“Partnerships That Transform—Here and There” was the theme of this year’s Coalition On the Support of Indigenous Ministries (COSIM) conference, held 12-14 June 2006 at the Billy Graham Center in Wheaton, Illinois, USA.
Seventy-three mission enthusiasts met to share experiences and to learn how to have more effective partnerships. At least twenty churches and one denominational mission board was represented.
COSIM is a fellowship of evangelical organizations with a common interest in supporting and building Developing World ministries. It has no central office and all work is done by volunteers from member agencies.
COSIM was formed in 1996 through the efforts of John Bennett of the Overseas Council; Chuck Bennett, then president of Partners International; Bernie May of The Seed Company, a branch of Wycliffe; Daniel Rickett, then of Salt and Light, now vice president of Sisters in Service; and Ken Gill, associate director of the Billy Graham Center. Some of the agencies represented have been pioneering partnerships with indigenous missions for over fifty years.
Key speakers at this year’s conference were Gary Edmonds, senior partner for Breakthrough Partners and former general secretary for the World Evangelical Alliance; Dick Robinson, senior associate pastor for outreach at Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, Wisconsin (USA); David Kasali, founder and president of the Christian Bilingual University of Congo; and an Indonesian brother known only as Faisal, who spoke about a village transformed after the 2004 tsunami which hit Southeast Asia.
Planners of the conference wanted to make sure participants heard from representatives of indigenous missions in the Majority World as well as from mission agency leaders in North America. According to Dr. David Kasali, even though the majority of sub-Sahara Africa is Christian—and evangelical in orientation—encroaching Western values are displacing much of what is uniquely African culture. Meanwhile, Dr. Kasali added, economic progress is passing it by while the media focuses on other parts of the world. He said the three biggest challenges facing the Church in Africa today are war, AIDS and Islam. He said the African Church must raise up its own sons and daughters to deal with these issues and affirmed that partnership with mission agencies and churches in the North will help make that happen. However, Dr. Kasali said, the African Church can teach Western churches contentment, dependence on God and humility.
Lessons from Leaders
Faisal shared how one American church got him treatment in America when he came down with leukemia and how this led to contact with Partners International, which took him on as a partner. That, in turn, led to the raising up of 120 incarnational workers in Malaysia and Indonesia. The secret to effective partnerships, according to Faisal, is taking time to build trust in relationships, jointly planning the agenda and not handing it to a national mission on a Western platter. He said in Aceh the emphasis is on three things (in this order): being, doing and saying. In the West it is often in the reverse order.
Ramesh Landge, director of Cooperative Outreach of India, based in Delhi, conducted a workshop on “How Developing World Christians Can Bless the Western Church.” Johan Gous, African director for Hope Builders International, shared how ministries in southern Africa, with financial help from American partners, are seeing exponential growth in rural areas using a “hub” model to spark a church planting movement.
Gary Edmonds gave two messages on the theme “From Missions TO to Missions WITH.” His basic premise was that we can no longer go as missionaries to do something for a people; we must do mission with the on-site Christian community. He pointed out that former mission-field countries are now mission sending agents. “Most people know that Korea ranks second behind the US in the number of missionaries sent (thirteen thousand in 2005), and will pass us by 2010,” Edmonds said. “But fewer realize that in 2005 Albania had 168 evangelical churches and twenty-two thousand baptized believers and was sending missionaries to Cambodia, Turkey, Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia.” Edmonds corroborated Kasali’s and Faisal’s theme that “mission with” is based on a relationship of trust that evolves through three stages: exploration, formation and operation.
Jack Nelson, president of WorldLink International, addressed the often maligned issue of accountability. He said one should “be” the right partner before one can “choose” the right partner. “Clarity is king,” Nelson said. “State your expectations in writing. The purpose is not to enforce compliance, but to avoid misunderstanding.”
Pastor Dick Robinson shared how Elmbrook Church grew from a small parish to a worldwide outreach. He said the small congregation was sparked to worldwide interest when Stuart Briscoe, a British young itinerant Bible teacher, became its pastor in the early 1970s. His international experience propelled the church to think globally. Congregants responded and faith promise giving grew exponentially: Giving for global missions has grown from US$60,000 several years ago to over US$2.5 million today, which allows the church to support nearly one hundred traditional missionaries and have eight partnerships with indigenous mission groups. While the church began by taking on any and all missionaries who knocked on its doors for support, it has since begun to catch the vision for indigenous partnerships as well. This involvement made them sensitive to the needs of expatriates in their region; they soon began helping Lao immigrants form their own church in Milwaukee.
Today the church engages in partnerships with mission agencies reaching unreached peoples in places like northern Kenya or Tajikistan. They take ministry teams to central Africa, Brazil, Bolivia and China. “We are on a journey,” Robinson said. “We do mission through listening to, learning from and serving with God’s people in other communities and cultures to extend the kingdom of God.”
Werner Mischke, conference chair and vice president of Mission ONE in Scottsdale, Arizona, USA, said, “Partnership is not our idea. It is God’s. We expect the partnership principles and practices which COSIM advocates will become increasingly valuable to the global missions community.”
Bob Savage, international director of Partners International, added, “I’ve been working with indigenous missions for twenty years, yet this year’s COSIM conference had the most stimulating thinking on partnership that I’ve seen. There was a good mix of the voices from the South and the North, and people who were not just pushing the envelope on what partnership means, but who were doing it.”
COSIM is planning another conference 11-13 June 2007 at the same venue. For more information about COSIM or to order CDs of any of this year’s conference messages, go to http://www.cosimnet.org/.