The changing approach to cross-cultural partnerships

July 22, 2014

United Methodists have been working together in mission since the beginning of our denomination. Our founding fathers and mothers felt it was important to bring good news to the poor and free those who were oppressed through acts of mercy, compassion, and justice. Indeed, it has been said by many in the Minnesota Conference that it is what we do well. We participate in these ministries locally, nationally, and internationally. People’s hearts are moved in various ways and, following God’s call, serve in all parts of the world.

In the past 20 to 30 years, local churches and districts in Minnesota have formed intentional (official and unofficial) cross-cultural partnerships with Christians in Bolivia, Costa Rica, Haiti, Jamaica, Liberia, Mexico, Russia, and Sierra Leone, to name a few. Partnerships with Honduras, Laos, Vietnam, and Thailand have recently emerged or are emerging. (To read more about the Vietnam partnership, click here. If you want to learn more about any of the emerging partnerships, please contact me: or 612-230-6129.)

Despite our rich history of cross-cultural partnerships, how we do things is changing as we go. The traditional approach to mission was often donor-directed, needs-based, short-term relief. More and more, it now emphasizes locally-empowered, asset-based, long-term development. Instead of a simple donor-recipient model (including both financial and volunteer labor resources), it involves sharing between groups of people across two cultures. It acknowledges the God-given gifts of all involved. There are several ways in which this plays out:

1) Long-term relationships with one another become a high priority.

2) All parties carefully listen to one another as equal parts of the body of Christ.

3) The focus is more on eliminating root causes than providing quick fixes.

4) Missioners do not do for local people what they can do for themselves. Local people are trained and empowered to improve their lives and develop their own churches, schools, agricultural programs, etc.

5) The ownership of the ministry project rests not with the donor, but with the recipient. Recipients are the leaders called by God to nurture the mission in their own community. The donors are “working themselves out of a job,” seeking neither credit nor control, and all partners are sharing in the blessing of a job well done together.

6) The goal of each missionary effort is that it becomes self-sustaining. 

Practically speaking and as an example, this means we are together planting avocados in Jamaica to be a cash crop to provide funding for schools. This means we are together establishing micro-loans for the women of Southeast Asia. This means we are together training and hiring laborers in Haiti and lay pastors in Costa Rica. This means we are together starting sewing coops in Sierra Leone. 

Churches in Minnesota and all of these countries are forming cross-cultural partnerships using these emerging principles. By the way, all of them also apply to our national United Methodist efforts as well as those right in our own back yard. If you want to learn more about them, read about the “In Mission Together” program through the General Board of Global Ministries.

As always, I invite your questions and comments. 

Lyndy Zabel is director of missional impact for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church

122 West Franklin Avenue, Suite 400 Minneapolis, MN 55404

(612) 870-0058