National Ministry Partners: are they just co-workers or friends?

By Content & Operations Manager, Dan Bush

My mission team leader loved Nepalis. Even if we were in a meeting, he would drop everything when they would come by his house. He was not cold-hearted toward me. He just really loved locals–they were his close friends. My team leader had taken on the relational nature of his host culture.

On the other hand, Western culture tends to be work-driven. To get to know someone you ask them what they do. After hearing their response, you know how to relate to them. Like it or not, we take this work-based understanding of identity with us when we ship out to a foriegn country. Our cultural baggage is like our skin tones–it goes with us wherever we travel.

These cultural presuppositions can often cloud our ability to rightly understand our international relationships. If we are not motivated by love, it will be hard for us, as westerners, to understand that our national ministry partners are not merely co-workers. However, these partners do not need to be our close friends for us to have meaningful relationships with them.

Not Merely Co-workers

The second greatest commandment tells us to ”love our neighbor as ourselves” (Matthew 22:39). When we begin to think about our ministry partners, our thoughts must be informed by this verse. They are our neighbors. If we are seeking to love God and others, a multitude of sins will be covered by love. In fact, if we are loving the national partner with whom you are working, then we will not seek sin against them. Jesus said if we love God and others, we will fulfill the rest of the law (Matthew 22:40). You will not steal from the person that you love.

Ironically, if you value the work that your national ministry partner does more than your national partner himself, you are not loving them. Jesus does not value your work more than he values you. He loves you despite that fact that your good works are only “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). To be Christlike is to love unconditionally the national brother or sister with whom you are working.

Are They Our Friends?     

Although we can make a biblical case for loving our national ministry partners, does that mean that we must be their close friends? We are not talking about  facebook friendship, but a really close friendship. A relationship in which there is real give and take–“a two way street”, as we have all heard. It is true, a friendship requires two people that are both committed to giving and taking. Of course, the greatest expression of friendship was displayed when Christ gave himself for the world. Our relating to him becomes a friendship with him when we take to the gospel in obedience (this idea can be found in John 15).

Akhil was my friend. I know that because even as I invested in him, he invested in me. He even dared to risk his life for me as we co-labored together. Given the chance, I pray that I would have done the same for him. I realize that not everyone who moves overseas will receive a friendship like I had with Akhil. Still, you are called to love your ministry partner, but that does not mean that you need to be their close friend.

Not every national partner that you find yourself working with will be in a place that he or she can invest in you like Akhil did for me. They might be too immature in their faith, have too much ministry they are already involved with, be pastoring a church, or be leading their families. In all of these cases and in many more it might be hard for a friendship to fully blume. Cases that apply to the missionary as well.

Friends But Not Co-workers

Nationals certainly do not need to be partners, or co-laborers to have a place in our lives overseas. It is a sign of maturity that a missionary would come to a national brother or sister for nothing other than friendship. Better still, come to them for nothing other than to be invest in.

How beautiful would that be? A discipleship turn friendship turned back into a mentorship when our partners have grown past us in their understanding of the truth. The road to be a great asset to the Kingdom of God is humility. How empowered will our national friends feel when we seek to learn from them? How valued will they feel when we seek to befriend them with no ulterior motivation?

Oh that the Lord would give us, all who serve in a foreign context, love that would lead us to friendship. The Lord himself seeks this from us who believe; friendship. It does not make a lot of sense, but he values us that much. Lord give us this same value for the people that we would engage overseas.