Most of this post was penned four years ago, but it asks a great question – and one that the summer provides time for answering, I’d imagine.
Our church, though it’s big, has tended not to construct our own outreach entities. We don’t have a clothing closet or a food pantry; while we did establish a clinic, we opened it in partnership with others in our city and as its own non-profit. Instead of focusing on starting efforts, we prefer partnerships: Long-term, deep partnerships. And that’s true locally as well as overseas.
So I’m regularly reminded just how powerful and effective long-term partnerships can be.
Case in point: Our church has been involved in regional church-building efforts in Ethiopia for several years now, taking a few trips each year (with the leadership of e3 Partners). So while any of our members may only take one trip (myself included, a few years ago), each person or each trip is clearly part of a growing history of impact. When I went, my particular trip got to travel to a brand new area because of earlier teams’ success permeating our usual region! Because our groups have faithfully returned, the Ethiopian disciplemakers, church leaders, and church members have received “development,” not simply guerrilla-style “help” that may not last or may not even help.
So continuing with the Ethiopia example… Not only is partnership powerful for our partners “on the ground” in Ethiopia, it’s powerful for trip participants, too. Our church calls our short-term engagements “Discipleship Trips” for a reason, and this is one aspect of that: Our hearts are drawn to this nation and its people (including the nationals we work with year after year) because of perpetual partnership. Even though these particular trips only happen each summer (unlike trips to our other international partners), our church’s awareness is engaged all year. And there are many who do return; over a third of my trip’s members had been before. For those people, Ethiopia is an ongoing (and growing) passion in some sense or another. And for us “newbies,” we were influenced to love this particular mission field all the more because some of our peers are so passionate – with the passion that multiple trips and long-term engagement build.
Long-term partnership affects recruitment, too. Whether I return in the future or not, I’m so glad that this wasn’t a one-off opportunity. As I share trip stories with my circles, their chance to participate in the future will always be in the back of my mind. I’m talking about something past (my trip), but I’m also talking about something future others could participate in.
Of course, there are numerous other benefits practical and spiritual: planning trips, helping people consider longer-term missions callings, deepening fellowship with those in the field, and so on.
And everything I’ve just noted about an international partnership can play out locally – and sometimes even more dramatically: Impact on the partners and those they serve. Impact on the participants and the “sending church.” A passion that grows over time. A history that helps recruit new people to serve. Easier planning. Going deeper into the underlying issues the partner is addressing. And so on.
What long-term partnerships does your campus ministry have? Whether international, national, or local… whether for trips, for service projects, for fundraising, or for events… whether involving your entire ministry or small pockets… are you taking advantage of an amazing opportunity?