Mutually-edifying relationships seem to be exactly what the New Testament authors had in mind when they wrote about the body of Christ. They urge Christians to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works” (Heb. 10:24) and frequently describe a reciprocity in which all believers help each other to be better disciples of Jesus. Unfortunately sin corrupts all relationships, and people often don’t honor one another as brothers and sisters well. At 127, we champion mutual edification by striving to notice how God has used our partners not only for the sake of their own ministries, but also for the sake of our discipleship. We want to show the nature of his church by being quick to tell the stories of what we’ve learned and how we’ve grown through relationships with 127 partners - sometimes even when we disagree.
Geoffrey, Executive Director of Acres of Hope Uganda, and Sara Beth, Executive Director of 127 Worldwide, are a great example of mutual edification. Their stories are incredibly different, but God has used their varied experiences to equip both of them for good work. They each serve better because of the other’s investment and encouragement to live out James 1:27. Taking into account their different perspectives, they have built a strong foundation of friendship and trust that allows them to challenge one another and continue to stir each other up in good works.
Sara Beth’s Story
Sara Beth grew up in rural Kentucky in a middle class Christian bubble where she never had to consider the plight of orphans and widows. It wasn’t until she came face to face with poverty her senior year of college that God began to direct her heart towards his mission to care for the vulnerable. After a decade of working for a few different non-profit organizations, she launched 127 Worldwide in 2011 to support the work of Geoffrey and another 127 partner, Rose, who both had a vision to start serving vulnerable people in their own communities.
Even though she’d traveled the world, it was still a process of trial and error as she stumbled through how to advocate best for the visions of Rose and Geoffrey in their gospel work. She began to learn as much as she could about ministering cross-culturally, working with local leaders, and implementing best practices in short-term missions. She learned about approaches like family-based care and how children grow up best in an environment that mirrors a family as closely as possible. She learned about orphan prevention and the value of working upstream to prevent the root causes of family fracturing. The more she learned, the more passionate she became about empowering 127 partners to give the absolute best care to vulnerable children in their communities. She had the textbook answers ready, but her time “in the trenches” of care were minimal.
Geoffrey grew up in war-torn Uganda during the height of the country’s 30 year civil war. Orphaned at age 14, he spent much of his childhood living off the land and hiding from kidnappers who were trained to steal children from remote villages. He remembers many nights when he slept in trees or among the reeds of the Nile River. After hearing the gospel and coming to faith, Geoffrey was inspired to care for children in his community in ways that were not made available to him. Many of them come from situations not that different from his own, but at Acres of Hope they now receive three meals a day, a safe place to sleep, and an education that prepares them for the future. Every day more families come to Geoffrey, driven by poverty, AIDS, and natural disaster to find better conditions for their children to grow up. Sometimes the children truly have no other family, and sometimes the situation is so desperate that parents are just looking for help. Geoffrey prayerfully considers daily how the Lord might open up new avenues for Acres of Hope to accept more children.
Sara Beth and Geoffrey are both products of the life experiences that God chose for them. Their childhoods, families, and education are not a coincidence because God sovereignly directs all of our lives. As their ministries intersect, they both bring those experiences and unique giftings to the table.
In 2009, Geoffrey dreamed of building pod-houses to offer family-like care to the children residing at Acres of Hope. In partnership with 127 Worldwide, he hired widows and single mothers in his community to serve as house-moms to small groups of children living together in each pod-house. Sara Beth and Geoffrey worked to create an environment that closely resembled a home, as opposed to the more traditional model of an institutionalized setting. Geoffrey modeled this residential care after a leading national ministry in Kampala, but the idea of family-based care was ahead of its time, especially in war-torn Northern Uganda.
As they’ve continued together in this project, Sara Beth’s refrain has often been “remember the importance of family-based care.” She challenges Geoffrey with some of her textbook findings and encourages him to pursue sustainable care and what are considered “best practices” in the West. Geoffrey is open and eager to apply Sara Beth’s suggestions. But as more families keep coming to Acres of Hope, he can’t turn away children in immediate need of food and shelter. In practice he has to balance his plan for family-sized pod-houses with the challenge of finding space for more vulnerable children. In response, Geoffrey’s message to Sara Beth is often “the trenches are different from the textbook.” Geoffrey’s example continues to teach Sara Beth to trust the Lord’s provision in ministry and to wrestle with the tension between the ideal and the practical.
Both Sara Beth and Geoffrey are committed to living out James 1:27 faithfully and committed to partnership together. Neither is bailing on the other because of an insistence on a specific approach to ministry. Instead, they are mutually-edified as they push each other in opposite ways. They are both influencing the way the other thinks and sees ministry. They are both fighting to care for vulnerable people with excellence to the glory of God. They’ve had their fair share of difficult conversations and disagreement on best practices, but Geoffrey and Sara Beth resolutely protect their mutual respect and a strong commitment to partnership.
By each valuing the other as a fellow believer whom God has called into ministry, Sara Beth and Geoffrey get to lean into one another’s strengths and trust that their collaboration is the exact means by which God is doing his work both in and through them. At 127 Worldwide, we pray that we would always maximize the gift of mutually-edifying partnerships for the good of vulnerable peoples and for our own transformation as followers of Christ.