“Partnership in mission” has been a buzz phrase in cross-cultural mission discussion for some time. As I observe and learn about working relationships between local Christians and expat Christians in the Balkans, I have questioned how well mutual, long-term “partnership” works if one party holds significantly more resources and therefore, more power(both spoken and unspoken), in the relationship.
This question tickles my curiosity as I observe the growing relationship between a Ugandan mission organization and the Borongajci, a Croatian church movement. Give and take happens on both sides—at one conference I attended, I watched the Borongajci eagerly glean from the Ugandan passion for prayer even as they raised money to help the leader of the organization buy a new car. A balanced and mutual relationship seems easier to attain when the discrepancy of resources is minimal.
And yet, how can we talk about mission partnership only in terms of resource capacity? I tend to agree with Missiologist and Theologian Vinoth Ramachandra who argues that the “partnership in mission” terminology is laden with corporate and contractual nuances. Such language and all of its baggage should be exchanged for the Scriptural metaphor of working together as a Body within the household of God. This metaphor allows more freedom and creativity when thinking about working together with people from a different cultural, economic, and social frameworks.
I believe I entered into this metaphor last weekend at the Brela Women’s Conference—a conference hosted by women from a church in America and aimed at serving any woman in ministry in the Balkans. Women, originally from America, Bosnia, Croatia, England, Finland, Costa Rica, and Russia, arrived thirsty for rest and renewal. We were united by two things: serving in our respective ministry in the Balkans and our desire to hear from God.
To use another metaphor, the conference reminded me of my favorite part of the day—the early morning moments when the birds forget their shyness to announce the new day and everything has the feeling of freshness—when it seems easier to listen, when your whole body is straining in the gentle silence to hear just one word from Him. The conference drew us, from our respective backgrounds, cultures, and ministry to a central watering hole where we could drink together.
As all of us listened, I believe we possessed a sense of true “partnership;” that is, celebrating our part of the Body in the welcoming atmosphere of respect and encouragement. It is times like these where you can believe Christian unity and love are actually possible, not because we try really hard to accomplish it, but because in the midst of our mutual seeking after God, we find, almost surprisingly, that the Spirit is present and weaving us together in a strange and beautiful pattern.
“Cease striving, and know that I am God.” This verse, imprinted on my mind during the weekend, strikes me as the starting point for cross-cultural partnership, for working together as part of the Body. It calls us to stop, be drawn in during those first moments of morning, and in our quiet listening together, we finally remember who God is and therefore who we are.