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You mean . . . you’re leaving us?

Why we practice transition in Alliance missions

By

We were on a flight from Miami to Lima. The lady seated beside me was returning to her homeland of Peru after a visit with family in Florida. “What kind of work do you do?” she asked.

“I serve with The Christian and Missionary Alliance, a family of churches in the United States,” I said. “We have many sister churches in Peru.”

“Oh, yes. In Lima we know The Christian and Missionary Alliance. There are many Alliance churches in Lima.”

Her comment brought into sharp focus why I was traveling that day. Knowing there were, at that point, 60 Alliance churches just in greater Lima and many more throughout the country, I was going there to join other Alliance missions leaders, along with the leadership team of the Peruvian Alliance, for a transition ceremony. North American missionaries had served in Peru for more than 75 years, and we had reached a difficult yet strategic decision: All but one couple paid through the Great Commission Fund (GCF) would transition from Peru.

Why? Because there was now a sustainable family of reproducing Alliance churches in Peru, led by Peruvian leaders, who could continue strongly even if North American international workers were no longer there. Because there was an effective, Peruvian-led training process for equipping the next generation of pastors and church leaders. Because the Peruvian Alliance had developed the potential to evangelize their own people even on the fringes of their society. Because the Alliance in Peru had come full circle from being a recipient of Christian missions from North America to being partners with North Americans in Christian missions. With these God-sized developments, international workers from the north were no longer essential.

Biblical rationale for transition was woven into our thinking. Paul’s stays in the areas where he established churches were usually brief. In Antioch, he made three visits over a period of about four years. He made several visits to Corinth during a four-year period. He remained in Ephesus for about three years. He spent two to three years in Caesarea and about the same amount of time in Rome.

What was Paul’s thinking in relation to the churches he helped to establish?

He gave place for Christ. He was always glad when his converts could progress without his aid. He welcomed their liberty. He withheld no gift from them which might enable them to dispense with his presence. He did not speak . . . of the gift of autonomous government as the gift of a privilege which might be withheld. He gave as a right to the Spirit-bearing body the powers which duly belong to a Spirit-bearing body. He gave freely, and then he retired from them that they might learn to exercise the powers which they possessed in Christ. He warned them of dangers, but he did not provide an elaborate machinery to prevent them from succumbing to the dangers. . . . To do this required great faith.
 
(Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? by Roland Allen, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1962, pg. 149)

Paul then was intentional about going to the remaining, challenging places where Christ was not yet known (Rom. 15:20–21).

Do we really believe that God wants us, in partnership with many others, to go as light-bearers to the remaining dark places in this turbulent world where access to the gospel is critically low? Are we to be used by Him to help push back the darkness? If so, how do we do this hard work of transition wisely and well?

  • It is dialogical. Ideally, transition-related conversations take place between church and mission leaders before and during the transition process.
  • It is gradual. Abrupt transition risks doing harm, including ruptured relationships.
  • It relies as much as possible on natural attrition. Instead of forcing missionaries to leave, the ideal is to use unforced moves, like retirement or a new ministry opportunity in another place, to help accomplish the larger transition.
  • It looks for ways to continue in relationship. Since the transition ceremony in Peru, the relationship between the U.S. Alliance and the Peruvian Alliance continues but in a different context. Not doing so would feel to the Peruvians like abandonment.
  • It seeks to celebrate what international workers have done and to care well for them in the transition process. Healthy transition can take place because international workers have been effective. They are therefore treated with honor and dignity.

As long as North American international workers are in place, many local church leaders will defer to them rather than take the reins of leadership wholeheartedly. This explains why some of the most exciting church growth has taken place after missionaries have left, when local leaders are taking initiative and trusting God in exciting ways. One Peruvian leader commented privately, “Thanks for having the courage to do this . . . I believe we’ll now trust God as never before and experience new levels of His blessing.”

Having a centrally funded system like the GCF allows us to make strategic transition decisions. By embracing a shared strategy, international workers can avoid adopting a “lone ranger” mentality, doing what they feel is best. For a place like Peru, this could mean staying indefinitely instead of making the extremely difficult decision to move on.

The work of transition is always gut-wrenching for the international workers and their local church partners, who have grown to love one another deeply. International workers have expended much effort to learn the language and culture. Leaving feels counter-intuitive to them and to the local people, who often lament, “You mean you’re leaving us?”

Yes. Because transition enables us to move from areas of the world where the church is to where it isn’t. When this was explained at the ceremony in Lima, a challenge was given:

As U.S. international workers leave Peru, it positions the U.S. C&MA to move into some of the remaining dark and challenging places where Christ is not yet known. Let us, the U.S. and Peruvian Alliance, dream and work so that we go to as many of these places as possible together. Let’s discover Kingdom synergy so that we accomplish Christ’s mission more rapidly and effectively as partners!

Many Daughters

by Joyce Houck

I don’t know why churches are referred to as feminine. Once upon a time in Lima, there was one Alliance church; now there are 66! One “mother” church had that many daughters—and “grand daughters” and “greats” as well.

The Airport Alliance Church was founded in 1998 with 150 members of the mother church as its nucleus. It didn’t stay a baby church for long; just six years after it was born, it had its first daughter (2005). The Airport leaders planned to make a daughter church every two years as well as support a new work in the Peruvian interior. So they sent off their first mission family that same year to the Andes Mountains.

Two years later, they started another church of about 150 more members and sent another fully supported “missy” to the mountains. The Airport mother church has seating for only 500–600. It already holds four services each Sunday, so they had to keep starting more churches. So many new believers; so much life.

The mother church became so packed that in 2009 it hived off another 150 members for a third daughter and sent another worker to the mountains. But that same year, even with the 150 gone, there was no more space. The leaders couldn’t wait two years, so they formed yet another daughter that same year. By 2011, they had given up another 150 people to form yet another church.

That is five daughters in Lima and four new churches in the interior in less than a decade! Each daughter started with about 150 members from the mother church, a fully supported pastor and a place to meet. Some are small, others larger. Some places are rented, some are owned. Each daughter keeps growing, adding more services each Sunday.

COMAS is in another district of Lima. The 13 pastors in this church have divided its district into 10 geographical zones, each having a pastor. Their goal is 10,000 members by 2020. Last year they baptized 292 people, making an average attendance of about 2,500 at seven Sunday services (the first of which starts at 6 a.m.).

Since COMAS is in a poor area of the city, each member brings a kilo of some staple food (rice, oil, beans, pasta) to be distributed in the community. The COMAS members supervise a program that provides hot breakfast to 11,000 kids every morning. Starting at about 3 a.m., the members cook cereal mixed with vitamin-fortified milk in huge pots. They distribute it in vans to the poverty-stricken areas. In addition, each child gets a Bible lesson before going to school.

The Panamerican Highway is10 lanes of busy traffic as it passes a huge upscale shopping area known as Mega Plaza. The shoppers there can look across the highway and see a beautiful church standing tall with the Alliance logo clearly visible. Every taxi in town knows the location of this church, where each Sunday more than 3,000 people worship our Lord. It started as a cell group meeting in someone’s home and now has 14 pastoral couples. Along the walls of the brand new sanctuary are large portraits of the 13 missionaries they partially support.

Many daughters and grand daughters. Dynamic, healthy and incredibly beautiful.

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