Transformational parnership

When I worked in Congo, we partnered with another organization to translate Luke and produce the Jesus’s Film in ten languages.

Congolese women glued to the Jesus Film in their language at the dedication ceremony

It went pretty well until we got past the recording stage and were working on planning the showing of the films. The representative of the other organization for Congo informed us that most people only view the Jesus Film once. Because of that, he said, it is very important to to make sure that there be a system to identify and counsel people who make a decision for Christ, similar to what is often organized for evangelistic campaigns. For the same reason, distribution should be tightly controlled. The representative preferred that the film be given only to trained protection teams who would travel with projection equipment from place to place. Our Congolese church partners would have to implement this phase, but they had other ideas. They thought that people would watch the film many times, so they preferred that many copies be given away for free. Besides, this approach would cost far less. The other organization strongly opposed these ideas.

So, we have a large Christian organization with decades of experience showing the film insisting on one plan, but churches with no experience wanting a very different plan. It seemed crazy to argue that we should abandon the advice of an organization with so much experience in favor of a untested idea from those with no experience. But that’s what we did.

In the end, DVDs of the film were distributed widely for free. People watched it multiple times. In fact, some watched it so often that they memorized it. We had reports of illiterate adults and even children quoting Jesus’ words verbatim in response to something happened. We had every indication that the film was getting Jesus’ teaching deeply into society and people’s minds and hearts.

In hindsight, it seems that the other organization had proposed a way to distribute the film that fit well in places where people have many films available in their language (watch it once or twice), but couldn’t predict how people would use the film when it is the only film in their language (watch it over and over). Also, the organization saw the film as having impact in evangelism, but its actual impact was in discipleship of believers. Note that none of the languages involved had a translation, so the Jesus Film, which is taken directly from the Gospel of Luke was the most available Scripture.

In the same vein, I read a report of an international evaluation undertaken by a US-based Christian ministry. One of the ministry’s overseas partners was not running their program according to norms; so much so that the ministry was about to sever relations. But the evaluation showed the program run the “wrong” way by the “faulty” partner got the better results than any other program around the world. Furthermore, the evaluator concluded that the excellent results were attributable to the supposedly incorrect methods of the partner.

From my Congo experience and others, and from reading the evaluation, I propose the following conclusions which are also challenges to Western missions and churches partnering with churches overseas.

  • If a Western mission has a partnership with church or ministry in another country, and that partnership is not transforming the Western mission, then the Westernern mission is probably not as effective as it should be. It might not be engaged in true partnership.
  • If the western agency is always doing things the way they know will work, even when partners on the ground in another country want something else, then it is probably not as effective as it should be. The western agency needs to find a way to open itself to risky new ideas, to experiment.

Fixing things

When we worked in Burkina Faso we quickly noticed that people would repair things that we would have thrown away. They could repair things that we thought irreparable.

I had a little motor scooter and the blinker stopped working. I took it to my mechanic and left it with him while I went off to run an errand. I came back to find that he had removed the blinker unit. But instead of replacing it, he had peeled the outside cover off and he was fiddling with the bi-metal strip inside. It had never dawned on me that one might try to repair the blinker unit. I asked him if he would be able to repair it. “Of course” was his answer. “How long will it last?”, I asked. When he said that it would probably last a few months, I suggested that I might want to buy a new one. At this point I learned some key local vocabulary. “Well,” he replied, “you should have said right off to replace it, but you said to fix it.’

Dayle and Matthew on our Ouagadougou scooter

On another occasion the tie-downs for the battery on a vehicle broke, allowing the battery to slide over into the little fan on the alternator which ate a hole through the battery case, spewing battery acid all over. We got the vehicle back into town and to our mechanic. When we went to pick it up, the bill for the repair was very small. We were surprised because batteries cost at least three times the price in the US. So we asked about the repair. We found out that they had repaired the hole in the side of the battery using an acetylene torch and then refilled the battery with acid! When I asked how that repair would hold up, I was told that it would last the life of the battery. They never seen this repair fail. Our pocketbooks were happy for local ingenuity and the repair never did fail.

When the steering on my car got some looseness in it, I took it to that same mechanic. Again, the repair cost almost nothing. “What did it need?” I asked. “Adjustment,” was the response. Great, I thought. But a few weeks later it was loose again and needed another adjustment. The third time it happened, I asked for more details about the adjustment. The problem was the tie-rod ends which have a ball and socket. They were worn out, so to tighten them they would pound on the outside of the socket to cause it to collapse on the ball and make it tight. I thought, “No wonder I see cars beside the road broken down with one front wheel pointing at a sharp angle.” The pounding weakens the metal and it will eventually fail, liberating the wheel from the control of the steering. It is not a liberation you want. Again, the mechanic was happy to replace the parts instead of “fixing” them, but it cost quite a bit more.