beyond resourcing

I settled into my seat. Some sleep on the overnight plane meant that some sleep on the midday bus was not going to happen. So I leaned back and zoned-out before the upcoming conference captured me. But gradually three conversations, from further back in the bus, began to come into focus.

I listened. In each conversation, an American accent was present. Having been around Americans all my life, it was as I expected. The voices were kind and warm and animated - but on this occasion, in each conversation, they were doing 90% of the talking, as they shared about their ministry. When we reached the venue and entered into the rhythm of sessions and meals, something similar happened. The room was ringed with tables for organisations, mostly from America (there were very few Europeans present), manned by generous and servant-hearted people committed to resourcing the (majority world) passer-by. Over meal times, I watched a repeating pattern. A few pleasantries initiated by the resourcer. 'Tell me about your family'. 'What is the ministry in which you are involved?' ... politely, as you'd expect, the same questions were returned to them by the (majority world) person. Then, as if by some signal, the 'play button' is pressed, and out flows a prolonged explanation of the resource they are offering the world, accompanied by a fair amount of promotion.

Servant-hearted, generosity-inspired resourcing packaged in a warm, kind, animated, verbose(!) person.

Who could ever be critical of that combo? I will certainly stop short of doing so. But is that it? Is that what characterizes global missional interactions in the 21st century? It disturbed me that I could not hear other voices on that bus. It disturbed me that at the organisational tables and around the meal tables, while the interest in the 'other' was genuine, it was a bit token - and it seemed to be the means by which to reach a greater end. Maybe that is unkind. My apologies. But it meant that for the eight days of the conference I was asking myself, 'Is servant-hearted, generosity-inspired resourcing enough?'

My conclusion? I don't think it is.

The premise behind what I saw and heard seemed to be that there are some of us who have something to give and there are others among us who have something to receive. Really?! That is flawed. That feels like a softer colonialism to me. My renewed call to global mission in my late-40s was built around 1 Corinthians 12 being writ globally, not just locally. It changed my life. It is about valuing the peoples of the world with the dignity, the equality and the interdependency which seeps into that passage. Everyone has something to give. Everyone has something to receive. Everyone is indispensable. Everyone who has been dishonoured is shown a 'special honour'. Yes, there is a need to move beyond a mere resourcing mentality and on towards genuine partnership together.

We all need to be careful - and on this occasion, particularly the Americans who featured so much at this conference. As a senior leader in Asia expressed to me, 'Americans always seem to have the answer'. And oftentimes the answer is of a scale which those at the 'grassroots' in the majority world can find difficult to engage. Like the guy who finished his talk with a sequence of photos of multi-million dollar church buildings he had built as a mark of his effective ministry. Really? This stuff ends up being (possibly) inspirational, without having that more significant aspirational quality. This is the quality that will make it feel accessible. This is the quality that will have people say, 'Ahh, maybe God could do this in me and through me?! Yes, he can.' As I say to our facilitators who preach in our training seminars, 'Don't wow people with your most impressive sermon; rather, wow them with your most accessible sermon'. Inspiration is over-rated. Feeding aspiration is the key. We want people to go away saying. 'I could preach that sermon' - not 'I could never preach that sermon'.

Sometimes the answers are a lot closer to home than America, or somewhere else in the West. Sometimes partnership will mean receiving 'the answers' from elsewhere in the majority world. I love being part of seminars and forums and consultations that enable this West-less interchange to take place among our trainers and coordinators - like these photos suggest:

Samoeurn (Cambodia) with Alex (Peru)
Dil (Guyana) with Richard (South Sudan)
At this conference I was disappointed that effective indigenous, grassroots ministries in the majority world did not live more in the limelight. For example, take the two in the photo below: Devender, with the School of Biblical Teaching in North India, and Qaiser, with the Open Theological Seminary in Pakistan. Remarkable stories - but also accessible, aspirational stories that would have assisted the multitude of people, at the conference, living and working in similar settings with similar challenges.

With Devender (India) and Qaiser (Pakistan)
So it is about moving beyond one-way resourcing to partnership where things flow both ways and where we feed each other's aspirations by keeping the currency being exchanged in the partnership accessible. The way to get started? Maybe it begins not so much with the generous desire to give resources, but with the humble desire to share friendship. Maybe there needs to be friendship before resourcing just as there needs to be partnership beyond resourcing...

nice chatting



Unknown said…
Great Reflection. Thanks Paul. I have many American friends who understand the issues here and have shifted significantly but there is still a long way to go, not only for Americans or Westerners. I am as embarrassed by some from my own country who impose they way they do ministry on others , with all the cultural underpinnings. Done this way, as is often the case, the vehicle of delivery undermines both the heartbeat and ethos of the gospel. We all need to practically demonstrate more and more that 'at the foot of the cross the ground is equal.' -Femi
Yes indeed, Femi. Thanks for this little reminder that these issues are a challenge for ALL of us. - Paul
Jesus' Gypsy said…
Very insightful, polite and lovingly put. I wish more Western (I shy away from putting this all on American) missionaries would read this.
Thanks - appreciate this reflection very much. I've had one or two conversations about 'America' as a result of this post! But I am engaging with a specific event here, rather than making general comments. And the event was organised by folks from the States and they had a strong presence in the event as well. For example, I think I can remember hearing a British voice only once in public ... in eight days. So as I try to emphasise, these are issues for all of us - and not all Americans make these mistakes :). The one to whom I am married certainly doesn't! Thanks again - Paul

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