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Roots and Fruits

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As of July 1, 2018, International Ministries (IM) and CAMA Services joined forces to build a more effective, holistic ministry strategy that addresses the unique challenges and opportunities the current state of the world offers. In this interview, Vice President for International Ministries Tim Crouch and CAMA Director Mike Sohm discuss what this change means for Alliance missions going forward.

Alliance Life: Why did it seem right in 2007 for CAMA to become organizationally distinct from IM?

Mike Sohm: That decision gave us the opportunity to develop as a relief and development agency and pursue more aggressively funding from government agencies and donors who are not related to the C&MA. Being distinct would allow us to be more intentional in pursuing those goals.

What has changed that the two are now integrated again?

Mike: The Alliance has changed in ways that invite a more holistic expression of the gospel, and CAMA has learned some things along the way. Our ability to pursue funding outside of the C&MA was not greatly enhanced by the move. We also came to recognize that CAMA cannot fulfill its mission organizationally distinct from The Alliance because we’re part of The Alliance.

Many missions agencies have single specializations, whether Bible translation, aviation, child sponsorship, or medicine. Why is The Alliance continuing to move toward multi-specialization?

Tim Crouch: Part of the answer to that question is we’re a family. Denominational agencies tend to be broader and often are in the lead in multiplying churches.

The gospel is holistic. It’s the whole gospel for the whole person. It’s best delivered and sustained as an opportunity for people when it’s held out by the church that lives holistically.

The other part of my answer is that what it takes to fulfill our calling today is changing. Where people without adequate access to the gospel remain today are challenging places. If they were easier, somebody would’ve probably done a good job there by now.

When we look at peoples of the world whose cultures resist those who carry the gospel, we have to ask, “How do we get this done among them?” Often people aren’t necessarily resistant to service that is a value-add for them. Even if it’s done in Jesus’ name, it’s meeting a need, so they’re open.

Beginning the process by serving and continuing it as we plant holistic churches helps build a network of churches that’ll keep ministering that way. It’s both biblical and strategic.

Mike: In Guinea during the Ebola crisis, some local pastors ministered in five distinct ways to villages impacted by Ebola. Places that once said to Christians, “Do not come here, and do not have a church here” now welcome us because our approach to them demonstrated the gospel in ways that did not discriminate and had no conditions. That kind of compassion is powerful.

Do you see a trend today of people coming to Christ only if a personal need is met first? Or has missions always worked that way?

Tim: I think it’s always been true that when people understand God’s love for them as humans, they become more responsive to God’s Word spoken. We see that even in Jesus’ own ministry.

God’s hopes and plans for us are not without impact to the tangible parts of our lives where we need help.

In today’s world, there’s also the dynamic of people’s unwillingness to listen to a person who says, “I have something from God to share with you.” The opportunities for someone to preach the Word and see people say, “Hey, this is worth listening to” are fewer than a few decades ago.

Why the decline?

Tim: Part of it is the religious orientation of the remaining least-reached peoples. A lot of the progress of the 20th century in the advancement of the gospel was among people of religious orientations we wouldn’t necessarily think of as the major world religions.

The major world religions express themselves in contrast to one another, so inherent in that is resistance. It’s the nature of the peoples that remain in need today.

A second important point is that the globe has shrunk. Everybody’s more aware of everything. That creates the scenario in which antagonism against other worldviews sharpens because we see evidence of other worldviews in the news. We’re much more aware of the differences now.

It’s those kinds of factors that make it a world in which the readiness to listen to religious words is lower. At the same time, we’re human beings in need. God loves humans in need and loves to meet needs. So I think that’s shaping missions strategy.

Are all Alliance workers equipped to demonstrate and verbalize the gospel?

Tim: All Christians to some extent are to demonstrate the gospel in word and deed. We can all love our neighbor in some way; we can all express the gospel truth we have found. So to some degree we’re all equipped, and certainly all international workers are equipped. The larger question is, “Do they understand best practices enough to demonstrate the gospel in a way that helps and does not hurt?”

One of the great opportunities we have with an integration of CAMA and IM is that a lot of expertise in relief work and in community development has been developed over the last 11 years in CAMA. So now an international worker who’s equipped to some level to express both in word and deed the good news of Jesus can gain some more expertise from our CAMA colleagues. We have more relief and development experts in The Alliance today than we’ve ever had. Now we can reap the benefit of that.

So is the goal for all workers to proclaim the gospel in word and deed, but some are more specialized in one over the other?

Mike: Our goal is to see people come to know Christ in a way that’s transforming and for them, in a context of other believers, to impact their communities holistically.

Tim: We have a three-word phrase that describes the concept that runs across all our specializations: meaningful, impactful presence.

In today’s world, you don’t just walk into another country. There are legal processes; you need visas. So for the gospel to have impact in a country, our workers must have a sustained presence. They must have a strategy for their presence that’s functional, workable, and sustainable.

We have to find a legal presence that is also meaningful in the eyes of local people. They say, “You came here to do that for our community? We’re glad you did that! In fact, we’d like to work with you in that.” Trust begins to develop.

Those very things we say we’re here to do—and we actually do them and people find them valuable—become the channels for sharing the good news. In other words, they’re also impactful. That’s what we mean by “meaningful, impactful presence,” and around the world, that’s a formula for how we think about what it would look like to go to the least-reached peoples.

Mike: Let’s say we want to address food security in a village, and there are many ways to do that: different ways of farming, a better use of irrigation. We see family after family increase their level of food security to where now they have a little bit more income that now impacts the education of their children or some aspect of their family’s health, and the whole village is impacted.

They knew from the first day that we were followers of Christ, that our motivation wasn’t to gain anything monetarily. We weren’t trying to coerce them in any manner about faith, but people did come to faith. When we rejoice over that project, we rejoice in the families that now have food security and those families that came to faith. Those are both very important. We don’t elevate one above the other.

In this integration process of CAMA and IM, one desired outcome is that people will be as excited about their impact on their communities globally as they are about people coming to faith. The two are related.

Honestly, I have a hard time seeing someone receiving food security equal to someone coming to Christ.

Tim: We’re not saying they’re equal. We’re saying that they both are expressions of the impact of the gospel on our lives.

Mike: Our words and our deeds go together—that’s congruency. But our deeds also give our message integrity. Please understand, the verbal proclamation of the gospel is essential to a person coming to faith in Christ, but incongruity can create a significant barrier to faith.

I’m setting up a straw man argument here, but if we go into a community and we see poverty and we just hand out leaflets and people respond but we do nothing to address the poverty, how does the love of God really abide in us? So let’s do both and not put one above the other.

Tim: I often think of the gospel as a tree. The tree has roots, and the tree has fruits. The gospel message is centered on the truth of what is our need and what God has provided. So think of that as the roots of the tree.

And the tree produces fruits. Roots and fruits are inseparable. The fruits of the gospel’s impact in our lives will be that we demonstrate in a variety of ways God’s love for people. It’s the natural fruits. It’s not that the roots and fruits are equal or unequal but that they’re inseparable because that’s the nature of the tree.

Now if you think about it, that fruit drops seeds, which create new roots and grow new trees. It’s kind of a chicken-and-the-egg thing where you ask, “Which comes first? The roots or the fruits?” If you look at it strategically and not just theologically, they are inseparable.

The point isn’t that one precedes the other. It’s a cycle; it’s the nature of the tree.     

Would the Great Commission be closer to completion if IM and CAMA had integrated earlier?

Tim: I want to be careful with this question because I don’t think that our calling is only to complete the Great Commission. Phil Skellie, former CAMA president, was our legacy voice on this matter when he used to say, “The Great Commission and the Great Commandment go together.”

It’s really one calling. What Jesus called us to is one thing, and it includes completing the Great Commission and fulfilling the Great Commandment to love one another as He has loved us and to serve.

Mike: Every generation has before them a responsibility, and those who came before us faithfully carried that out in taking the gospel to places where there was openness. They went to places where they could gain access and planted churches—thousands of churches—many of whom have become sending churches. I think those who went before us did well.

For more on the integration of International Ministries and CAMA Services, watch John Stumbo’s Video Blog No. 57:

2 responses to Roots and Fruits

  1. The Siam Mission of the C&MA in Thailand must work hard at developing strategy for meaningful, impactful presence in doing our work here. The fact that the C&MA has existed in Thailand for more than 70 years, as a leader, I ask myself, what
    other ‘good’ things we must do which make the local people glad?

  2. I’m curious- How do you see these changes affecting the purpose and/or implementation of short-term international projects?

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