Some people would say that doing mission in partnership is far too cumbersome.
It does indeed take a little more time because it forces us to involve ourselves in the laborious and sometimes messy task of building relationships. Partnership also makes us dependent on others—their schedules, their priorities, their organizational weak points, their values. Internationally, partnership often pushes us into relationships with poor and oppressed members of the body of Christ, which is sometimes uncomfortable.
As I embrace my insurance policies, second helpings at mealtimes, and a comfortable home, I’d rather not be reminded that many of our partners (“brothers and sisters”) are experiencing the sharp ache of hunger, another night of homelessness, or the long wait for refugee processing. In partnership we must bind ourselves to persons who may know much more than we do about what it means to share sacrificially, to rest fully in God’s provision and to persevere in faith.
While serving as a mission co-worker in Peru, I traveled to Ayacucho, a region in the Andean highlands characterized by extreme poverty, 42 percent illiteracy, and deep wounds from the political violence that raged between the Peruvian government and the Shining Path Liberation Movement.
In the town of Callqui (Quechua for rocky, unproductive soil), I had a long and intense evening conversation with a group of mothers, many of them single or widowed, who were deeply concerned about helping their children live a better life than they had. I have found that meetings like these almost always result in deep and painful personal transformation.
Perhaps it was an unconscious attempt not to fully hear the pain these women had experienced from the years of dehumanizing poverty at the hands of government soldiers and terrorists, that I busied my mind with the details of development planning—what a quality children’s education or water well project might look like, how much it would cost, which donor agencies we might contact for support, etc.
As the meeting ended late that night, an older woman with long braids came up to me with tears in her tired eyes: “Thank you for coming,” she said simply, and gave me a carefully wrapped package. A local friend later explained to me that Ana’s husband had been murdered years ago when Peruvian government troops, acting on an erroneous tip, arrived suddenly during a worship service at the Callqui Presbyterian Church and rounded up and shot seven men. Although the men were accused of terrorism, no charges were ever made and no proof offered. Ana’s husband, a farmer and long-time Presbyterian elder, was among those executed.
Ana now makes her living by embroidering and selling three or four white cotton tablecloths each month. Her gift to us was a beautiful white tablecloth with the words “His Love Makes Us Whole” embroidered in bright red, blue, and yellow thread. Though her gift represented perhaps a fourth of her monthly income, Ana arose from a late night meeting and walked all the way home to bring to me a gift from the heart—a token of gratitude for the past and hope for the future. I later learned that Ana has been a pillar of support in that grieving community, organizing the widows, encouraging single mothers, even cajoling the Presbyterian session into action to help the community’s children.
To me, Ana represents the kind of person that I have met often on my path of discipleship with Jesus Christ. A person who knows what really matters in this incredibly complex, yet remarkable simple world of ours. Ana has learned, as a more faithful follower of Calvin than perhaps I will ever be, to rest fully in her faith in God’s providence and provision. She knows what it means to persevere in her faith, even when human wisdom can offer no reason to continue to believe.
Perhaps Ana is one of the reasons I went to work in Peru. Because of God’s grace, I became aware of the hole in my own soul that was and is being filled daily by God’s love and forgiveness and the grace extended to me by persons living in extreme poverty—with few possessions but a great wealth of the spirit. Persons like my mentor, Ana, whose love, together with Christ’s, makes me whole. She is one of many I am privileged to consider as partners on this transformational journey.