Global Ministries

The United Methodist Church

Connecting the Church in Mission

‘When Helping Hurts’ Affirms 50/50 Mission Partnerships

By Sandra Brands

February 19, 2013 —When participants met for 50/50 partnership roundtables in November 2012, Randy Russ, chief operating officer for the Chalmers Center, joined them. Russ was invited to discuss the book, “When Helping Hurts,” and to help mission partners in the United States, Lithuania and Senegal develop long-term, meaningful and equal partnerships.

Russ talked about that partnership model at the Lithuania Roundtable held simultaneously at Trinity United Methodist Church, Huntsville, Ala., and Kaunas United Methodist Church, Lithuania, and again at Lodi United Methodist Church, Wisconsin, and Dakar United Methodist Church, Senegal. During the roundtables, partners engaged in discussions and joint worship through video Internet connection.

The General Board of Global Ministries’ 50/50 partnership model prevents churches from falling into the trap of paternalistic relationships that often develop between U.S. churches and international churches, Russ said.

“We [U.S. churches] don’t intend to harm people, but we end up in relationships with other churches that are dependency relationships, where money flows from the U.S. to the church abroad,” said Russ. He is a member of Centenary United Methodist Church, Chattanooga, Tenn., and a certified candidate for deacon in the Holston Annual (regional) Conference. “With money, comes power.”

United Methodists from U.S. and Lithuanian churches gather via Skype in Huntsville, Ala., and Kaunas, Lithuania, to worship, build relationships and share visions for mission and ministry at the Lithuanian Roundtable in November 2012.

Often that power translates into a series of projects, initiated by U.S. churches that may not consider the ministry needs and goals of the local international church. The project-based mission partnership encourages financial dependence on U.S. churches and, according to Russ, has in “some ways prevented them from developing their own talents, assets and financial resources to sustain their church.”

For example, Russ said, he visited a church in Africa where an organ, gifted by a U.S. church where organ music is important to worship, was tucked away in the corner, gathering dust. No one in the African church knew how to play it, and organ music was not part of the cultural or worship traditions.

“By listening and learning, you might find they had some other asset in their community musically which could have been developed in partnership instead of having them acquiesce to having a Western musical instrument,” Russ said. “The purpose of the 50/50 covenant and roundtable is to help [mission partnerships] be more equal, more participatory, more productive and sustainable over time.”

According to the Rev. Patrick L. Friday, coordinator of In Mission Together partnerships for Global Ministries, “When Helping Hurts” and the Helping Without Hurting network offer a framework for those engaged in short- or long-term mission work.

Building Relationships, Not Projects

In a 50/50 partnership, Friday said, the emphasis is on building relationships, not individual projects. “The relationship itself is the key,” he said. “If we work on the relationship from Day One, then the partnership has the potential to bear fruit for years to come in a healthy and fruitful way.

Bishop Christian Alsted of the Northern Europe and Eurasia Episcopal Central Conference addresses participants in the Lithuanian Roundtable in person at Trinity United Methodist Church in Huntsville, Ala., and simultaneously via Skype in Kaunas, Lithuania.“If we put relationships aside and assume that it will blossom out of working together on a project, that delays the impact,” he continued. “You lose the potential of what could be because you focus on the work itself. It’s a delicate relationship between partners. It takes time to build trust, to communicate effectively. We are on a journey with them. It’s their ministry, wherever they are, as they build up the church and God’s kingdom. We work alongside them; we facilitate; but at the end of the day, it’s the ministry God has called them to serve.”

A 50/50 partnership is a more holistic approach to mission based on growing together relationally and spiritually, Russ said.  As the relationship heals, it becomes much deeper, more satisfying and more fruitful.

“It ties into our head, heart and hands theology,” he said. “What I heard [members of international churches] say is they covet our prayers, they covet worshipping together, and they really would like to do Bible study together.”

The Chalmers Center for Economic Development, a nonprofit, nondenominational organization, equips churches with strategies to empower the poor and transform lives without creating dependency. The center created the Helping Without Hurting Network http://www.chalmers.org/hwh/homepage to help churches understand the difference between short-term relief missions and long-term sustainable and relationship-driven mission partnerships.

Russ will be a featured speaker at the In Mission Together Eurasia: 50/50 Roundtable at Christ United Methodist Church, Memphis, Tenn., April 26-27. For more information about the event or to register, visit the website.

For more information about 50/50 Partnerships, visit the Global Ministries website or contact Friday at PFriday@umcmission.org. Roundtables for those interested in developing mission partnerships are scheduled throughout the year.

Photos top: United Methodists from U.S. and Lithuanian churches gather via Skype in Huntsville, Ala., and Kaunas, Lithuania, to worship, build relationships and share visions for mission and ministry at the Lithuanian Roundtable in November 2012.
Credit: Patrick Friday
Bottom: Bishop Christian Alsted of the Northern Europe and Eurasia Episcopal Central Conference addresses participants in the Lithuanian Roundtable in person at Trinity United Methodist Church in Huntsville, Ala., and simultaneously via Skype in Kaunas, Lithuania.
Credit Patrick Friday