North Americans, Africans weigh partnerships’ strengths, weaknesses

Aug 10, 2015 by , and

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GOSHEN, Ind. — Mission partnerships got a report card July 13, and the grade wasn’t always an “A.”

Adolphe Komuesa Kalunga, national president of Communauté Mennonite au Congo (Mennonite Community in Congo) speaks as Steve Wiebe-Johnson translates. — Charles Buller/AIMM

Adolphe Komuesa Kalunga, national president of Communauté Mennonite au Congo (Mennonite Community in Congo) speaks as Steve Wiebe-Johnson translates. — Charles Buller/AIMM

Nearly 40 mission practitioners gathered at Silverwood Mennonite Church to discuss best practices for partnerships.

“Both our successes and our failures in partnership efforts can provide us practical insights to improve our service,” said Rod Hollinger-Janzen, executive coordinator of Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission.

AIMM organized the consultation on “Forming Fruitful Cross-Cultural Partnerships.”

About half of the African participants who had hoped to attend were unable to get visas. There were expressions of sadness as greetings were exchanged through a Skype session with some of those who were unable to make the trip.

Participants described the nature and evolution of partnerships in which they are involved. Not all were convinced partnerships should be the focus of Christian relationships across cultures. As more people, or entities, become involved, partnerships can get complex, even messy, they said.

Making an idol?

Adolphe Komuesa Kalunga, national president of Communauté Mennonite au Congo (Mennonite Community in Congo), continued a theme he began a day earlier at Yellow Creek Mennonite Church. In his sermon, Komuesa asked, “Have we made an idol of partnership? So much of mission literature is about partnership. Instead of glorifying partnership, shouldn’t Jesus be at the center of our faith?”

At the Silverwood gathering, Komuesa said, “I’ve spent my whole life working at partnership, and it hasn’t yet born the fruit I expected.”

Gérard Mambakila, president of Communauté des Églises des Frères Mennonites au Congo (Mennonite Brethren Church of Congo), said he cannot agree with those who believe a partnership is superior to previous mission strategies that had clearer lines of organization. He sees the authority of the church being undermined with the multiplicity of partnerships.

“When I evaluate the older mission system, I see that our churches grew and leaders were trained,” Mambakila said. “I am the fruit of North American mission agencies.”

Siaka Traoré, president of Eglise Evangélique Mennonite du Burkina Faso (Evangelical Mennonite Church of Burkina Faso), believes transparency and integrity are of primary importance to relationships, no matter how they are structured. It is essential to define partnerships in a way that avoids all confusion and suspicion.

Deepening relationships

Many North Americans engage in partnerships because they are looking for relationships and meaning, said Nancy Myers, who is active in a congregation-to-congregation partnership between Kern Road Mennonite Church in South Bend and Bondeko Mennonite Church in Kinshasa.

“When we visit you [in Congo], we start to understand the richness of our faith,” she said. “Because of our relationships with you, my faith has grown. I have also discovered that the love in my heart has found places to move. In this partnership, I’m trying to discover what the global church really is.”

Traoré affirmed Myers by saying the primary objective of a partnership must be the mutual deepening of spiritual lives.

“Partnership must take its inspiration from Jesus’ words, ‘Seek first God’s kingdom and its justice; then everything else falls into place,’ ” Traoré said. “A good partnership must aim to address moral, spiritual and cultural values before addressing material needs.”

A list of values important to fruitful partnerships was suggested. It included mutuality, prayer, vulnerability and trust, people-centered relationships, worship together, flexibility — and mistakes.

“There will always be mistakes, but what comes after the mistakes is of primary importance,” Myers said.

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