Sometimes a new church partnership feels a little like an awkward first date. You’re fearful you’ll laugh too loudly, get spaghetti sauce on your shirt, or accidentally trip over your own big feet. Every good marriage started with a somewhat-awkward first date, and every good church partnership includes a trip that can be awkward at times. Sometimes you can’t remember how to trill your r’s and you don’t know if you should hug or shake hands and you accidentally say “dog” when you mean to say “prayer” because language barriers are both frustrating and laughable at the same time.
The other similarity between church partnership and marriage is that—as the saying goes—opposites often attract. Thus, perhaps with an element of surprise for both parties, Iglesia Ministerios Gracia Y Verdad of Guatemala and Ainsworth Evangelical Free Church of Nebraska entered into Church Partnership to mutually love, learn, and grow together as they care for orphaned children and families in Guatemala.
The Spanish-speaking Guatemalan church is positioned in a city of over one million people, while the English-speaking Nebraskan church comes from a town with a population of less than 2,000. These people don’t look alike, sound alike, or see the same sights on a daily basis, yet something mysterious and wonderful happened when these two churches came together in early 2017. The Nebraskans stumbled through Spanish words, while their church partner offered grace, and these two groups of people—whose backgrounds look so different—learned to trust one another while growing in their love for Christ.
Kevin has made his living as a rancher. He has a slender build and leathery, wrinkled skin; his appearance echoes a life lived working the land. Kevin doesn’t smile often, but when he does, his smile takes up the majority of his face. He doesn’t talk often, but when he does, his words are heavy with the weight of wisdom. Kevin carries a picture of his son—his pride and joy—with him. His son, Cody, entered his first rodeo at the age of five, and now he’s in his thirties. Cody made a name for himself—a name bigger than the small town walls of Bassett, Nebraska—when he joined the ranks of the top ten saddle bronc riders in the world.
In his more than 60 years on this earth, Cody's father, Kevin, has accumulated a substantial amount of life experience and knowledge. But, the cowboy rancher from Nebraska continued to learn while in Guatemala. During a night of debriefing with his church team, Kevin—who rarely speaks—spoke up in front of the group.
“You know what?” Kevin said, making the room fall silent, “I’m getting to that age when everyone is talking to me about death. They keep asking me whether or not I’m ready. Being here has given me a new perspective on life. It seems like so many people in America are focused on death. Everything seems focused on it. But here in Guatemala—these people we’ve met—they are pursuing life. They aren’t looking to death, but to life.” Kevin goes on to say that he believes God wants him to risk more and step out in faith.
“If not now, when?” Kevin smirks.
In a bustling city with unfamiliar language, Kevin saw the importance of leaning into the Giver of Life, risking much, and loving well. Kevin—when he spoke—had several wise things to say during the course of this Church Partnership trip, but that particular sentiment—“If not now, when?”—stuck with Church Partnership Director John Palmieri.
Church Partnership trips are compiled of 18-year-old college students, 45-year-old mothers, 65-year-old cowboys, and 70-year-old grandmothers. These trips can bring out both the good and bad in individuals. People get uncomfortable, and uncomfortable people can display both their strengths and weaknesses more prominently. Basically, Church Partnership is messy—filled with cultural and linguistic barriers—but, it’s a breathtaking journey and beautiful display of the Body of Christ at work.
As “a cord of three strands is not easily broken” (Ecc. 4:12), thus two churches working together in partnership through the strength of Christ can join together to accomplish a beautiful work. Vulnerable families and orphaned children find hope, safety, and love in the family of God through the power of Church Partnership. World Orphans currently has more than 50 partnerships in 12 different countries, and five churches still awaiting partnership.
Is today the day your church chooses to partner with another church to spread the Gospel and care for the vulnerable? If not now, when?