim of giving people dignity by providing a place to live.[12] Beneficiaries may not have much to contribute financially towards the construction of their houses, but they help in rebuilding the whole community or cooking for the volunteers who are building the houses. People are also able to donate in kind: food for builders, furniture, paint, etc. This ensures dignity and ownership. An additional foundational principle that Gawad Kalinga has is working with partners in their own field of construction. As mission organizations, our donations usually come from churches and individuals. Partnering with construction companies brings competence, passion, and lower rates. This will also ensure longer standing relationships (think in terms of maintenance) due to their common interest.

Partnership gives empowerment

I would like to underscore the importance of “empowerment.” A well-run project should empower people to develop all the gifts God has given them to help themselves and others. For example, many of the scholarship projects empowered students to receive training for a career. Now, they earn their own salary and share their earnings with their family, similar to the story of the widow and the oil. It would be good in the long term to look for more local funding or look into advocating that graduates help future cohorts of students. Alternatively, they can work in a livelihood program to help them earn some money that can support other students.[13] A clear warning against creating “dependency” through projects needs to be given. Regular evaluation of projects can also help. One thing that we have been trying to do with one of our partners, where we help with allowances for missionaries, is to reduce the support over a period of five years. It is hoped, in that time frame, that they can slowly find local partners. In practice, it is still a struggle. Most missionaries will be balancing a fine line between saying “yes” where help is really needed and saying “no” where the project would actually do fine without their help/intervention. Humble dependence on the Holy Spirit and on co-workers is vital here.

Another element to keep in mind is that if we stop supporting a project, which other group will they connect with after the next disaster and what is the group’s view of partnership? We may have created dependency, but the next organization they connect with may do even worse than we did. This is not a reason to keep supporting organizations that we are partnering with, but it is something to take into account in a country like the Philippines, where there is so much poverty and many natural and man-made disasters as well as numerous groups coming to support here and there for a couple of years before moving on to another place.

Patron-client relationships as a form of partnership

The dynamics of the patron-client relationship creates a good network and influence and so, it builds up social status and personal identity. Basically, the essence of this relationship is considerably top-down, but since a substantial element of the relationship is understood to be mutual, it does reciprocate in time at different levels. Filipino families would like to get ninongs and ninangs or “godparents” for their kids and they are usually chosen from close friends and relatives. Ninongs and ninangs take on the role as benefactors and they remember the children for birthdays, Christmas, etc. Subsequently, they are attached to families through their inaanak or “godchildren.” Connections are important. When ninongs and ninangs become old and need care, their acts of love and kindness are reciprocated. Patron-client relationships might not be ideal in missions, but are hard to avoid in Filipino culture. Clear communication and parameters will help to avoid some difficulties.

Specific rules also apply to the role of benefactors. This is where missionaries often go wrong. Missionaries only pick up parts of the role, but to those they serve, that role comes as a “package deal.” Oftentimes, things go wrong in relationships here. Many missionaries in the Philippines—as well as Africa and other parts of Asia—assumed the role of patrons in the giving of money and jobs, but became upset when asked to fulfil that role completely as it is understood within the culture. Clear communication from the very beginning on what you are willing and not willing to give as well as pointing towards the “real Giver” are very important. Also, being discerning about what is happening is a must for missionaries.

As an example, a missionary bought school supplies for some kids in the neighbourhood. The next school year, those parents fully expected to get school supplies again and also asked for a uniform. When the child got sick, they also came to the missionary for medicines. This caused confusion, frustration, and even anger for the missionary. In another case, the son of the house helper of a missionary needed some special medicine that the family could not afford. A team member agreed to pay for that. This continued for several years and when the child was in high school, he wanted to join the school band, but needed a uniform for that. The missionary team talked about it, but decided they would not spend that amount if it were their own children, so they told the mother they would not be able to help. The mother and the whole family became very angry, since they fully expected the missionaries to meet that need also.

In another situation, a missionary prayed for a sick church member, but there was no improvement. He talked things through with the family and felt there was a joint decision that they needed to bring this member to the hospital. The team did assume they would help with the hospital costs. But once they reached the hospital, the family just went home and left it to the missionaries to make sure there was always somebody with the patient (a Philippine hospital requirement) and made no effort to pay or borrow some money. The team learned their lesson that day that clear communication is very important. God was gracious to them as, on that same day, they received an unexpected gift basically covering the hospital costs.

There is also fear on the side of the missionary about spoiling the local employees that will make it impossible for them to do their work well as pastors and evangelists.[14] A good way to avoid this is to ensure missionaries have good relationships and cultural understanding before they start projects and local partnerships. Another form of protection could be requiring projects to be approved by the whole team beforehand.

Relationships can be abused to advance self-centered motives and satisfy personal greed. This aspect of moral descent has affected the Philippine society extensively and even the way churches and ministries render their services to communities. Nevertheless, the patron-client relationship as part of the Filipino culture can be redeemed. Luke-Acts gives us a good example on how it can be redeemed. It is important to find biblical ways to use the patron-client relationship in the Filipino culture. Again, good cultural and relational wisdom is vital here.

Importance of relationships in partnerships

From the examples in the New Testament, we can see the importance of relationship. We organize and facilitate a project as a result of relationships established; we should not use it as a means to build relationships. Paul related well to the church of Philippi and they kept supporting him over a long time. It is great if we can have good relationships with our sending churches like this, but it is also essential for our local workers to create these relational structures and not depend on a salary from the organization.

When it comes to long-term sustainability of projects, the Center for Community Transformation (CCT) invests in continued discipleship and savings groups to ensure longer lasting relationships.[15] Through these, they continue to have input in people’s lives and help them apply the learned principles in their newly started livelihoods. These long-term relationships help many more projects succeed, compared to one-day training and seed money for livelihood projects.

Small boats are not suitable for trips in open seas. Due to a broken pier, we had to go from a small boat into a smaller boat to reach the shore.

Intended use of funds in partnerships

Jesus was always generous and kind towards those who needed help, but was also empowering. Those healed from debilitating sicknesses were empowered to retake their places as people with dignity within their families and communities.

It will also help to teach the people we serve to appreciate the difference between people giving to the ministry and those giving to gain influence, and to respond accordingly. A retired pastor moved to a certain island after his retirement. He then offered financial assistance to the leaders of the group we work with there. The group refused. They understood that the pastor wanted to use the money to gain direct influence over their leaders. They would have accepted the money if it had been given for use “where needed” without strings attached.

Basics like consultative and smart planning, monitoring, evaluation, and learning (PMEL) in almost any area of stewardship are often not internalized. One good, even if imperfect, model to study is the company Human Nature, which demonstrates excellence in entrepreneurship with attention to Christian virtues.[16] Mission organizations might consider getting business consultants from agencies like Human Nature, Gawad Kalinga, CCT, or other viable alternatives. If we, as missionaries, want to do partnership well, let us not be ashamed to learn from others, even from businesses, and not pretend we can run projects well with our theology degrees.

The role of the heart in partnerships

We need to discipline ourselves in the administration of partnership projects. Important in partnerships is the idea of kenosis—“self-emptying”—the verb used by Paul in Philippians 2:7 when he describes how Christ Jesus “made himself nothing.” Jesus, in his incarnation, humbled himself and assumed the form of a slave in order that he might serve us unreservedly. In delivering a project, temptation is always present to use it for self-promotion or to feel good about ourselves. Self creeps in and corrupts our project and local people see this more clearly than the project itself. We must make sure the project and partnership serve the community and not our egos. We must empty ourselves of all self-serving attitudes.

Conclusions

In this paper, I have explored the challenges of partnerships between foreign mission organizations and the Filipino church, especially with regard to finances involved. I used Hiebert’s framework to contextualize actions in partnerships between the foreign mission and the Filipino church. I went through the four steps adapted from his framework: (1) Analyze what is happening at the moment (the old ways); (2) Study partnerships in the light of the Bible; (3) Evaluate the old ways in the light of this biblical teaching; (4) Suggest some possible steps towards a new contextualized form of partnership between the foreign mission and Filipino church. In each of these steps, I focused on six important areas with regard to partnerships and projects for them to run better and more contextually. The following outcomes were discussed.

Partnership has to be mutual: Can we accept something in return from those we serve? As a mission organization, we need to work hard to find ways that will bring out meaningful, multi-tiered, multi-faceted participation in our partnerships because it does not suffice to just give money to partner organizations.

A former recipient of a scholarship from Bukang Liwayway (Dawn for the Poor), which works among urban poor, now has a good career in banking.

Partnership gives empowerment: A well-run project that observes good practice empowers people to develop as those who can use all the gifts God has given them to help themselves and others. Many of the scholarship projects empowered students to learn and train for a career. Regular monitoring of projects can help to guard against dependency.

Patron-client relationships can be used as a form of partnership: A good way to avoid issues related to the patron relationship of the missionary to the community is to ensure that missionaries have good relationships and cultural understanding before they start projects and local partnerships. The patron-client relationship as part of the Filipino culture can be redeemed, like what was done in Luke-Acts. May we point the Filipino people to the ultimate Benefactor. Again, good cultural and relational wisdom is vital here.

Relationships in partnerships are of vital importance: A good model is Paul, who related well to the church of Philippi and they kept supporting him over a long time. It is great if we can have good relationships with our sending churches, but it is also important for our local workers to create these relational structures and not depend on a salary from the foreign organization.

Money needs to be used well: Jesus was always generous and kind towards those who needed help, but his help was also empowering. Receiving input from businesses and NGOs that run well according to Christian values can help us develop healthier partnerships.

And, lastly, the heart is very important for both partners: We must make sure the project serves community needs and not our egos. We must empty ourselves of all self-serving attitudes.

It is my desire that these initial steps will help us to do partnerships and projects well and that these may lead to indigenous mission movements in the Philippines.

Writer’s note:

I wish to thank all the people who shared with me their stories of struggle in the area of partnerships and projects. I am grateful for your openness. This paper is, in part, the result of all our struggles in doing partnerships and projects to serve the church in Asia in its efforts to encourage indigenous mission movements. May this paper help to challenge us to do this to our best ability.


[1] See Figure 1 in Paul G. Hiebert, “Critical Contextualization,” Missiology 12, no. 3 (1984): 290.

[2] This paper is not denying in any way the biblical mandate to help the poor, but challenges us to consider the best way to do so. The Bible is very clear about the mandate to help the poor. Both the Old and New Testaments show God cares for the poor. They will always be among us (Mark 14:7) and are our responsibility. In Deuteronomy 15:1–11 and Leviticus 25:8–17, God gave clear rules and regulations for dealing with the poor. God also made it clear that the “end goal” was equality that will be reached only in the age to come (Isaiah 65:17–25; Micah 4:4). There is a clear biblical mandate to help the poor, but there is also the question as to whether the feeding of the five thousand by Jesus justifies our feeding projects. Does the healing ministry of Jesus justify medical missions? See Jim Harries, “‘Material Provision’ or Preaching the Gospel: Reconsidering ‘Holistic’ (Integral) Mission,” Evangelical Quarterly 80, no. 3 (2008): 260. Are these descriptive of Jesus’ ministry on earth or are they prescriptive for us to follow? These are just a few of the theological questions surrounding money, partnerships, and mission.

[3] Alliance of Bible Christian Churches of the Philippines is an association that was started by five interdenominational mission organizations and currently has about 900 churches and an additional 250 house churches.

[4] David Arthur DeSilva, “Exchanging Favor for Wrath: Apostasy in Hebrews and Patron-Client Relationships,” Journal of Biblical Literature 115, no. 1 (1996): 101; D. K. Jayakumar, “A System of Equality and Nonacquisitiveness as a Subversion of the Greed-Based Capitalism and the Patronage System,” Africa Theological Journal 30, no. 2 (2007): 248.

[5] Erik M. Heen, “Radical Patronage in Luke-Acts,” Currents in Theology and Mission 33, no. 6 (2006): 447. David Lull makes a similar argument and refers to patrons in Luke as “servant-benefactors.” See David J.  Lull, “The Servant-Benefactor as a Model of Greatness (Luke 22:24–30),” Novum Testamentum 28, no. 4 (1986): 289–304.

[6] Heen, “Radical Patronage in Luke-Acts,” 455.

[7] Robertson McQuilkin, “Stop Spending Money! Breaking the cycle of missions dependency,” Christianity Today (March 1999): 57–59, https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/1999/march1/9t3057.html?share=dIzUWawv1RR2BQ4ONFo4WRMUDry9hVjE (accessed 12 October 2021).

[8] Craig Ott, “Missions and Money: Revisiting Pauline Practice and Principles,” Evangelical Review of Theology 42, no. 1 (2018): 11.

[9] See also Galatians 6:6–7.

[10] Bishop Tendero, the former secretary general and CEO of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), in a meeting with him at ABCCOP.

[11] Timothy C. Morgan, “Show Us the Relief Money!” Christianity Today (18 February 2014), https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2014/february-web-only/philippines-haiyan-show-us-relief-money.html?share=dIzUWawv1RRAgJJqxYms0iM6BkDxfHyz (accessed 5 November 2021). Pork barrel funds refer to discretionary funds allocated to legislators to spend on localized projects as they see fit. Historically, cases of misuse and corruption have plagued such funds. See Kristel Limpot, “EXPLAINER: What you need to know about the PDAF scam,” CNN Philippines, 14 February 2021, https://cnnphilippines.com/news/2021/2/14/PDAF-scam-what-you-need-to-know.html (accessed 4 December 2021).

[12] See Habitat for Humanity Philippines, https://www.habitat.org.ph; Gawad Kalinga, https://www.gk1world.com/home (accessed 5 November 2021).

[13] The Philippine Department of Social Welfare and Development led in providing opportunities for income-generating activities and livelihood development through the Sustainable Livelihood Program implemented in 2011. The objective of the program is to reduce poverty and inequality by generating employment among poor households and by moving highly vulnerable households into sustainable livelihoods and toward economic stability. See “Sustainable Livelihood Program,” Philippine Department of Social Welfare and Development, https://car.dswd.gov.ph/programs-services/core-programs/sustainable-livelihood-program/ (accessed 5 November 2021).

[14] Jonathan J. Bonk, “Missions and Money: Affluence as a Western Missionary Problem . . . Revisited,” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 31, no. 4 (2007): 171, http://www.internationalbulletin.org/issues/2007-04/2007-04-171-bonk.pdf (accessed 5 November 2021).

[15] See CCT Group of Ministries, http://www.cct.org.ph (accessed 5 November 2021). In savings groups, people come together weekly and put aside some amount of money. They usually also get taught some basic business principles. Only after they have been able to save a certain amount can they apply for a loan. It ensures relationship and commitment from the person wanting to start a business, leading generally to higher success rates.

[16] “About us,” Human Nature, https://humanheartnature.com/buy/mission-vision-values (accessed 5 November 2021).

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