09 October 2013

You keep using that word


When we describe our ministry, we emphasize that we primarily work with local partners.  For us, local means Slovaks or Czechs.  It's not that we're xenophobic or anything.  It is just that we have found that the long-term interest of someone who was born here, who lives here, and who will be buried here has an impact on the way they do church.  The discussion about contextualization can wait for another post though. This is about how the word 'partnership' is used.

In a conversation with a missionary from another organization, I was interested in the way they too emphasized the importance of their local partners.  Yet, as they described their ministry relationship with everyone they called a partner, it was clear that in their definition, 'partner' meant a local who was employed - either paid a salary or reimbursed for expenses - to do ministry.  Because of the setting was a majority-Muslim country, it meant that all ministry was conducted by local partners on the payroll of the foreign missionary.  The relationship of employer/employee or benefactor/beneficiary is not quite the image of partnership we should strive for.

I was interested in learning that when describing partnership in our context, the word we use regularly is, roughly translated, 'working together.'  A voluntary association of people or organizations sharing resources to accomplish a common goal.  There is another word, which is not used nearly as much any more, which also means 'partnership' but the burden of labor was clearly on just one side while the decision-making, goal-setting privileges were reserved for the other.  Both words could be translated into English as 'partnership', though one makes a mockery of the meaning of the relationship.

Then just yesterday we were enjoying coffee with one of our local partners and he was sharing his experience with an global organization he is affiliated with.  Each time he said, 'but we are partners' to describe the new stance of the organization's global affiliates, it was apparent that the balance between privilege and participation was heavily influenced by power - particularly financial resources.  The golden rule is anathema to partnership; The Golden Rule is imperative.  That is: he who has the gold makes the rules versus do to others as you would have them do to you.

Because of this, when I hear someone inviting us into 'partnership' with them in ministry or hear of the need for 'partnership', I am curious about what the relationship will look like.  Too often that word you keep using - partnership . . . maybe it doesn't mean what you think it means.