The Life of a Partnership Facilitator Is It a Role That You Could Fill?
An Interview with Three People Who Have Filled This Role and What They Have Learned
Recently Mission Frontiers gathered together three individuals who have been filling the role of a Partnership Facilitator, sometimes called a Non-residential Missionary or Strategic Coordinator (SC). We wanted to get their first-hand accounts of their experiences in this role. The three people we interviewed are Stacy Langston, E.P. Sargent and J. Smith. Some names have been changed for security reasons. See the articles on pages 22-35 for more information on being a Partnership Facilitator.Stacy Langston has served with YWAM since 1988 and as a strategy coordinator for a people group in Western India for four years until 1995. Stacy and her husband are currently serving as visiting professionals at the Golden Gate School of Intercultural Studies in Mill Valley, CA. They plan to return to Asia in 1998.
E.P. Sargent is a church-based facilitator who has been effective in getting the agencies that work with the church's adopted people, to work together in a coordinated fashion.
J. Smith had a significant role in government and the business world before getting involved in mission work nine years ago. Smith has served six of those nine years with YWAM as an NRM for the Khmer people in Cambodia.
MF: How did you get involved in missions, and what were you doing at the time?
E. P. Sargent: I first became actively involved in missions when my church sent me on a mission to Eastern Europe. The Perspectives course was what challenged and motivated me to adopt an unreached people group. I was on my church's mission committee at the time. Basically, I am a full-time volunteer layperson and have been coordinating my church's efforts to reach our adopted people group for about seven years.
Stacy Langston: Months after giving my life to the Lord at age 16, I spent three weeks working in Guatemala on a mission trip that my church was organizing, and I was hooked! What began there continued to be a passion for missions through the rest of high school, college and graduate school.
In July of 1988, I left a management position at the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) to enter career missions service with Youth With A Mission (YWAM). I trained with YWAM to be a Non- residential Missionary (NRM), or what today is called a Strategy Coordinator (SC).
J. Smith: With a Masters of Arts in International Relations from Johns Hopkins University and a BA in history from The King's College in Briarcliff Manor, NY, I worked for a United States Congressman from Missouri for two years and for MCI and Bell Atlantic. Just prior to going into missions, I was a manager at Bell Atlantic. I've been with YWAM now for six years serving as an NRM in Cambodia. I am currently a contributing writer and editor to the new YWAM Discipleship Bible that is going to be coming out this July (published by Zondervan.)
MF: How would you describe your role and what kind of people can do this?
E. P. Sargent: I am called a strategy coordinator (or Non- residential Missionary) for our adopted people group. I think that the kind of person who can do this would have to be a researcher, an advocate and a networker, and be called to this ministry by God. He needs a passion to reach his target people that nothing can deter-- able to withstand disappointments and keep on persevering, no matter what the cost.
Stacy Langston: As an SC my role is to be an advocate and facilitator to see the Gospel brought to a specific unreached people group. I chose a tribal group in Western India, and for over four years my focus was to do all that was possible to bring the Gospel to them. I lived in Singapore and then later transferred my headquarters to Penang, Malaysia. From there I traveled in and out of India as well as other parts of Asia and the U.S. developing and coordinating projects among these people.
There are a lot of word descriptions of a Strategy Coordinator. People in Asia often referred to me more as a "broker" or "middle man. " Sometimes I would describe myself as a lobbyist. Whatever the description, the type of person that fits well into this job is a creative self-starter with administrative and people skills and a vision to see what God wants done among a people. I've met a lot of SCs over the years, and all are quite different from one another, so it's hard to say exactly what kind of people are best suited for this work. One of the keys is that you need to be someone who can work well on your own and who isn't afraid of trying new ways to see churches started. You have to be willing to work with other Great Commission Christians and stay neutral on the "turfism" issues.
J. Smith: I am a Strategy Coordinator to the Khmer people of Cambodia. The whole concept of a Strategy Coordinator is to be a catalyst for churches to be established among an unreached people group.
The strategy was designed to overcome barriers to evangelizing unreached peoples--these include spiritual warfare, inability to get visas, and the fact that many people groups are unknown to the world Christian community. Strategy Coordinators (SCs) are full-time professionals dedicated to the evangelization of the one group they target. In order to do this they begin by researching the unreached people group--their history, their needs, their culture, the socio- economic statistics, the history of Christianity in that country, and through that also determine how much of a Christian witness is among that people.
Then they research what world Christian resources can be deployed among their group. There are handbooks (one published by MARC) that list all the Christian organizations in the U.S. and what their ministry is and where they primarily operate. Once the research is completed and an extensive eight-page people profile is filled out, the SC devises 100 strategies for seeing the Gospel preached among these people. The categories of strategies the SC is devising include:
Literature--seeing the Scripture translated into the language of that people, as well as tracts and books. For instance, contacting a Bible translation organization and persuading them to translate the Scriptures into the language of that people group.
As an SC for the Khmer, I have networked with the Bible Society of Cambodia to facilitate their work on doing a new translation of the New Testament.
Media and the Arts--radio, television, audio cassettes, the JESUS film. An example would be an SC contacting a radio ministry and persuading them to do a radio broadcast in the language of the people group.
As an SC, I have worked with Far Eastern Broadcasting Company in Cambodia. I've helped the national director make contacts with churches and organizations in Singapore that have now provided the director with prayer, equipment and funding.
Prayer--mobilizing prayer ministries, churches and prayer networks to intercede for the people group. This is the most important area of strategies, as nothing can happen without prayer.
One strategy in this area I've worked on is submitting prayer updates to different prayer networks, like Lydia Fellowship and Christian Information Network.
Direct Evangelism--sending in teams or long-term workers to proclaim the Gospel.
One strategy that I was able to implement here was convincing Every Home Crusade to establish a work here. The regional director responsible for Cambodia came into the country with me. I was able to introduce him to a national Khmer church leader whom he recruited to begin Every Home Crusade (in America, it's known as Every Home for Christ) in Cambodia. Now they are going from home to home, handing out Gospel tracts and proclaiming the Gospel. It was one of the first organizations in Cambodia whose primary function was evangelism and not development work.
Indirect Evangelism--sending in tentmakers (all kinds of professionals like English teachers, other teachers, doctors), helping relief and development organizations establish projects in the people group, sports evangelism, business strategies, community development, cultural exchanges. Basically, any kind of creative strategy to help Christians gain entrance into the country in order to share the Gospel with the people.
One particularly successful strategy I implemented in this area was to help Sports Ambassadors come in and do a basketball clinic. They came in and worked with the government officials involved with the National Olympic Committee and the Basketball Federation of Cambodia. Sports Ambassadors, through my contacts, involved the local church in their efforts. The athletes, all from Southeast Asia, did basketball clinics and shared their Christian witness. As a result, 50 people accepted the Lord.
An SC needs to be entrepreneurial, spiritually discerning, able to see the big picture and see how things fit together, self-motivating, self-starting, proactive, creative, flexible, apostolic, a good communicator, a networker, good at people skills, adept at building relationships, conceptual, a good listener and humble (a servant leader).
MF: What benefits have you seen on the field from your being involved in this way?
E. P. Sargent: Benefits we have seen on the field have included an 800% growth of the existing church, 30 new village Bible studies begun, an extensive humanitarian project developed, and a discipleship program set in place. We do not take credit for all of these things, but believe the most important thing we do is to pray for our people group, come against strongholds and uplift to God all those who are in the field, both nationals and foreigners.
Stacy Langston: I suppose the greatest benefit is that I've seen how through my organizing seminars and leadership training events in India and then inviting the entire body of Christ to participate, this has brought together Christians from many denominations and agencies. In India there's little communication and coordination among the different denominations and agencies. I often saw myself as a bridge between them and as the neutral party who could coordinate events which they would all participate in.
Secondarily, I worked hard in Singapore and Malaysia to get local churches involved by praying for the people group, giving towards projects, and sending short-term teams to assist in the work. It's a great joy to see churches come alive as they get involved in missions projects. Sometimes smaller churches aren't sure how and where to get involved so I saw myself as facilitating them in their desires regarding missions service.
J. Smith: 1. Multiplying the Christian presence in Cambodia.
2. Supporting and encouraging the Khmer church leaders to develop their vision for evangelization in Cambodia and help them implement those efforts where I can.
3. Increased proclamation of the Gospel through radio, audio cassettes, tracts (from Every Home for Christ teams going house to house), and increased numbers of expatriate workers who are now in Cambodia through my recruiting efforts.
4. Increased communication between agencies on the field. I've promoted understanding and cooperation between those working there. Often, people on the ground didn't know what others there were doing.
MF: What are the biggest obstacles, and how do you overcome them?
E. P. Sargent: I think everyone in this kind of ministry has the same obstacles: restrictive, oppressive government, false gods and philosophies, occult practices and traditions, and lethargy of the home church. No obstacle can be overcome without fervent and faithful prayer.
Stacy Langston: The biggest obstacle is gaining the trust of those who are already working in or near the area where you're working. You're basically the "new kid on the block" and why should they work with you. To overcome this I would meet with leaders over and over again to assure them that I was not coming in to build my empire, but, instead, to facilitate and serve them in what their dreams and goals were. This seemed to work well and by my continually coming back to them and asking how I was doing and how I could serve them, I think trust and respect were gained.
J. Smith: 1. Establishing oneself as legitimate and trustworthy with the indigenous church leaders and with the expatriate missions and churches inside and outside the country. This takes time and relationship building. It took me three years to gain the trust and confidence and legitimacy with the Khmer national church leaders that I work with. It takes just doing the work, following through on promises and a few successes before trust and legitimacy is earned.
2. Finding the resources. Sometimes it's hard to find people to go and do various projects.
3. Lack of obvious results. Sometimes you do a lot of networking and publicizing of the needs and nothing seems to happen. But, if you hang in there long enough, you will see successes.
4. Self-motivation. Because this type of work has to be self- initiated and self-directed, you can sometimes slack off and get diverted with things that have more obvious results. I overcome this by networking with other SCs and filling out a monthly report so that I can track how I'm doing in achieving my goals.
MF: What are your three biggest mistakes?
E. P. Sargent: Can't think of any mistakes, though I feel I should have done more to rally the troops here at home-that is, network with other churches.
Stacy Langston: Money, money, money. It is very hard to enter India as a Caucasian and not be viewed as someone who has lots of money and can easily give that money away. I raised funds for a jeep that a church-planting team desperately needed to keep up with the response. But when the jeep was given to the team and one of the pastors they worked with did not also get one, he was deeply hurt. That relationship was severed by him, which is a real sadness for us all.
I tried my best to not create dependency or wrong expectations, but I'm sure that I was not always successful. Money is a key issue in India and I'm still learning in this area.
J. Smith: Not taking more time to become more fluent in the language. I'm limited in my ability to work with certain Khmer leaders because of my language ability.
MF: Now that you have been at this for a while what advice would you give to someone who is just starting out in this role?
E. P. Sargent: The best advice I could give to anyone starting out in this role would be to do their homework. Read everything you can get your hands on about your people group and their country. Travel to the area and meet the people, ask questions, listen, get to know them as best you can. Find out what missionaries are already there and get on their mailing list, pray for them, correspond with them, be an encouragement to them. Set up as extensive a prayer foundation as you can right away. Try to get training in being a Strategy Coordinator; read David Garrison's book, The Non-residential Missionary. Write to all mission agencies that operate in the part of the world where your people group is located. This ministry requires a long-term commitment of time, lots and lots of time. Talk to your pastor and elders and mission committee. Make sure they catch the vision too. Read the book Catch the Vision, 2000 by Bill and Amy Stearns. Contact the Mobilization Dept. of the USCWM and also the Adopt-A-People Clearinghouse in Colorado Springs. If your people group lives in a restricted access country, learn all you can about security.
Stacy Langston: Begin with humility, continue with humility and finish with humility. Go in with a heart to serve and to learn rather than to inform and dictate. Indians are very quick to discern your level of sincerity. If they feel you really want to work with them and care about them, they're your friends for life. If they suspect you're seeking to build your own kingdom and ministry, they may accept you for a little while, but you'll never have their full trust and respect.
J. Smith: Be patient. It takes a while to get things started. You spend your first three months writing lots of letters, going to lots of meetings and networking. Try lots of different strategies because you never know which one will succeed. Spend scheduled time each week praying for God to speak to you about what strategies to pursue. Do your research, know your people group inside and out. Listen, listen, listen! Don't assume you know everything. Listen to the indigenous church workers, listen to the agencies and pastors of the churches you are working with. Hear their heart. What are their needs? How can your strategies fit in with what they are wanting to do? Don't give up. If something doesn't work, take another approach. Be persistent.
MF: Historically churches have commissioned and supported people to work for experienced mission agencies that specialize in the task of establishing churches around the globe. Now some church members want to be more directly involved. What problems result from this direct involvement and what experiences can you share that will highlight how your role has helped the Church be more involved while preventing the mistakes resulting from inexperience?
E. P. Sargent: My role as SC has enabled my church to be much more directly involved in reaching an unreached people group, but we absolutely do not act as an agency; rather we work through agencies, several of them. When God calls our own people to the field to minister among our people group, we refer them to several mission agencies and they choose the one that suits them the best. In this way, we are all doing what we do best. As a church we support and encourage our missionaries, but we avoid all the mistakes that could be made if we sent them directly to the field ourselves. Why waste all the knowledge and experience that the agencies have to offer? We do our job, and they do theirs. Together, we have much better results, and a lot fewer problems.
Stacy Langston: I think we should applaud the fact that more church members want to be directly involved. It's also a sign of our times so we must accept it and find ways to assist in their involvement. One key problem that happens in India when an individual or group comes on a mission trip is that they're struck by the poverty and give money as a solution. Their hearts are generous, but they don't understand the ramifications of such an act.
When I worked with churches in Singapore, Malaysia, and Korea I did my best to share with them very frankly about the social and economic dynamics in India. When I would take teams in or send teams in they had to commit not to give any money to individuals or groups without going through me. They were welcome to tell the Indian requesting the funds that they would have to check with the team leader--me. That would give the individual an "out" so they didn't feel like they were saying "no." This seemed to work well.
When a church I am in contact with would talk to me about mission opportunities, whether it be in India or elsewhere, we'd talk about their goals, both short-term and long-term, the composition of the team members, i.e., their gifts, skills, and calling; and then I'd try to work with them and match them with what opportunities I knew of. Because I worked with such a global and diverse organization, it was not difficult to find the right match.
J. Smith: I have helped the Methodist Church of Singapore become involved in a major way in Cambodia. Only time will tell whether or not they are making mistakes resulting from inexperience. I have tried to advise them and help them to be sensitive. I know they will invariably make mistakes, but I still think it's a good thing that they are involved. I do think churches need to listen and learn from the missions agencies that have a lot of experience. Why reinvent the wheel?
MF: Overall, from your experience would you prefer to see: a) more resources applied to the missionary task or b) less resources but more experienced, strategic and focused resources applied to the task of missions?
E. P. Sargent: When targeting the 10/40 window, I would never suggest fewer resources. There are few enough resources directed to those areas already. However, all resources need to be experienced, strategic and focused.
Stacy Langston: I think the wording of that question lends itself to the obvious choice--b. There are plenty of resources out there to fulfill the Great Commission. I have no doubt about that. What's needed is to channel them in strategic ways and especially to develop simple, reproducible models for training local leadership. We don't need a lot of high-tech missions paraphernalia. We need models that can be easily reproduced and adapted to the needs of the various world views.
J. Smith: It's not one or the other--I say we need more resources, and we need more resources to be strategic and focused. We still don't have enough resources being applied to the task.