I like that we refer to our relationship with other Salvation Army territories as Partners in Mission. It’s a lovely idea. The problem is that we often don’t act like great partners. Perhaps because the imbalance is so economically visible and we over-emphasize the financial appeals, we tend to make our partnership all about money. Now, don’t get me wrong, it is about money. The western world has 90 percent of the world’s financial resources. We spend more money on bubble gum in North America than it would take to purify unclean water in the rest of the world. So, it’s only fair that we share. But partnerships are much more than that.
Relationships based solely on money aren’t partnerships, they are transactions. Real partnerships are based on respect and sharing. This is essential for us to understand because if anyone needs a Partner in Mission, it’s Salvationists in the West. A few years ago while serving in Australia, I participated in a discussion about what being a good partner meant for the Australia Southern Territory. To learn more, I went with a team of leaders to Zambia on a mission experience. The idea was that instead of going to Africa as teachers and/or rescuers, we would go as students. We hoped that if we walked a mile in the shoes of a Zambian Salvationist, then perhaps we could form a relationship that would foster respect and a sharing of resources in both of our territories. It was an incredible experience, but also a very difficult thing to do. For years the relationship between the developed and developing world has primarily been about money and power, with the “haves” and “have-nots.” It leaves us with money to give and the developing world with money to beg for.
On our first night, we were introduced as great leaders from Australia who had come to teach the Zambian Salvationists. I responded right away that we were deeply privileged and honoured at the humility of our hosts. The truth was that we had come to learn from Zambia. The people were confused. What could you learn from Zambia? was the unspoken question hanging in the air.
So, I told them the truth. I knew that in Zambia there was a lot of corps growth. They had corps full of people but not enough buildings to hold them in. In fact, they often had to worship outside. In Australia (and other western countries), we had large, expensive buildings with little to no people in them. There was a stir in the crowd as people began to whisper among themselves in shock at the reality of our condition.
I went on. In Zambia there was an orphan crisis when HIV/AIDS became a horrible reality, wiping out a generation of parents. If you visit an average home in Zambia, it would have the family’s own children and many others—orphans who have become part of their home. In Australia (and the West), there are tens of thousands of orphans that no one will take into their homes. This time there was an audible gasp. Revelation was hitting us all. Finally I mentioned that in Zambia every person is part of a community. You care for each other. In the West, there are people who live completely alone, dying because they are so lonely.
The next night our host officer introduced us much more appropriately. “These poor Australian officers have come to learn from Salvationists in Zambia.” And we had. We were able to forge a relationship that was based on respect and shared learning, which was much more valuable than money. We needed to learn about community and social inclusion. We needed to learn how to grow corps with little to no economic resources. We needed to catch the vibrant spiritual climate of our Zambian friends. Yes, we needed to give what we had—our abundant financial resources. But we also needed to let Zambia give what it had—its abundant missional resources.
It’s time for us to become true Partners in Mission. What can you give? What can you receive? Let’s base all of our partnerships on respect, relationship and shared resources so that we can bring God’s Kingdom to earth as it is in Heaven.
Together with her husband, Major Stephen Court, Major Danielle Strickland is the corps officer of Edmonton’s Crossroads Community Church. She has a personal blog at djstricklandremix.blogspot.com.