In the Jan/Feb edition of New World Outlook Magazine, Edgar Avitia writes about how the General Board of Global Ministries and Methodists in Latin America are creating strategic plans for ministry.
"Building a mutual relationship was much more important than building a row of churches," says Avitia.
In the exerpt below he tells the story of how the North Georgia Conference has partnered with Methodist churches in El Salvador:
Some of our efforts in redefining partnerships have had success. For example, the church in El Salvador is very young and has a lot of young clergy. The strongest area of Methodist work in El Salvador is in the city of Ahuachapan rather than in the capital city, San Salvador. The Methodists in Ahuachapan caught the attention of some US churches; but the head of the Salvadoran church there, to avoid problems, avoided any engagement with churches north of the border.
The North Georgia conference expressed a desire to begin work in partnership with the El Salvadoran Methodists. Since North Georgia is a large and strong conference, the Church in El Salvador feared being overwhelmed. Its leaders and members doubted their ability to handle such a lopsided relationship, so they were leaning toward an answer of “no.” But, sensing that reluctance, the people in North Georgia and their bishop, Michael Watson, backed off and proceeded with care. They sent smaller delegations, one at a time, just to establish a relationship, and they refrained from planning any projects. Bishop Watson himself visited Ahuachapan at least three times over two years. The El Salvadoran Methodists felt honored by his presence and interest. I visited them recently, and it was clear that they were beginning to feel that Bishop Watson was one of their bishops.
So Global Ministries has been helping to make that careful and mutually respectful connection between the conferences. After about two years, the North Georgia team met with the national Methodist board in El Salvador and talked about signing a national covenant. Little by little, delegations from Georgia have visited El Salvador and a relationship has been slowly forming. Now the two sides are ready to sign a covenant of mutual support. They want to pray for and to resource one another—making their visits an experience of spiritual growth for both partners. The North Georgia Conference will not come in as a Lone Ranger and start building in El Salvador. Instead, the Global Ministries Board of Directors just approved the purchase of land requested by the church in Ahuachapan, and the North Georgia Conference plans to help the El Salvadoran church build there.
Through this gradual growth in trust, the smaller church has not been overwhelmed. In fact, it has been strengthened by the responsibility it has taken and the decisions the partnership encouraged it to make. Building a mutual relationship was much more important than building a row of churches. Because of the strength of this partnership, and because it was formed mutually and organically within the Methodist connectional structure, Global Ministries can now relinquish some of its work of coordination.
In other places, where new churches do not yet have mature leadership but where struggling congregations may want to get something and US churches may want to give something, we are likely to end up with a lot of white elephants—things built with no strategy behind them and with no connection to the larger church that might sustain them.
Read the full story from New World Outlook Magaine's Jan-Feb 2013 issue at: http://www.umcmission.org/Find-Resources/New-World-Outlook-Magazine/2013/Jan-Feb-2013/Training-Church-Leaders.
The Rev. Edgar Avitia Legarda is the Executive Secretary in Mission Relationships for Latin America and the Caribbean, General Board of Global Ministries. Pictured is Dr Juan Quintanilla, Associate Director of New Church Development for the North Georgia Conference, welcoming students to the Course of Study for Central America. Photo: Courtesy Methodist Church in El Salvador.