There is always potential, particularly when partnering cross-culturally, for one to think themselves superior to the other….
The relationship between Khanyisa Church (Gugulethu, Cape Town, South Africa) and Jubilee Church (Farnham, Aldershot & Bordon, UK) began in 2007, initially with a six-week training visit to Jubilee Church from Angela and Greg Kemm, followed by a team of 10 Jubilee members visiting Cape Town in October 2007. Angela and Greg’s input from their experience through the apartheid regime in South Africa, their passion for cross-cultural mission and the incredible way that God had led them working in the township communities in Cape Town, were a real catalyst to lay the foundations of an exciting relationship between the two church communities.
God has used Greg and Angela’s relationship with both churches (they were founding members of Khanyisa) to help shape mission both locally and internationally over the following years and they continue to visit Jubilee church annually to impart Gods wisdom and guidance.
Several teams and individuals from Jubilee have visited Khanyisa over the last 12 years and there have also been teams and individuals who have come to the UK and spent time with the church in Farnham and also attended conferences (eg Newday, Brighton Leaders Conference). Over the years, relationships between individuals in both churches have grown and strengthened and there is a real sense of a meeting of hearts and minds through God’s Spirit and a desire to partner together in order to see God’s Kingdom grow. God has particularly placed Khanyisa on the hearts of one couple from Jubilee Church and they have grasped and run with the vision for the interchurch relationship. This has led to them traveling regularly to Cape Town (both as part of the teams mentioned above and individually) to develop and invest in individual relationships, supporting practically and in prayer whilst championing the partnership within the Jubilee community.
A key part of the relationship and partnership is remembering that in God’s eyes we are equals and both have equal importance in the development of the relationship. There is always potential, particularly when partnering cross-culturally, for one to think themselves superior to the other – this was a real focus of training for the first Jubilee team from Angela and Greg and has been part of the DNA of the relationship since then. We are proud to work together, pray together and mutually support each other through many means.
The developing relationship has been an iterative process with fundamental changes to church structures on both sides – Jubilee has developed to a multisite church and Khanyisa has transitioned from having a full time lead elder to having their lead elder working full time in a secular role. These changes have given an opportunity for both parties to share their experiences and God has used them to deepen and further develop the relationship and partnership. As with any relationship, this is a journey and the leaders of both churches are praying and discussing how to further develop the partnership in order to grow and advance the kingdom whilst loving and supporting each other.
There are so many advantages of partnering in this way and to find out more and meet individuals from both Jubilee and Khanyisa Church, join us at Westpoint on the Friday afternoon for the Tent Talk when we will be sharing so much more from our journey together!
The Global Connections Code of Best Practice for Church to Church Partnerships (C2CP) is designed to provide guidelines for churches interested in forming partnerships with churches, denominations and organisations in cross-cultural settings abroad or in the UK. These brief guidelines have been developed by a group of Church leaders from a variety of backgrounds, including Andy Martin (Catalyst/Newfrontiers), all of whom have significant experience in cross-cultural partnerships.
‘Newfrontiers’ is a member of ‘Global Connections’ – to read more and download this Code of Practice click here.
A serious issue
Having flagged up a few things that should be avoided I want now to consider ‘the ugly’. This is the potential for short-term teams to hinder rather than help, to create damage and dependency rather than to serve God’s purpose and promote health. This a significant issue which needs to be taken seriously. It happens when teams simply ignore many of the issues already raised and pursue an approach that’s marked by cultural pride rather than humility, independence rather than relationship.
1. Pride and patronage This happens when we assume that the elements of our own culture are more accurate representations of God’s Kingdom than what we find in the cultures we’re visiting. The result is that we adopt a posture of patronage and assume the role of spiritual benefactors rather than humble learners. Such an approach may be reminiscent of some of the uglier aspects of past colonialism and has no place in God’s mission, where humble servanthood is the model Jesus has set before us. Whenever we enter other cultures we need to remind ourselves that however adept we may be in our own worlds we all wear ‘Learner Plates’ when it comes to serving God’s purposes in other cultures.
2. Knee-jerk solutions The result of entering into a situation with this assumed posture and with a limited time frame is that we can very quickly generate solutions. The western culture has a ‘fix it’ mentality. Assured of our superior knowledge we can be far too quick to identify perceived gaps within the cultures we’re visiting and create ten-point plans to alleviate poverty and advance God’s Kingdom among them.
Listen and Learn
If we’re prone to activism then we can find ourselves dreaming up plans and projects rather than engaging in the far more reflective and relational process of listening and learning. This danger is even more acute when we have access to funds and resources to throw at what we see as rather simple problems. If we’d just spend time listening and learning then we’d perhaps begin to realise that these problems are not simple and that hastily dreamed up pop-up ‘solutions’ don’t work.
3. Missional shortcuts Short-term teams have a positive place in the economy of the Kingdom if approached in a healthy way. But if they replace longer term cross-cultural commitments then they will have hindered not helped the cause of the Great Commission. Jesus’ words in Matthew 28 are not a description of what we occasionally do during a 2-week trip to sub-Saharan Africa or a Gap Year in India. They describe the on-going, life-long task of taking the good news of Jesus to every people group, planting churches and promoting Kingdom living.
The progress of that task has always required long-term cross-cultural commitments that are both costly and creative. Our ability to criss-cross the globe in relatively short spaces of time does not change that and shouldn’t become a replacement for that. Short-term teams have many benefits and may be the seedbed for some of those longer-term commitments. But they must not be thought of as 21st century shortcuts to fulfilling the Great Commission. As more and more peoples become ‘reached’ those that remain ‘unreached’ are those who are culturally and geographically more difficult to reach. This increases the need for more long-term cross-cultural commitments, not lessen it. Short-term teams have some value, but they cannot and should not detract from the call for some to invest not just two weeks in the summer but their lives in the foreseeable future in the cause of the Great Commission.
Part 6 – The receiving church’s perspective
What about the receiving church? So far I have addressed ‘the good, the bad and the ugly’ of short-term teams from the perspective of the sender. What about the receiving church? In the final part of this series my close friend, John, will give you his perspectives on this aspect
Concluding this short series David Lockyer puts some questions to John Pradhan as leader of a church that has received many short-term teams.
What has been the benefit to you and your family personally of receiving short-term teams?
Every time a team visits from UK we feel personally very blessed. At times we can feel quite isolated and the visit of a team brings much encouragement to us. We become freshly motivated to continue the work of reaching out and building the church here in Nepal. We find God uses these times to provide us with spiritual guidance and there is a further strengthening of the relationships we have with our friends overseas. We have an opportunity to share both our joys and struggles when they are with us, and we feel loved and cared for.
What have been some of the benefits to the church of receiving short-term teams?
The church here has been tremendously blessed through the visits of teams. It really helps the church to feel a part of an international family. We often hold church conferences when the teams are with us, and the input and teaching during these times leaves the church blessed and strengthened. The church enjoys hosting and spending time with the team members who visit and this fellowship plays a vital role when we host a team as we always learn from one another.
What have been some of the challenges of hosting teams?
There’s quite a bit of organising to do ahead of a team arriving. The weather is unpredictable so flights and other travel plans can change at the last minute. Sometimes team members can fall ill and need to be taken care of. There is also always the language barrier.
Conclusion I am so grateful to David and John for sharing about short-term teams. There are no absolute ‘rights’ and ‘wrongs’, but through their in-depth experience many valuable lessons have been shared. My hope and desire is that this series will help avoid future teams from replicating ‘bad practice’ – even long-term damage – which sadly I have personally witnessed on several occasions as I have travelled internationally among churches. Let’s do well in future and ensure that short-term teams travel with an attitude of humility and servanthood.
Finally, I would like to recommend some very good resources.
When helping hurts. This book touches on many of the points included in this series. It seeks to show that hosting short-term teams can be a very negative experience, even when the team members return home and report that the visit has been ‘life-changing’. While they mean it has been positive for themselves, for the host it can have been ‘life-changing’ for all the wrong reasons.
Cross Cultural Mission Training. This 6-part series has been produced within the Commission apostolic sphere of the Newfrontiers family. An excellent series covering the whole cycle from how to confirm an initial sense of calling to go on long-term mission, through going and ultimately the return and re-integration, together with the necessary support en route.
Reaching the nations. This updated version by Mike Frisby draws on a wealth of experience in helping church leaders to identify, prepare and support local church members to become cross-cultural servants.
Andy Cottingham and Paul Wood (elders of City Church Bristol) travelled to Mozambique in March to visit two families, originally from City Church, who live and serve in an exciting project based just outside Nampula. The project brings together business, training, discipleship and church planting on a huge scale.
‘Ebenezer Mozambique’, a training wing of the project, describes itself as: ‘a Christian faith-based leadership training centre for young school leavers and has a strong emphasis on mentorship, agriculture, business and family.’ It is based in Rapale, near the city of Nampula, in northern Mozambique.’
Andy wrote to the church back in Bristol, “Paul and I have now spent almost a week in Nampula experiencing life at Ebenezer. Every part of life here is affected by the movement of a tiny insect that has the power of life and death over the population. From mosquito nets to the daily anti-malaria tablet and insect repellent, the mosquito influences everything. At any one time, a significant percentage of the work-force is suffering from malaria, dramatically reducing productivity.
For the pasty white Englishmen, it feels like an imposition, another challenge on top of the already considerable pile of challenges of living here. However, it has been a joy to see the Greigs and the Rowells taking life in the tropics in their stride and building business and church here. Their kids are thriving too and making an impact on the lives of those involved with Ebenezer. Tali, who’s currently studying for her GCSEs in Mozambique, wrote this for us:
“For me personally, the best bit about life here at the moment is teaching one man to read. I’ve been teaching him since June of last year, and he has gone from writing his first ever letter to being able to read (albeit very slowly) normal texts and sentences. That is very exciting, because when a person can read it opens up a whole world of opportunities that were never available before and particularly here, where job opportunities are limited and low income, being able to read could make the world of difference for him and his family.”
We’ve had the opportunity to join a meeting at the church on the farm. After a massive rainstorm the previous night the meeting was moved from the wet sands of the school playground to the drier veranda. We spent time worshipping and prayed for those affected by the cyclone that swept through Beira elsewhere in Mozambique. We also spent time looking at the Hebrews 11 heroes, led by a lady from the church who the previous night had her house flooded and whose husband was currently sick with malaria – we couldn’t help but think that this was “by faith” in action!
We also had the privilege of spending an evening with Scott Marques, who oversees many churches across southern Africa which are part of the Newfrontiers family. Scott also helped to found Ebenezer. We’ve been very encouraged by our visit and are looking forward to developing a stronger relationship between Ebenezer and City Church Bristol in the future.
3. Expect the unexpected In the lead up to our own team visits there is a plan and a schedule. But we encourage team members to be prepared for the unexpected. Activities will be far less ‘programmed’, more ‘last minute’. Flexibility without frustration will be essential. Travel can be a challenge. Flight times change due to weather; luggage is loaded onto the next flight without passengers being informed; a hotel no longer has the rooms you’d booked in advance.
One team was stranded in Delhi airport due to a volcanic ash cloud over Europe followed by 5 days of uncertainty in a hotel, before boarding then disembarking the aircraft and returning to the hotel! Such unplanned events challenge our desire to have control over situations and provoke us to trust God in a deeper way.
4. A broader vision of the church What a privilege to discover through visiting another culture that we have ‘family’ members all over the globe. Cultural expressions may be very different but it’s the same gospel, the same Jesus, the same Father and we are sealed with the same Spirit. It’s a great privilege to be part of a local church in another nation even if that’s for a brief moment; a foretaste of Revelation 7:9 as we join ‘with one voice’ and get to worship the Lamb alongside believers with whom we share so much in common.
When, after much travel and some discomfort, we arrive at our final destination and have the joy of meeting the church communities we’re visiting there is the moment when we connect with Jesus’ church. There is often an instant sense of connection and recognition. We are back home again. The language may be unfamiliar, we may be barefoot and sitting on the floor during the meeting, but we’re home amongst family members we’ve never met but with whom we share so much in common. We come to appreciate that the church is bigger than you think, as Patrick Johnstone titled one of his books. This is good.
5. A deeper appreciation of the need Very real and severe deprivation is part and parcel of the lives of most people on our planet today. As a short-term team we exit the bubble of affluence and enter the raw realities of life for most people. It’s no longer just a fleeting image on our TV screens alongside ads for beauty products and dog food. It’s up close and personal. It’s human and far more complex than perhaps we think. This can be distressing for some and leave us feeling overwhelmed. But it brings a much needed perspective to us.
That, too, is good.
6. A greater engagement with World Mission World mission for many is a few pins on a map in the foyer of the church hall, remote and separate from the day-to-day life. We recognise its importance but we don’t feel involved.
Short-term teams can change all that. They help take what is remote and separate, and make it relational and central. Friendships are forged in another culture and connections are made. The result is the local church becomes relationally involved with other gospel communities in very different contexts and cultures. We’re no longer just praying for remote people in remote places; we’re now standing shoulder-to-shoulder with friends. No longer do we pray for ‘pins on a map’ but for people with whom we have a relational connection. This ensures that world mission is strongly relational and central.
That also is good.
7. A strengthening of our own Church Communities In the West, lives tend to be very compartmentalised with high demands on our time. Much in our culture makes it difficult to cultivate community. Short-term teams made up of people from within local churches are a great way to promote and strengthen relationships within those local churches. In 2 weeks of long haul flights, meals together and prolonged road travel, church members probably spend more time in close proximity than they have in several months if not years of church life. A few cross-cultural pressures (and bouts of diarrhoea!) break down the walls and deeper relationships result. Quickly toilet tales and laughter – and the occasional tears – result in deep relationships being cultivated as we share in this rich experience.
Yet another good thing.
Next time we will consider some of the things that are not so good.
Finally, let me encourage you to register for Go-Fest, a leadership mission conference at Moorlands Bible College including a session by Mile Jarvis (Commission) for those arranging short term team.
Part 4 (The Bad)
Having suggested some of the very real positive benefits of short-term teams I’d like to flag up a few cautionary issues under the heading of ‘The Bad’.
1. Inadequate orientation Many of the benefits of short-term teams result from members engaging in the right way. This comes from their own personal spiritual maturity where humility, flexibility and a capacity to trust God and live with some inconveniences are all vital. Sometimes the younger, outwardly zealous members of the team struggle more than the spiritually mature, if more physically frail, senior team members.
Orientation is vital when it comes to helping team members approach the experience in the right way. This should involve some education on cultural issues and guidelines on how to avoid dropping cultural cluster bombs. Orientation helps encourage sensitivity to some cultural issues that are not immediately obvious – the way shoes are left at the door and the left hand is not used for eating, for example. Orientation also involves covering some of the more practical aspects of the trip, such as whether or not anti-malarial medicines are needed and giving advice about drinking tap-water.
Orientation should also help prepare team members to have right attitudes and to recognise there may be internal struggles that a cross-cultural experience can provoke. Our aim is to encourage a posture that’s humble, and eager to learn and to serve, which is essential to get the most out of the visit. A lack of orientation along these lines will mean that team members are ill-prepared and more likely to miss out on God’s good work within them.
2. Unrealistic expectations Many of the positive benefits of short-term teams are what occurs in the lives of the team members. If we’re expecting our contribution to be the ‘big story’ then our expectations are misplaced. These times are largely about what God does in us rather than through us; typically team members report that they received far more than they felt they gave.
That’s not to write off the contribution that teams can make, but in the very limited timeframe they can’t achieve the same as longer-term periods where individuals can be embedded within a cross-cultural context, learn language and begin to make a more substantial contribution. Expectations must be managed. Though valuable, what can be achieved is limited. This needs to be acknowledged and embraced if teams are to avoid thinking that they are somehow going to establish God’s Kingdom within two weeks! They may begin some new friendships, pass on a little encouragement, lay a few bricks or paint a few walls, but the overall contribution will always be small, so they need to be realistic about what they can contribute. Inflated, misplaced expectations may well lead to frustration and disappointment.
That too is bad
3. A lack of connection with the local church
The model we’ve pursued in terms of short-term teams has been local church based. Our teams have typically been made up of people from a local church or a relational group of local churches who visit, serve and support a local church with whom we have an on-going relationship. I’m convinced that the more we can connect sending and receiving churches the healthier they will be and the greater their impact.
There are all sorts of other models. For example, some focus on particular issues such as education or health care. But these, too, should connect with and contribute to the churches that already exist in the context being visited. Unless teams are entering into truly unreached territory where there is no church in existence they should be working with and if possible through local communities of believers who will continue to be there long after they have held their conferences and set up their projects.
Short-term teams should never be ‘smash and grab’ efforts with no connection or relationship with the local church. They should be there by invitation. The local church should shape and influence what the teams seek to do and what approach they take. The local church understands better than anyone the cultural issues that exist in that place, and it’s the local church that will continue to exist within and engage with the culture long after the team has departed.
A measure of relationship between the local church and the visiting team is essential. The local church must have some ownership of the approach and aims of the team that’s visiting. To disregard this and to fly a team in with a ‘2 week plan of action’ is a disastrous approach.
That is bad
Next time we shall start to address some of the ‘ugly’ issues related to short-term teams.