Bumping into Distinctives

Kylie Nguyen

Kylie Nguyen

I distinctly remember the first birthday party I attended at the local bowling alley. A herd of elementary schoolers shuffled around, hoisting neon bowling balls on toothpick arms. I stared down the lane, acutely aware that one misplaced step would cause an ego-obliterating wipeout in front of all my peers. With all the poise an eight year old could muster, I arced that six pound ball through the air in a perfect rainbow, and it crash landed in the middle of the lane before making a mad dash to the gutter. But at least I didn’t fall. 

Fortunately some compassionate employee activated the bumpers before my second debut at the lane. Those metal rails guaranteed that even the worst throw would knock down a pin or two. Bumpers have served me well at many a bowling game ever since, and two decades later, I appreciate them both in theory and in practice. 

Not unlike bowling alley bumpers, 127 Worldwide’s distinctives act as guardrails to our ministry that ensure everything we do stays on course to achieve the mission. We might zigzag down the lane, ricocheting off one side and then the other, but we won’t miss the pins entirely.

127’s four distinctives are:

1. We are committed to gospel-centrality as our primary motivation.

Gospel proclamation is central to the work of caring for the orphan and the widow because only Jesus Christ can restore hope to the suffering. As we seek to empower vulnerable communities, we hold out the gospel as the means to eternal flourishing.

2. We are committed to mutually-edifying relationships with effective local ministry leaders.

God has gifted believers all over the world to carry out his mission, and as locals, they are uniquely positioned to see and meet the needs of their own communities. We want to join what God is already doing through them in such a way that we learn from one another and grow together.

3. We are committed to education and discipleship to equip the global body of Christ.

We don’t have all the answers, but our combined years of ministry experience have taught us that learning and adapting are always the way forward. We prioritize training advocates and partners to implement best practices in working together and caring for the vulnerable.

4. We are committed to healthy engagement with vulnerable communities that encourages empowerment and preserves human dignity.

We seek to empower vulnerable communities with the skills and resources to tap into their God-given ability to contribute to human flourishing. We ask the hard questions about how our efforts achieve that end.

Distinctives Keep Us in Our Lane 

So many organizations juggle projects unrelated to their stated goals that nonprofit leaders coined the term mission drift. Only clear boundaries can distinguish between a good thing that is slightly off-course and the best thing that’s right on target. As 127 helps the global church work together to empower vulnerable communities, the distinctives protect us from drifting into lanes that don’t fit the mission. 

We can exclude projects that discourage agency or undermine human dignity. We avoid offering a solution before we’ve listened to what Christians are doing locally. We choose not to partner with local leaders who do good work but aren’t ultimately aiming for gospel transformation. 

A dozen other lanes might exist in the metaphorical bowling alley of vulnerable community care, but the four distinctives make sure 127 knocks down the pins in ours. 

Distinctives Help Us Roll the Strike

More importantly than what they protect us from however is what the distinctives empower us to do– play our role with excellence as the bridge between local ministry leaders and western advocates. 

The distinctives inspire creativity and collaboration as our vision narrows toward that which most effectively empowers vulnerable communities to flourish. They drive us to constantly study and grow under the banner that “when you know better, you do better.” They help us facilitate relationships, fund projects, create advocate curriculum, and coach partners in ways that center the gospel and promote human flourishing.

Whether I find myself in the bowling alley or working to see a vulnerable community flourish, I’m thankful for bumpers and distinctives. And I’m going to keep arcing that ball as high as I can. My odds of rolling a strike are pretty good.

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