Extending ministries

Thoughts From the Field

Seasoned stories and observations of the power of missions

A New Song

Rachel Bliss, Island Advocate for ReachGlobal

I WISH YOU COULD HAVE SAT IN on our recent Island Consortium meeting. Perhaps you would have been as riveted as I was by a short video clip of a sweet, toothless old fisherman, singing a song he had composed. This new believer from a Muslim unreached people group had recently surrendered his life to Isa al Masih (Jesus the Messiah). His story goes like this:

Not long ago, he was out with a crew on his small fishing boat when a monster storm washed him overboard. It was pitch black, so he couldn't see the boat, nor could his crew see him flailing about in the water. The storm was also too loud for his crew to hear his cries.

Suddenly, he heard a voice saying, "Call on the name of Isa." Desperate for his life, he did, and immediately, he saw the lights of his boat, his crew saw him in the water and he was rescued.

Sometime later he met a national church planter from the organization our consortium partners with. He pleaded to know who this Isa was who had saved him. He has now given his life to Christ and is singing His praises.

It reminded me of a verse we ask our consortium churches to use as they pray for the islands: "Sing to the Lord a new song, His praise from the ends of the earth, you who go down to the sea, and all that is in it, you islands, and all who live in them" (Isaiah 42:10).

That toothless fisherman had sung in a language I couldn't understand, but still God spoke to me: Yes, there are new songs being sung to Me in the islands.

At that same consortium gathering, we watched another short video of a religious leader who had also become a believer in Jesus. There he was, with the Book of Psalms open on his lap, singing in Arabic. He preaches about Isa in the local mosque and reads aloud about Him from the Koran. This respected religious leader has an apostolic heart to see his own people group reached with the good news.

As God raises up leaders from their own people groups, what is our part? Our part is not to be the frontline workers but to help believers give an answer for the hope in them. Over and over again we get stories from the field of people whom God is already calling; He's already giving them a desire to know who He is.

One man searched to know more about Jesus for 20 years and finally, finally, there was a church planter in his area who could explain who Jesus is. He immediately accepted Him and was baptized and is reaching out to his own people. He's clearly Spirit-empowered. I wonder how many others are also called and searching, but there is no one in their area to tell them.

Frankly, our strategy is not what is winning people to Jesus. The Holy Spirit is moving in people's hearts whether we're there or not. We in the Island Consortium consider it our privilege and responsibility to send more workers to the field that is so ripe.

2 Corinthians 4:1 says, "Therefore, since through God's mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart."

It's through God's mercy that we are given the privilege to be a part of what God is doing in the islands. It's not about us. It's about Him and the new songs that are being sung to His praise and glory.

Trips With a Vision

Kevin Kompelien, ReachGlobal International Leader for Africa

So much of this conversation about consortium is the local church in the United States recognizing that missions is beyond the traditional praying, giving, sending a few miscellaneous short-term teams and hoping God raises up a missionary from our church.

In any type of partnership, there's no substitute for face time. I think of one church that was part of a vision trip to Africa in February 2007. Back then, I'd take groups to four or five different countries. Two leaders from Valley Church (EFCA) in Vacaville, Calif., went with me to Rwanda, Sudan, Kenya and Tanzania.

Before the trip, they had been most interested in Sudan and Tanzania. They hadn't considered Rwanda and Kenya to be, in their own words, "throwaway days," but they weren't excited about them.

Well, when they got to Rwanda and connected with the people, they fell in love, and it was clear as a bell that's where they needed to partner.

You gain insight when you're on-site. There's no substitute for key leaders being on-site to see what's going on. You get to ask, "How do the needs of the national church dovetail with how God has gifted and wired our congregation?"

Hope for Those in Turmoil

Rick Schupp, Advocate for ReachGlobal's Middle East/North Africa Region

Suhayla's family was never political. They worked hard and minded their own business. When the conflict raging between the Syrian government and Syrian rebels reached her village, Suhayla and her family packed what little of their belongings they could carry and began a journey to escape. As they looked for transport to carry them to safety, Suhayla's son was hit by a stray bullet and killed.

Jalaal is someone who goes into difficult areas with food, blankets and other necessities for those suffering from loss. When the violence reached the village where his family lived, he decided to move them to safety so he could continue ministering without worrying about them. Shortly after the family left the village, armed rebels stopped their SUV and forced Jalaal out, blindfolded him and took him away. He was held prisoner for several days before he was released.

Who ministers to the Suhaylas of Syria? Who will stand with Jalaal and his family in the midst of such despair and heartache? Who will take the love and hope of Jesus to those who know such devastating loss?

A consortium formed with Lebanese churches allows ReachGlobal to touch people for the gospel in hard places. Our partners have a team of believers who minister to refugees fleeing from all over Syria. There is an increased openness to the gospel as the fighting continues. Pray that God will pour out His Spirit and also bring healing.

The Power to Spread God's Word

Chris Jones, Executive Director, North American Azerbaijani Network

Azerbaijan is a small country, but the Azerbaijanis are a widely dispersed people group, totaling more than 30,000,000 people worldwide. They are found primarily in Azerbaijan and Iran, but also in Iraq, Turkey, Russia, Georgia, Central Asia and the West.

In 1990 we knew of only 50 believing Azerbaijanis worldwide. Reaching the Azerbaijanis in each of their host nations in the traditional way (individually recruiting, training and sending) would have required massive centralized infrastructure, not to mention the budget of a small country.

Instead, many Christians worldwide wanted to see a collaboration. So they formed the Azerbaijani Partnership—six separate groups both inside and outside Azerbaijan, linked together—including the North American Azerbaijani Network.

Bible translation was an early priority. In 1994, several local churches and United Bible Society representatives together formed the Bible Society of Azerbaijan, and the partnership helped fund the translation of the majority language: Northern Azerbaijani.

The partnership also had working groups that focused on intercession, discipleship, church planting, human rights or mercy ministries—whatever was necessary to bring the gospel.

By 2009, only 15 years later, the Northern Azerbaijani Bible was in the hands of the people. To have the full Bible translated into a new language that quickly is truly remarkable and a testimony to the power of God's people working together.

In contrast, the Southern Azerbaijani translation has not had the same infrastructure or official base of operations. This has made the work of translation far more difficult. In fact, the printing of the full translation of the Southern Azerbaijani Bible is still a few years away.

A team working in partnership makes an enormous difference.

Gulshan Huseynova, director of the Bible Society of Azerbaijan, remembers the early years, when financing and other resources just weren't sufficient within the country alone. "People were waiting for the Bible," she remembers. "We felt shame for not being able to complete the work we started.

"We prayed a lot, and help came. The partnership gives the BSA an opportunity to give the Azeri people what's most important: the Word of God."

There are 12 other languages spoken in Azerbaijan that need translation. The beauty of this collaboration is that the team and infrastructure set up for the majority language can now be leveraged to work on other languages, so that the remaining peoples of Azerbaijan can have the Word of God.

The North American Azerbaijani Network operates as the hub of its own wheel with many spokes: local churches (including New Hope EFC in New Hope, Minn.), foreign churches and numerous international agencies. Over the last 10 years this group has raised more than $500,000 for the translation and distribution of Scripture.

Some things matter more than speed

Greg Carter, Missions Pastor at Liberty Bible Church (EFCA), Chesterton, Ind.

The oft-quoted African proverb is indeed true: "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together."

Liberty Bible Church is part of a larger network of American churches associated with different Filipino missions teams that are planting house churches. As the proverb says, it always takes longer when you are working with others. But you do so for reasons beyond speed:

  • Inviting others to be part of a partnership adds to the likely overall success, because everyone sees things differently. We have different vantage points and it shows, in a positive way.
  • Partnering with others also allows groups to be at the table who could not go it alone. In our case, we have a fairly small church that is now part of thoughtfully supporting a ministry far away and doing it effectively.
  • Being in partnership with others allows you to rejoice when they fulfill their role, and then they rejoice with you as well.

Had we stayed with the go-it-alone approach, we would not be this far along, nor would we have the breadth of interest that is being shown among several church bodies.

The Beginning and the End

Oscar Chiquitó Sabán, Missionary from the Evangelical Free Church of Guatemala, serving with Commission To Every Nation

It is important, in the beginning of a mission relationship, to define the term partnership and the roles of each partner, because many consider partnerships only as a way to receive/send funds. Another crucial aspect to discuss is an exit strategy, because not every partnership works out well.

Los Olivos Church (EFC), my home church in Sumpango City, Guatemala, is focused on meeting the spiritual and physical needs of people across this city of 35,000. This vision needs a lot of resources (human, physical, financial, etc.), and here is where partnerships play a crucial role.

Over the past six years, Los Olivos Church has been blessed to work with seven partners. Out of these seven, only one partnership did not work out well. This taught us that every partnership has to begin by also looking at the end. Including an exit strategy in a partnership agreement helps everyone to end a relationship with joy rather than anger.

An exit strategy should articulate:

1) the reasons for ending an agreement. Partnerships might end if the partners fulfill the specific goals of the agreement, if the projects become self-sustained or if there is disagreement between the parties.

2) how to resolve disagreement. Whatever the reason, both parties must be committed to address the situation in a biblical manner.

3) the priority of the gospel. With any mistake we Christians make, those looking on are likely to blame the gospel rather than us. Each party must therefore commit to keep a good testimony of the gospel even if all misunderstandings are not resolved. Keeping a good testimony involves not only not talking against each other, but also emphasizing the good work that both partners did during the relationship.

4) a desire that the ministry continues even if the relationship is broken. The apostle Paul said, "I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow" (1 Corinthians 3:6). God is the Lord of His ministry, and he chooses different people at different times to build His kingdom.

Taking a Step

More U.S. partner churches are always needed, especially as the EFCA launches new consortia and other kinds of partnerships in specific countries and among specific people groups. The first step is to contact EFCA CONNECT and engage in discussion about the part of the world where your church has a passion.

You can also learn more about missions partnerships through a five-week online course from CONNECT called "Healthy Missions Partnership." The material is presented via text, audio and video, including opportunities to interact with other participants and the facilitator.

"I wish I would have taken this course before our church ever entered into any missions partnerships," says Dave Wardle, missions pastor at The Orchard (EFCA) in Arlington Heights, Ill. "We would have done some things very differently."

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