by Justin Lonas
When many churches think about their involvement in missions, their idea is some combination of supporting individual missionaries who have a connection to the local body, sending short term teams to various locations at home and abroad, and broad-based giving to a denominational or independent mission board.
While those avenues have tremendous merit and have been greatly used by the Lord to spread the gospel, there is another method that has the capacity to tie the three together and set a local church on fire for the Great Commission-partnership.
By partnership, I mean a long-term commitment between a local church in the United States and a ministry or local church in another country (or another part of the U.S.). Such a relationship allows churches to build trust with those to whom they minister and focus their efforts in ways that "backfield support" doesn't permit. The long-term commitment gives churches the opportunity to see, over time, the results of the prayer, time, and finances they've invested.
I've seen this model work in a powerful way in my home church through our partnership with AMG International's work in Grande Bassin, Haiti. This began when our church approached AMG with a desire to take a short-term team overseas to help motivate the church to fulfill the Great Commission. AMG's missions department selected several projects for the church to choose from, and, after much prayer, the Lord led the church to Haiti. Up to that time (spring, 2006), AMG had not had any interest in short-term work in Haiti (a country renowned for instability, corruption, and poverty), despite promising reports from the national staff there. The Lord's timing, however is always perfect.
When the church sent its first team in October 2006, they found a passionate, Spirit-filled national staff with a vision for their community and country and a ministry ready to impact Haiti for Christ. The first team assisted with the construction of a medical clinic and visited with children at AMG's school adjacent to the construction site.
That first trip alone had the desired effect on the congregation: people began to sponsor children at the school and pour donations into the construction of the clinic. Almost as soon as the team returned, the church began making plans for a second trip.
In April 2007, the second team from the church went to Grande Bassin, armed with knowledge of the community and its specific needs provided by the first team. This group was able to assist in putting a roof on the clinic building and set up shop in the church there to provide basic medical care to the community while they were there. When they returned, more children were sponsored, more funds were raised, and the possibility of another trip to provide more extensive medical care was discussed.
The third team (of which I was privileged to be a part) returned in April, 2008. This group was able to work in the very clinic building that the previous teams had worked on and provided fairly thorough medical care to over 300 people in just a few days.
The effects of this partnership are ongoing. After just two years, over 20 people from a church of 200 have served in Haiti, and church members have sponsored over 70 children at AMG's school. The church here has been able to provide wells to give the people of Grande Bassin access to clean water. More trips are planned in the future, not only to continue the medical work but to distribute food to widows and orphans (in light of the recent worldwide spike in food prices), to start a Bible school program among the town's children, and to do evangelistic work.
Doors continue to be opened as the people there have learned to trust outsiders and welcome the help they bring to the community. Because we work through national workers, they see us as servants and helpers rather than controlling foreigners. This makes the work of short-term teams flow very smoothly and enables them to accomplish much more than a "one-shot" mission trip could do. In addition, other churches in our area have caught the vision for Haiti and have begun their own partnerships with AMG there.
The intimacy and accountability of long-term commitment to a project greatly impact both the sending/sponsoring church and the church or ministry on the receiving end. The call of both is heard with enhanced clarity and the Lord is glorified.
Justin Lonas is publisher of Pulpit Helps