Believing that God has gifted believers to accomplish his work in the world, 127 Worldwide has come to several conclusions.
First, the western church cannot be the sole solution. If the body of Christ is specifically equipped for good work (2 Tim. 3:17) in the places God has ordained for us (Acts 17:26), then God’s plan for getting the gospel to the nations and restoring hope to humanity has to consist of a whole host of interdependent, cooperating characters. The answer to poverty in Latin America cannot only be that Christians in the US need to send supplies for basic needs. Getting clean water to villages in Africa can’t be done solely through foreigners taking two weeks off work to dig wells. The coming of God’s kingdom in places still untouched by the gospel can’t be fully accomplished by American churches sending missionaries. The global body of Christ needs all of its organs to function together.
Our partners’ roles within their ministries are each unique and vital to the mission. We could never step in and provide the quality of service that God has equipped them to do within their communities. He has granted our partners spiritual maturity and specialized skills that advance his cause and spur us on in godliness and faithfulness as well. Their work simultaneously blesses both the vulnerable in their communities and us, Christians who live thousands of miles away. Recognizing their contributions both to local ministry and to the global church prevents us from thinking we’re the only ones with something to offer.
We risk doing great harm in ministry when we ignore or sidestep the very people that God has placed in a location to carry out his mission. But when we choose to collaborate as brothers and sisters, we submit to the mission of God as he designed it. Collectively, we are his people, empowered by his Spirit, submitting our lives to his Word so that the world is radically transformed and his name is magnified. This conviction shapes not only who we partner with but how our role in the partnership fleshes itself out.
Second, our best ministry is one of presence and not intervention. At 127 Worldwide, two concepts you’re likely to hear repeated are that we value ministry of presence and mutually-edifying relationships.
First, we believe the best thing we can do for the body of Christ is to strengthen it in the places where it’s being extended. Rather than flying across the world with answers to complex problems we only know second-hand, we visit with the intent to encourage and to learn. We don’t believe that we could do the job better than the believers that God has chosen to care for the vulnerable and proclaim the gospel there. We come prepared to build up local leaders and to join them, not to intervene or commandeer the ministry God has given them.
Second, we prize mutually-edifying relationships. A baseline assumption of 127 is that as people created in the image of God and, even more, as members of the global church, our local leaders have something to contribute to us. We have much to learn from them. We pray our partnership in their ministry is distinctly marked by humility. Similarly, the people our partners serve have persevered through extreme hardships that most of us have never faced. They deserve our respect and are all capable of growth, creativity, and contribution. From a humble posture, then, we offer our education, our talents, and our experience as strengths that 127 partners can steward in their ministry. We trust that God will use those gifts for the good of his kingdom.
The fact is we don’t have all the answers. And how short-sighted God would have been to make it that way! Thankfully, he’s equipped his body in every place with what we need to be obedient, and he’s connected us as part of a global family to collaborate towards the fulfillment of his mission.
Third, this is a story about God. Christians in America aren’t cast as the savior, and our local leaders aren’t the protagonist of a feel-good underdog story. We are all supporting actors, called into specific acts of God’s larger drama of caring for the vulnerable and advancing his kingdom. Our roles aren’t permanent, and they aren’t universal as if we get to apply them wherever we want, whenever we want. Instead, we humbly submit to God and act as a specialized organ in his body, cooperating with all the others so that we serve his purposes and glorify his name.
Ultimately, partnership with local leaders centers on trusting that our God is at work in the world. If this is a story about us rescuing people in need, then we have to extend our abilities and our influence into every area we can. We have no choice but to rush in and save the day. But if redemption and restoration are really about God working out his plan through his people, then as Christians we will work hard at the task he’s given us without trying to usurp the role he’s given someone else.
Because this is ultimately God’s work, 127 Worldwide avoids verbiage about ourselves that we should attribute to him. We do not rescue or redeem. We simply play our part in the body that God is using to do all those acts. He is at work restoring hope to widows, orphans, and vulnerable communities, and he’s accomplishing that work directly through the global church. By recognizing 127 partners as the primary ministers and ourselves as their supporters, we remove ourselves from center stage and join the work in ways that foster respect, dignity, and love.