When I worked in Congo, we partnered with another organization to translate Luke and produce the Jesus’s Film in ten languages.
It went pretty well until we got past the recording stage and were working on planning the showing of the films. The representative of the other organization for Congo informed us that most people only view the Jesus Film once. Because of that, he said, it is very important to to make sure that there be a system to identify and counsel people who make a decision for Christ, similar to what is often organized for evangelistic campaigns. For the same reason, distribution should be tightly controlled. The representative preferred that the film be given only to trained protection teams who would travel with projection equipment from place to place. Our Congolese church partners would have to implement this phase, but they had other ideas. They thought that people would watch the film many times, so they preferred that many copies be given away for free. Besides, this approach would cost far less. The other organization strongly opposed these ideas.
So, we have a large Christian organization with decades of experience showing the film insisting on one plan, but churches with no experience wanting a very different plan. It seemed crazy to argue that we should abandon the advice of an organization with so much experience in favor of a untested idea from those with no experience. But that’s what we did.
In the end, DVDs of the film were distributed widely for free. People watched it multiple times. In fact, some watched it so often that they memorized it. We had reports of illiterate adults and even children quoting Jesus’ words verbatim in response to something happened. We had every indication that the film was getting Jesus’ teaching deeply into society and people’s minds and hearts.
In hindsight, it seems that the other organization had proposed a way to distribute the film that fit well in places where people have many films available in their language (watch it once or twice), but couldn’t predict how people would use the film when it is the only film in their language (watch it over and over). Also, the organization saw the film as having impact in evangelism, but its actual impact was in discipleship of believers. Note that none of the languages involved had a translation, so the Jesus Film, which is taken directly from the Gospel of Luke was the most available Scripture.
In the same vein, I read a report of an international evaluation undertaken by a US-based Christian ministry. One of the ministry’s overseas partners was not running their program according to norms; so much so that the ministry was about to sever relations. But the evaluation showed the program run the “wrong” way by the “faulty” partner got the better results than any other program around the world. Furthermore, the evaluator concluded that the excellent results were attributable to the supposedly incorrect methods of the partner.
From my Congo experience and others, and from reading the evaluation, I propose the following conclusions which are also challenges to Western missions and churches partnering with churches overseas.
- If a Western mission has a partnership with church or ministry in another country, and that partnership is not transforming the Western mission, then the Westernern mission is probably not as effective as it should be. It might not be engaged in true partnership.
- If the western agency is always doing things the way they know will work, even when partners on the ground in another country want something else, then it is probably not as effective as it should be. The western agency needs to find a way to open itself to risky new ideas, to experiment.
Wow! I agree with your suggestions, completely. However, who pays the bills? Shouldn’t the person paying the cost be the authority to say what is going to be done? (I am speaking tongue in cheek here, because that is exactly the way we Westerners think.) It’s awfully hard for a person who feels superior to listen to someone else’s (possibly inferior) ideas. May God give us grace to be humble and listen… and learn something new.
This reminds me of a fascinating article I read, written by D. Merrill Ewert on page 13 in the May/June 2016 issue of MEDA’s “Marketplace” magazine, called “Beyond the Outhouse”. We need to be prepared to listen and learn… and often become much more productive. https://www.meda.org/back-issues/2016/235-the-marketplace-2016-may-june/file
Ed, I love this story!
On another level it reminds me of what happened at Good Shepherd School in Addis Ababa, probably in the 1969-70 school year. There was an art contest for the elementary students – not sure how many grades were included. The first grade teacher told me the next year that one of her students did not follow directions on the art work he submitted, and he won first prize.
It reminds me to be flexible unless going against the rules is dangerous.
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That’s a great story.