In his first letter to the church at Corinth, Paul reminds that body of early Christians not to be focused on who gets the credit for ministry that is happening. It’s true, he says, that “I planted.” But “Apollos watered” and, most importantly, “God gave the growth”(1 Corinthians 2:6). EMM’s desire is that the world would be full of disciples making disciples. We want to faithfully do our part in that grand mission. But we recognize that many other organizations are doing their part as well. It’s our joy and privilege to partner with like-minded believers whenever possible, more concerned with the spread of the gospel than who gets credit for it. We recognize that while we have gifts and resources to offer, we have much to learn and gain from others’ contributions and from walking this path of discipleship together.
The work among the Isaan people in Thailand is an example of a fruitful, ever-changing partnership. The Isaan are an unreached people group of more than 18 million people living in Thailand and Laos. Less than one percent are known to be Christians. Skip and Carol Tobin were sent by EMM to Det Udom, Thailand, in 1995 and began to share about Jesus to Isaan people who had never heard the gospel. They planted and watered and God brought the growth, eventually resulting in the founding of the Life Enrichment Church (LEC). That church movement is Thai-led and is now a mission partner of EMM. Nimit and Mai are young Christians who live in the Pho Si Suwan district. They are being trained by EMM workers Andre and Karen Provost in disciple making and have developed a plan to reach all 80 villages in their district with the gospel. It’s a partnership between LEC, EMM, and the churches of this district that God is using to bring growth!
Another partner in the Isaan work is Virginia Mennonite Missions (VMMissions). VMMissions plays a vitally important role in sending and supporting workers from Virginia churches to serve there. Mark and Sarah Schoenhals and Steve and Bethany (Horst) Tobin are long-term workers among the Isaan who benefit from being connected to each agency. The circle of people who know, support, and pray for this work is increased greatly by the involvement of multiple agencies and church conferences. To further develop, support, and encourage the Jesus movement started among these people beloved of God will continue to require the united effort of EMM, VMMissions, LEC, and other potential partners — we need all hands on deck!
Other Anabaptist agencies are also frequent partners in various contexts. For example, EMM recently joined Mennonite Mission Network in appointing a family to serve in France and West Africa. Similar partnerships have been fruitful with Rosedale International. In many countries, MCC workers are important counselors and fellow workers. In Central America, EMM partners with VidaNet in their work of discipleship and mission training in Costa Rica. EMM recruits, trains, and provides support to staff workers, while VidaNet directs the on-site ministry. When it advances the mission, EMM also partners with non-Anabaptist agencies who share our values.
EMM is also committed to always working alongside national partners in coaching, training, and encouraging the local church as they fulfill God’s mission. Partnership agreements, reviewed regularly, clarify how we will work well together. For example, EMM and the LEC in Thailand have had a Memo of Understanding (MOU) ever since 2009 that states: “The very fact of this MOU is evidence of our commitment to walk in a relationship of respect and transparency.” Such agreements may sound mundane, but in them, we honor each other by being clear about how we will live out our commitments.
In the U.S., EMM’s work is also deeply dependent upon partners who share our mission values. This dependency is a strength, not a weakness. No ministry of EMM happens without the partnership of the many churches that support the work of EMM through prayers, sending of workers, and finances. Most of what happens at the new hospitality center at 450 North Prince Street (Hub 450) will be the work of partners in the city who share our desire to bless the various communities in Lancaster. Sometimes we will plant, and sometimes we will water, and sometimes we will just till the soil — and when growth happens we will give praise and credit to the One who brings the growth.
“Partnership” is often messy. Discerning who should do what, navigating multiple organizations’ protocols, maintaining good communication with all stakeholders — all bring the certainty of increased work and the likelihood that at some point there will be miscommunication or divergent perspectives. To be blunt, it’s often easier to work alone, as any teenager forced to work on a group project will tell you. But easier is not always better. The opportunity for listening, learning, and growing together as we partner makes the extra effort more than worth it.