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You, Me and We

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It was quite a sight the second morning of our eye clinic—we couldn’t even enter the building because the crowd was spilling out into the street. We were in Bulgan, a town on the steppes of Mongolia, but the desperate multitudes seemed to come straight from Scripture. Throughout the day, we squeezed in extra patients whenever we had a few minutes to check their vision, do an eye exam and select a pair of glasses.

The final station was equally intense, at least for me. In my limited Mongolian, I explained the story of salvation using colored scarves and prayed with people to accept Jesus. As we rolled out of town after two long, hard days, we were pleased to have fitted 162 patients with glasses and ecstatic that half of them accepted Jesus! The short-term team and the mission team came together and witnessed the coming of the Kingdom of God—in popular lingo, it was an “effective partnership.”

When I went back to Bulgan to check on the physical and spiritual progress of our patients, my heart was downcast as I learned that, after two months, almost none of our 83 new believers had gone to church. Not once.

At first I was shocked to find such short-term results from our short-term team, and then I was just humbled. I had failed as a partner; I wasn’t ready. As the missionary on the field, I had allowed myself to get caught up in logistics but had forgotten what had brought us together—making disciples. I see now that my aim had only been to make believers (but do not even the demons believe?).

What should it have looked like, working closely with the Mongolian church rather than barreling over it with our technology? Wouldn’t an advance prayer team have been easy to set up? Or staying behind with a discipleship team to begin simple house churches? No matter how well the sending church and the missionary partner together, it is still only two sides of a three-sided relationship.

It seems clear now that the partnership is not just between you and me but between you (your church) and the Mongolian church—perhaps even more so. In many ways, I am just a middle-man, trying to help you help Mongolian Christians reach their own people. And if we overlook that, two things happen. First, instead of maturing, the local church comes to depend on foreign teams for evangelism and ministry. Second, our partnership devolves into foreign goodwill because our service is not rooted in the transforming presence of a long-lasting church.

It just makes sense to include the very church we are trying to help grow! And the members have lots of ideas that are better than mine—English camps, newspaper columns and a community pool hall, for example. So why aren’t you partnering with them? I’ll tell you why—it’s because of me . . .

Your relationship with the Mongolian church can be no greater than your relationship with me. If you want to partner with God’s work in Mongolia, you are limited by my eyes, ears, mouth and heart. This could be a problem (indeed, perhaps the main problem in our whole missions movement), because you really don’t know me very well. You trained, appointed and sent me, and you are supporting my family and my budget for doing ministry. But throughout this process you never really got a chance to know me, and this affects everything—the Mongolian church, the way I do missions and even the way you do church.

Our lack of relationship results in a subtle separation of our task, and time and space keep us from the very thing we need most—fellowship. I firmly believe that if you just knew me or the missionaries I work with, we would have no more problems with the Great Commission Fund or “partnering”! And if I knew you better, I could more effectively invite you into what God is doing in Mongolia. This is what partnership is—fellowship with a task.

The fellowship expands as people are sent out to become the eyes and ears, hands and mouth of a local church. Mission begins with you. Many people in Mongolia need to hear the gospel, and someone—you—must prepare and send workers. The “sent ones” take the fellowship with them; through constant communication and shared work, it grows broader and deeper.

There is a lot of interest now in helping missionaries with specific projects, and for that I am grateful. The Mongolians enjoy receiving a new house or well—but they are transformed by the message of hope and a touch of love. What they really need is people, not projects. Your primary job is to raise, encourage, send and support people who proclaim Jesus by the things they do and say. That means lots of short-term teams but also the long-term middle-men like me who help to facilitate partnerships for the growth of God’s church in Mongolia.

Partnerships are a wonderful way for us to reclaim our relationships and spend intentional time together—sending people who will come to serve with us here (short-term missions) and bringing us home to serve with you (home assignment). The next time your team comes to partner, the Mongolian church and I will be ready for you. And when I come to your church, will you be ready for me? We are partners in reaching the world for Jesus. We are the C&MA, after all—it’s what we do.

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