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Why We Choose Partnership

By Yalexis Barr

Recently, there have been many conversations questioning the work charities do, our real impact and how transparent we are with our donors and the people we serve. These discussions have prompted me to reflect on our work at Partners International Canada and why we partner with local indigenous leaders to build the church and transform communities.

1. Partnership is biblical: Several scriptures touch on partnership. Phillippians 1:4-5 says, “In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.” The original word translated to partnership is koinōnia, which refers to a shared or two-sided relationship. Paul displayed love and appreciation for the brothers and sisters in Philippi. They were partners with him in doing the work of God. They suffered together, shared the cost of the missionary work and were joined together in Christ. At Partners International Canada, we have the same vision for partnership. And we cultivate relationships with our international partner ministries that honour God and give him the glory.

2. Locals know best: Local leaders know their communities. They are aware of the issues and obstacles within their context and how best to overcome them. Local leaders speak the language and know the culture, which is extremely valuable and often overlooked. It gives us the insight to understand the people we want to reach. Our partners are also well respected and looked upon for guidance because they already have meaningful relationships with their people. These are some of the fundamental reasons for coming alongside local partners. They are already on the ground working to improve their community. It would take a lot of time and effort for an outsider to acquire a fraction of their knowledge. 

3. Sustainability: When you have local people participating and ‘owning’ projects, there are far better chances of success. Since our organization’s inception in 1963, our local partners have been involved in our joint projects. They participate in the design and execution of every initiative. They then look after our projects, maintain them, and one day will continue the work without us. 

4. Partnership preserves communities’ dignity: It can be problematic on many levels to have a constant flow of foreigners who come to help a community, especially if a relationship is not established. This pattern perpetuates a narrative where locals have nothing to give, and only foreigners can save them from themselves. This is known as saviourism. However, we see our partners as equals, both with strengths and limitations. We work together as brothers and sisters in Christ. We have the utmost respect for our local leaders, and our approach preserves their dignity.

I met one of our indigenous missionary couples in the Brazilian Amazon. They are from the Paumari tribe. They go to Paumari communities for months at a time to evangelize, disciple, teach literacy, provide counselling and model with a Christian lifestyle that incorporates indigenous identity. Moreover, their desire is to help shift people’s mindset to establish a greater sense of self-worth. 

Not long ago, these same missionaries identified the need to build a children’s centre in a community, so there’s a place to gather and teach kids. Initially, the community said they were poor and could not build this centre. But as the conversation continued and our local missionaries encouraged community members, the people realized they had resources like a chainsaw and wood, which could help build a structure. The community rallied together to construct a children’s centre, demonstrating that our approach to partnership empowers people and preserves their dignity. 

5. Volunteerism is harmful: It is common for young people or church teams to go on a mission trip to help people carry out projects like building a school or serving in an orphanage. Although mission volunteers have good intentions, we have to be aware of the unintentional consequences of bringing unskilled help to disadvantaged communities, for example:

  • Taking jobs from local people. Members of the local community have a lot of skills. When empowered, they can work together to help develop their communities.
  • Mission trips don’t allow volunteers to experience life in those places. Without understanding the challenges there, volunteers leave uninformed and disconnected from people’s needs. Instead, when volunteers develop relationships with local ministries, they become invested in the people and become advocates for the cause.    
  • The work that volunteers start is generally not continued by the people when they leave. Sustainable projects are vital in every partnership we have; they maximize our effectiveness and guarantee that our projects will carry on with the local community’s help.  

Partners International Canada’s Discovery Trips focus on deepening supporters’ relationships with our partners and allowing them to see their contributions at work. Discovery trips also enable participants to share their talents and skills with partner ministries in ways that complement projects that already exist. Our trips allow Canadians to experience first-hand the challenging contexts where we work and the transformation resulting from our holistic initiatives. Discovery trip volunteers become friends and remain passionate advocates and supporters of our work long after their trip.

Working through partnership is challenging. Cultural differences, education gaps, communication barriers are only some of the challenges that we’ve encountered. But, for over 50 years, we have successfully cultivated partnerships with exceptional, Christ-centered ministries around the world, that propel transformation and bear fruit today. So despite all of the complexities and challenges, we are confident that partnership with local leaders is the way to go.

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