A New Framework of Relationship: Eurasia Collaborative Roundtable
by Christie R. House
I see these sessions as an alpha course for young Methodists. This is a new day—in which we can have a real partnership, a 50-50 framework. - Artur Rakhmanklov, a young Russian pastor attending the Eurasia Roundtable in Memphis, Tenn.
The Eurasia Roundtable, hosted by Christ United Methodist Church in Memphis, Tenn., opened the eyes of participants to new possibilities and new ways of living out partnership. For 20 years, since the establishment of The United Methodist Church in Russia after the Soviet Union dissolved, the Eurasia church has grown and developed with the assistance of US and European partner churches. Through the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries’ Russia Initiative, congregations in the United States partnered with new congregations as they developed in Russia, providing material support, pastors’ salaries, project funding, and volunteer teams to construct buildings. Meanwhile, over two decades, a European bishop was assigned, a new seminary was developed, Russian leaders were trained, and the church expanded beyond the boundaries of Russia into Ukraine and Moldova.
Today the Eurasia Central Conference has a Russian bishop, Eduard Khegay, who attended the roundtable in Memphis. In fact, about 20% of the 130 participants at the roundtable were from the Eurasia Central Conference. In addition, by using ooVoo for video conference calls, 60 more Russian members in nine different hub sites in Eurasia also joined the conference at various times to listen, participate, and join in the discussion. This brought the ratio of US to Russian participants closer to 50/50. Anton Kuzman, In Mission Together mission team coordinator in St. Petersburg, organized hub stations that joined from Kiev, Ukraine; and Lugansk, St. Petersburg, Moscow, Samara, Satka, Pskov, Tyumen, and Tomsk in Russia.
In the past, the Russia Initiative partner churches in the United States came together in consultation every two years or so to talk about the progress being made in Russia. Although there were generally a few Russians in attendance, the consultations were primarily organized by the US leaders involved in the Russia Initiative. This year, In Mission Together (IMT), Global Ministries’ coordinating arm for the global partnership program, adopted a roundtable model of conferencing and the Russian leadership organized much of the meeting and its agenda.
Helping, Not Hurting
In Mission Together, directed by the Rev. Patrick Friday, has been urging partner congregations around the world to adopt the 50/50 Partnership Covenant as a healthy model for working together. Most partnerships began as a 100/0 arrangement, with the more affluent and established US congregations providing salaries, projects, and even personnel, while the Russian congregations “received.” The transition to a 50/50 partnership model has meant that many congregations have had to rethink how they do ministry, both in the United States and in Russia.
Before arriving, participants were urged to read When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor . . . and Yourself, by Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett, and Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How to Reverse It), by Robert Lupton. The books provided a background for some frank discussion about partnership relations and the purpose of visiting volunteer teams. While many teams have focused on what they could do in Eurasia—build and renovate property, lead Bible studies, provide food, medicine, and other handouts—the authors proposed that the relationship that develops between partners is far more important than the material or financial resources that so many US teams set as high priorities. “Americans like to get things done,” said Patrick Friday. “They like to go home and report, ‘We did this!’ It is more difficult for them to grasp this slower, deeper way of doing ministry.”
Some of the representatives at the meeting, both Russian and American, had been together for 20 years. They had developed trust over time, but they could look back and see where mistakes had been made, where time had been spent on less important endeavors. The primary goal of working with a developing congregation should be to promote self-sufficiency, but by paying salaries and providing resources from the outside, the partners created dependency. A guiding principle in this model is not to provide for a community what it has the means to provide for itself. By doing so, well-meaning Christians deny their partners the opportunity to grow and develop their own support systems.
Dennis Fisher, from Denton, Texas, said: “It’s been interesting, having been at the last consultation and then this one. The direction toward self-sufficiency is the right one. I hope we don’t feel too beat up, over the last couple days, about having made so many mistakes over the last 20 years, because I think, maybe it was necessary to start that way. But the direction that we are headed now is a new direction and the right direction for all the right reasons. The creativity that all of us have to come up with our partner churches to reach 50-50 is the most important step.”
In response, a number of Russian participants encouraged their US partners not to worry about the mistakes, as through their efforts, God was at work, and many of them came to believe in Christ through the outreach. “It is the person who sits at home and does nothing who never makes a mistake,” said one woman pastor. Another said: “I want you to remember that mistakes, for me and for many Christians in Eurasia, are important. We learn from them. You have been an example for us and an illustration of the love of Christ and how God works for us.”
Start With What We Have
One of the methods promoted by When Helping Hurts… is to approach any new ministry opportunity with an asset-based assessment. What resources does the community already have that can be used to build up the church?
The Eurasia churches developed a Roadmap in 2009, working toward self-sufficiency by 2015. Bishop Khegay shared his vision of how far they have come on that road, how far they need to go, and how their partners could accompany them on the journey.
Margaret Hankins, from Greatwood Village, Colorado, said: “I wish I had had the material that you shared today 40 years ago, when I started my involvement with various missions, both local and global. I think the methodology is amazing.” Andrei Khen Su Kim, District Superintendent for St. Petersburg in Russia, asked why they should stop at 50/50. “It is really revolutionary,” he said. “We are talking about the new framework of relationship. I would like to say that it should not be 50-50, but 100-100. We want to invest 100%, just like you. We give 100% of our love, energy, and resources. You have invested 100% into us, and we want to do the same. Let’s make it 200!”
Christie R. House is the editor of New World Outlook magazine, a publication of Global Ministries.