Establishing Equal Partnerships Through Training
by Malcolm Frazier
In the preface to Cross-Cultural Partnerships by Mary T. Lederleitner, Duane Elmer tells a story about speaking at a conference in Canada attended by Canadian missionaries and First Nations people. The conference theme was Partnership. When Duane asked the missionaries to define partnership, some of their responses included mutuality, sharing, respect, cooperation, and collaboration. After a long silence, a First Nations person said: “When we hear the word partnership, what comes to mind is that this is another way for the white man to control us.”
A well-regarded authority in the field of culture and cultural adaptation, Duane Elmer is a distinguished Professor of Educational Studies for the Ph.D. program at Trinity International University/Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He wrote that, in his 40 years of experience on the international scene, in many other parts of the world he had often heard that same negative sentiment expressed. In fact, the word control describes the nature of the colonial missionary model—a model characterized by superiority and dominance on the one hand and dependency on the other.
Unfortunately, remnants of this colonial model are still evident in our mission volunteer programs. As a member of the Key Performance Area (KPA) of Leadership Development in the Context of Mission, I have worked with my colleagues to identify ways of equipping volunteers for mission service while establishing and maintaining our partnerships. The overall purpose of the KPA is to strengthen Global Ministries’ and United Methodist Women’s roles in equipping laity and clergy for mission, whether working within or beyond the United Methodist connection.
One of our objectives is to critically study and integrate the mission education and leadership training that is done by Global Ministries and United Methodist Women. We are starting with Mission u (formerly the Schools of Christian Mission), the Young Adult mission program, and the United Methodist Volunteers-In-Mission. In part, this study will be done by sharing available training resources, both ones currently in place and ones being developed or enhanced.
One of the new resources is the United Methodist Volunteers-In-Mission Handbook. The current training resource is primarily a “how-to” manual, full of information and forms. While the materials provided are important, instructions that could help promote equal partnerships are missing. Far too frequently, the feedback we get from our receiving hosts is telling us not to send any more volunteer teams unless their members have been properly trained. To address these issues, a UMVIM Handbook Task Force was convened under the leadership of Una Jones, the Assistant General Secretary for Mission Volunteers. The task force itself is a form of partnership. It is composed of the five jurisdictional UMVIM coordinators, staff members from Global Ministries, and representatives coming from diverse geographical areas and bringing various perspectives. The task force also includes writers with expertise in theology, cultural awareness, spirituality, and social justice.
The task force’s rationale makes clear that the handbook will be a collaborative effort, more user-friendly than its predecessor and more relevant for our engagement in global mission. It must address the needs and concerns of both the UMVIM teams and their hosts at mission sites. Among the key statements in the handbook’s preface will be the following: “In service together, we will share the love of Christ. We will build relationship, experience grace, and develop a mutual trust.” This is the language of partnership.
When Helping Hurts
An article in the January/February 2000 issue of The Other Side magazine—“The Cost of Short-term Missions,” by Jo Ann Van Engen—is still highly relevant, illustrating the need for training that promotes partnership. The author tells the story of a Honduran friend who was a bricklayer and who hosted a mission team that had come to build two houses in his neighborhood. When Van Engen asked him about his experience, he said: “I found out soon enough that I was in the way. The group wanted to do things their own way and made me feel like I didn’t know what I was doing. I helped only on the first day.”
Because short-term groups often want to solve problems quickly, Van Engen says, they can make Christians in a developing nation feel incapable of doing things on their own. Instead of working together with the local Christians, many groups arrive with a let-the-North-Americans-do-it attitude that leaves their hosts feeling frustrated and unappreciated.
In the book When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, this syndrome is labeled labor paternalism. It occurs when we do work for people that they can do for themselves. The text also mentions other forms of paternalism. Knowledge paternalism occurs when we assume that we have the best ideas about how to do things. Resource paternalism involves our providing financial and material resources when the local people have resources of their own to draw on. Spiritual paternalism assumes that we have a lot to teach the materially poor about God and that therefore we should be the ones preaching from the pulpit, teaching Sunday School, or leading the Vacation Bible School. Finally, in managerial paternalism, we see the outsiders taking charge, particularly when it appears that nobody else is moving fast enough.
Unfortunately, the hurtful experience of the Honduran bricklayer is not unique. Well-intentioned teams often make the same mistake. As I was preparing a team for a short-term mission trip, the participants wanted to show the teachers at the placement site a new way of teaching. I asked them to consider how they would feel if a strange group of outsiders arrived wanting to show them something they already knew how to do. After some discussion, the team members decided to spend time with the local teachers, learning about their hosts’ methodology before sharing their own. Then the two groups could learn from one another. That is what a partnership looks like.
A team that is properly grounded theologically engages in mission in a mutually collaborative way—modeling the same solidarity as that of the Word made flesh. The Incarnation gives witness to a partnership between God and humankind, and the gospels contain many stories of Jesus among the people.
A team that is grounded culturally understands that each team member has a cultural identity that influences the way that person engages with another culture. Each member understands the various aspects and expressions of culture, along with ways to make effective cultural adaptations. A team grounded in social justice understands that addressing the visible symptoms of deprivation and oppression is just the first step. Addressing the systemic causes of these symptoms is essential. Finally, a team that is grounded spiritually is better prepared to cope with the emotional and physical stress its members are likely to encounter while on their mission trip. Then, when the team returns home, its members will have tools on which to rely as they ponder whether or not they are called to serve in mission.
The Individual Volunteer program allows people of various ages to volunteer for periods of two months to two years. The volunteers bring a vast array of skills and experience and serve in geographic regions around the globe. Before these volunteers are deployed, they are carefully screened and trained. Major components of the four-day training include mission theology, cultural competence, spirituality, child protection, and respect for boundaries.
One example of a good partnership formed through the Individual Volunteer program is the relationship between Global Ministries and the Amity Foundation. Headquartered in Nanjing, China, Amity is one of the most influential nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in China. Its purpose is to improve the development of China’s public welfare through education, social welfare, health, community development, environmental protection, and disaster management. Global Ministries has placed many volunteers through Amity in the past, and some are serving currently in the Teaching English program.
The well-developed Global Ministries/Amity partnership is evident to the volunteers even before they are deployed. Before being accepted into the Amity Foundation program, the volunteers must be endorsed by Global Ministries through the Individual Volunteer program. When their volunteer training is complete, Amity provides additional training, which includes TESOL (Teaching English as a Second Language), basic Mandarin language skills, and cultural awareness. So both partners play important roles in the training of all volunteers.
I visited this Global Ministry partner while a participant in the April 2013 Amity Foundation Easter Tour. The tour was conducted to expose existing and potential partners to some of the Amity Foundation’s work in China. We traveled throughout Beijing and Xi’an, visiting a home for children, educational programs, drinking-water projects, and rural development projects. Discussions are ongoing to determine how this partnership can be enhanced through Global Ministries’ potential engagement with other important work in which the Amity Foundation is involved.
Global Ministries’ relationship with some of our partners has been strained owing to the behavior of a few of our individual volunteers. Despite adequate training and orientation, cultural insensitivity and inappropriate use of power have adversely impacted the volunteer work at some placement sites. In cases where intervention has not successfully remedied the problem, Global Ministries has terminated the tenure of the volunteer. Even so, our partners still ask us to send new volunteers. This is a testament to the positive nature of our partnerships.
Global Justice Volunteers
The Global Justice Volunteer program is for young adults who serve for eight to ten weeks in various global placement sites. Critical themes of the program are solidarity, accompaniment, and reciprocity. The volunteers learn about what it means to be in ministry with partners rather than in ministry to or for them. They also learn to distinguish between justice and charity. Included in the weeklong training are such components as the United Methodist Social Principles, gender justice, migration, conflict management, and effective communication.
Most 2013 placement sites involve hosts with whom Global Ministries has partnered before, but one new placement site demonstrates the nature of our partnership. In reviewing the scope of work being done at our current placement sites, I saw that the important work of ending human trafficking was not included. Through United Methodist Women, I was referred to the Susannah Wesley Community Center in Hawaii, whose ministry addresses this issue. While there was great excitement for both members of the potential partnership—Global Ministries and the Susannah Wesley Community Center—the challenge of securing accommodations for our two Global Justice Volunteers remained. After weeks of negotiations and research, our new partner was able to locate affordable housing for the volunteers. This is another example of how a partnership works.
The Need for Training
I have covered the training for the United Methodist Volunteer-In-Mission teams, the Individual Volunteers, and the Global Justice Volunteers. Global Ministries places great emphasis on service, having as its mission goals “making disciples of Jesus Christ; strengthening, developing, and renewing Christian congregations and communities; alleviating human suffering; and seeking justice, freedom, and peace.” What warrants equal emphasis is how to achieve these goals. Teams and volunteers cannot simply show up at a placement site and start work. Without proper training for our mission teams and volunteers, none of our goals can be accomplished. Our partnerships depend on it.
The Rev. Dr. Malcolm Frazier serves as Executive Secretary for Mission Volunteers in Missionary Services, General Board of Global Ministries. This article was originally published in New World Outlook, September-October 2013 edition.
Chelsea Haag is a new global justice volunteer who is serving at Manos Juntas in Mexico with missionary Willie Berman. Photo: Chelsea Haag
Global Justice Volunteers, Class of 2013, in training. Photo: Malcolm Frazier
Malcolm Frazier with Miao Jianbing, a staff member of the Amity Foundation. Photo: Courtesy Malcolm Frazier
Participants in the Individual Volunteer Training sessions held in Florida in 2012. Photo: Courtesy Malcolm Frazier
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