Exchanging Gifts and Practicing Hospitality: a Recipe for Partnership
There are two key moments in my life that have transformed the way I understand partnership in global missions. The first moment was 10 years ago when I was a student attending Urbana, Intervarsity’s missions conference. Pastor Oscar Muriu of Nairobi Chapel challenged all 22,000 of us in attendance when he compared the global Church to the global body of Christ. He helped me see that the African Church is a crucial part of the body, as is the North American Church. We can’t be the full body of Christ without exchanging our gifts and working together to build up the whole body.
This was an invitation for me to be in relationship with my African brothers and sisters as equal partners, which required a greater depth of humility and vulnerability on my part – to approach missions as a learner and recipient of gifts offered by the African Church. When I started living and serving in different African countries, I began to realize what some of those gifts are: a love of prayer and worship, deep surrender and faith, courage to practice both lament and hope.
Fast forward from 2006 to 2016. I am now serving as a United World Mission missionary with a Congolese-led partner ministry, Congo Initiative. Through our Christian university and other leadership initiatives, we are investing in a new generation of envisioned leaders who are building a flourishing Congolese society. It is here that I’ve been invited to work out what a gift exchange between different “body parts” looks like.
For the last three years, I’ve experienced a deep welcome into the lives of many people, both from Congo Initiative and UWM, and this has transformed my understanding of partnership a second time. I’ve learned that the practice of hospitality is essential to the creation of healthy partner relationships.
In Congo, hospitality has been significant for healing the wounds left by old missions paradigms that involved physical separation between missionaries who lived on mission compounds and local Christians who weren’t allowed to enter their homes. Just the very act of accepting an invitation to dinner in the home of a Congolese pastor and receiving my Congolese colleagues to share a meal at my house speaks volumes. It communicates that we are all members of one body with valuable lives to offer one another. It still strikes me that when I say thank you to someone here for hosting me, his or her response is often, “Thank you for accepting my invitation.”
And just as hospitality between UWM staff and Congolese staff brings us closer to healing from old wounds on an individual level, Congo Initiative’s commitment to welcome American church partners to come to see and join what God is doing here in Congo helps bring reconciliation to the Global Church. These church partners come bearing gifts of time, resources, teaching and research expertise, friendship and prayer to our organization when they visit us. But the paradigm of hospitality reminds us that our African partners are not only receivers. As Jean Vanier says: “Welcome is one of the signs that a community is alive. To invite other to live with us is a sign that we aren’t afraid, that we have a treasure of truth and of peace to share.”
My current role is focused on building partnerships locally and internationally for Congo Initiative, which involves communicating with and hosting people and teams from across the African continent, Europe and North America. It is a privilege to be a part of welcoming my brothers and sisters from around the world to come receive some of the same gifts I’ve received over the years from the African Church. I’m also aware of the generosity required by my Congolese leaders here in Congo both to give and receive. When Congo Initiative receives visitors, our leaders here allow them (and permanent international staff like me) to not only learn about their vision and culture, but through our gifts and contributions, to shape and influence it, too. They show me more of our hospitable God who not only created a beautiful world, but invited his creatures to be active members and participants in cultivating his creation.
The common value of partnership is the reason that UWM and Congo Initiative have decided to work together for the development of leaders committed to building a God’s kingdom in Congo. As you’ve already read, we have partners around the world who visit, pray and support us. If you would like to be a prayer partner with us, you may sign up for updates here: https://congoinitiative.org/receive-updates/.
By: Jessica Shewan, Serving in DR Congo
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