It's hard to know what to say about two Churches of Christ partnering in a missions endeavor. Our fellowship has a lot of water under the bridge on that particular point. Yet, the thing that makes it hard to find the words is the very same thing that makes it such an exhilarating, beautiful thing. Perhaps "exhilarating" and "beautiful" are not the words that those involved in working out the practical details of partnership would choose, but they are the right words in my view.
As Cedar Lane and Shiloh Road proceed to develop a mutual understanding of missionary care, accountability, and so on, more and more time and energy is expended for the sake of empowering the best possible work in Arequipa. The cost of the process raises a reasonable question: Is there an easier way to do this? Certainly, we could conceive of each church taking care of a missionary family, which would seem to entail less difficulty. There are probably other options as well. The team asked for the present arrangement, however, and I want to share some of our reasons.
When we began fundraising, we did not know whether Shiloh or Cedar Lane would be in a position to focus their missions efforts on us. We always believed, though, that it is only fitting for the churches that raised us to follow through, so to speak. Even if none of us had heard it explicitly, it was clear that we had been formed spiritually with intentionality, if not specifically for this task, then for this kind of task. The next step for a church that successfully produces missionaries is to send them. Of course. It strikes me as the most natural thing, then, that two churches with missionaries on the same team would combine their efforts. It is a sign of the oneness of God and his Kingdom, which is bigger than any of our local concerns.
But that leaves these good churches supporting us simply because of who (and what) we are. In fact, we asked both churches to support the work rather than the missionaries. Dr. Huffard spoke about this persuasively during his Saturday morning session. The sending church's partnership is with the planted church rather than planters. Such Kingdom vision is long-term, not contingent upon what field workers come and go, or what moments seem to be successes or failures. The mission is done when the work is done, not when particular missionaries come off the field. To encourage this approach, we avoided dividing up our support needs by family. We asked both churches to share the burden of the whole, and they have risen to that challenge. In turn, they find themselves in a partnership with each other as well.
In addition to these both being our home congregations and the fittingness of supporting the work rather than a family, one other point contributes to my choice of adjectives. It is that, despite our collective history, despite often ill-conceived notions of congregational autonomy, despite the anxiety that cooperation always entails, I get to witness the unity of purpose in the mission of God between these Christians that is the essence of God’s universal Kingdom. There is nothing more godly than the kind of unity that lets people know about Jesus (Jn 17.23).
By way of update, three of the Cedar Lane elders—Tom and Linda Clark, Ken and Suzanne Smith, and Steve and Margaret Bills, along with Mrs. Clark's mother, Jewell Rives—attended the "Taste of Arequipa" dinner night. They also took the opportunity to meet with the Shiloh elders. Ken Smith extended a brief greeting and statement about partnership with Shiloh during the Sunday morning assembly. This was the formal beginning of what we hope will be a long and fruitful relationship. We are grateful to those who made the long trip in order to make it happen.