Autor: Jim Thomas
To facilitate a truly global conversation, we ask Christian leaders from around the world to respond to the Global Conversation’s lead articles. These points of view do not necessarily represent Christianity Today magazine or the Lausanne Movement. They are designed to stimulate discussion from all points of the compass and from different segments of the Christian community. Please add your perspective by posting a comment so that we can learn and grow together in the unity of the Spirit.
Valdir Steurenagel is right to stand with many others who call for equitable relationships between churches and organizations of the West and those of the global South. Western cultures are notable for their self-assuredness, assertiveness, and belief that there is nothing they can’t fix. Non-Western cultures are more often deferential to guests, especially wealthy ones. The pairing of these two worldviews is a set-up for misunderstandings and unequal relationships.
Partnership sounds like a good alternative. The term evokes images of equality and shared goals. Or does it? I receive appeals in the mail on a regular basis from Christian and other nonprofit organizations, asking me to partner with them as they attend to some social need. What they envision, though, is a relationship in which I give money and they do work. That is hardly a partnership. It’s a transfer of funds, with the return of good feelings, occasional reports of the group’s achievements (with requests for more money), and a calendar at the end of the year. There are times when that is exactly the kind of relationship I want. But it’s not my idea of a partnership.
The word partnership, then, can hide as much as it reveals. It can confound as much as it clarifies. I now rarely use the word. Through my church and an organization I founded (Africa Rising), I have worked to build and nurture relationships between churches and organizations in Africa and the US. I have seen how using the term partnership early in a relationship can create misunderstandings that stymie the development of a genuine relationship. Two parties can have very different ideas of what partnership means. I prefer to talk instead of relationships and the virtues that enable good and healthy ones. Virtues like respect, honoring one another, giving the benefit of the doubt, and persistence — or, hanging in there when things get tough. These are the virtues that we talk about in friendships and marriages. The same should be true for international relationships. Valdir Steuernagel affirms such virtues when he speaks of listening well.
Steuernagel avoids suggesting there is a formula to listening well or developing a good relationship. But he also demonstrates that experiences he and others have had can be helpful to others. To put flesh on the lofty idea of equitable relationships, we need to share these experiences and insights. I’ll mention a few here.
All cultures have insights into God’s kingdom and all cultures have blind spots. By developing relationships across cultures and listening well to each other, we all stand the chance of more fully experiencing God’s kingdom. For Westerners and non-Westerners alike, the goal of our relationships is that our own lives and the lives of others might be transformed toward the likeness of Jesus. Christians of different cultures sacrificially serving each other are also a testimony of the unifying love of the Holy Spirit.
Jim Thomas is an associate professor of epidemiology and director of the Program in Public Health Ethics at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. He is also the founder and president of Africa Rising, an organization that enhances the impact of effective African organizations by extending their networks (africarising.org).