by EMQ editor
Ajith Fernando, national director of Youth for Christ in Sri Lanka, spoke about partnership and related issues during a recent visit to the Evangelism and Missions Information Service office in Wheaton, Ill.
What is happening in regard to partnerships in Sri Lanka?
Some of the more affluent countries are developing partnerships with organizations and churches in Sri Lanka. So I think this has been a very exciting thing—a much bigger flow of resources—not only money, but expertise, in recent years.
How do they do that with the confidence of being able to understand the situation in the country and basically knowing that they’ll be doing more good than harm?
These are the things that have been a concern for me. As far as I can see, the basic way to do this is to develop good fellowship with the leaders of the two groups developing into a partnership—to really become brothers and sisters in Christ. That takes time. It’s not something that is forged by signing a contract or by a quick visit. That is what I would like to see happen. For that, they have to come to our country. It’s a little complex, in that most often these people stay in hotels, which removes them from the people. I think it’s much nicer if they can stay in our homes and become part of our people. These are things that people have to be aware of and be sensitive to.
Another concern is that in our part of the world, it’s possible for people to abuse this type of relationship. My father, who has been involved in the evangelical movement for years, said once, “People start a very good work and are reaching out to the lost, and fantastic evangelism is taking place. Then somebody who wants a contact in our country gets in touch with them from abroad. From there, they keep going down.” There’s a possibility that locals could get removed from the people because of their contacts from abroad. This is an area of concern. We are having leaders who are like benefactors because now they have Western contacts. They just go up above the rest of the people in the country. Their lifestyle is much better. Then they become benefactors rather than co-workers. The other colleagues depend on their generosity for their survival. These colleagues, on their part, are looking for some foreign contact so they can come into this level of being a benefactor.
I don’t think that because of this we should stop foreign assistance, but I think foreigners have to be very cautious. For example, they come to our country and live and move around with our leaders. They see the difference in lifestyle. I think they feel a bit guilty that they are living in such a better situation. So they tell them, “You shouldn’t be going about in a car like this.” They will give them money and tell them the money is for a new car, but to buy that car might hinder the local ministry. These are areas where sensitivity is needed. I feel some damaging things are happening right now.
What do you think potential Western partners should do to avoid that kind of thing?
The whole thing that partnership requires is spiritual heart fellowship, where you get into a country and get the feel of the people, and that takes a lot of time. I think those who want to establish relationships will have to be willing to invest time so that the relationship is not just a business relationship. Our people don’t work on business relationships. I notice that a lot of people sign partnership agreements, and that’s something new that I’ve noticed in recent years. I think it’s a very good idea that people have (their agreements) in black and white…but that’s not the way our people operate in their relationships. Somehow, we need to make sure that our leaders don’t get divorced from their own people by going on to a different (economic) level. We are seeing a lot of that happening. The leader has become like the king of the kingdom, and everybody looks up to him or her as the benefactor.
Can you name one or two partnerships that you’re really impressed with and that you like?
I have seen some churches who send their people and they stay maybe a week or two and really try to get to know the people. They become friends with them. If there is a staff conference or something, they will stay in the conference site even though it is extremely inconvenient for them where they aren’t used to such facilities. I have seen people do that.
By and large, I think Western people get deceived very easily. That’s my perception. Very often, those who impress a Westerner are people that our people are very suspicious of. For some reason, Westerners get impressed by these people. That is why I think they are often taken for a ride. Sometimes they end up feeling that you can’t trust an Asian because they are not trustworthy. The problem is they trusted the wrong people.
What kinds of things are Westerners impressed with?
It could be that these people can speak well and are good in English—the motivator type. They can present their program in a very exciting way. Generally, I think this country looks very much for people who are motivated. Expressions of motivation have to be verbally expressed. If it’s not, they may feel that someone is not really motivated.
Is there anything else you’d like to add about this topic?
Yes. I don’t want to be seen as somebody who is against partnerships, because I think this is one of the exciting developments of the last few years. The thing that I’m concerned about is that it doesn’t get derailed by wrong procedures. I think marketing has become a very important aspect of missions. I accept that. Because of marketing, funding can go to projects that may not necessarily be the type of projects that should be funded.
In their eagerness to have a person in a country and a presence in so many countries, sometimes they might break principles. They might take a person from a church by offering a salary that is maybe 10 times the salary he gets in the church. That is really difficult for people to resist, especially if they have children to look after and the church is not able to pay them enough. The eagerness to make this look good so that you can raise funds for it tends to result in very precious money going to the wrong sources.
Copyright © 2001 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.