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03 March 2014

Working around the globe to inspire the local church

Working around the globe to inspire the local church

by Lucy Cooper 

Often, as local church, we feel like we can make little difference to global poverty. But we can create powerful partnerships and personal connections across communities that can change lives, according to international missionary organisations.

The Church is called to engage with God's heart for people in poverty and to reach out in mission, not only locally but to all nations. We want to care for the lost and least but how can we do this without our efforts feeling like a demoralising drop in the ocean?

International church partnerships enable local churches not only to understand global issues better but to form bonds with another community in a different part of the world, working together to bring change to their area. UK churches that connect with church projects abroad find that it brings change closer to home than they expected.

"Traditionally, churches just send money abroad. Now we are realising that, as churches and communities, if we walk together we learn from one another," said Jamie Fyleman, head of UK church relationships at Tearfund.

"When local UK churches unite around a theme that people are interested in, the whole community gets involved and the Church becomes more relevant. To have a genuine two-way relationship, a spiritual exchange, is incredibly powerful."

Kerith Community Church in Bracknell partners with a church project in Serenje, Zambia, through Tearfund's Connected Church programme. The lively family church, convicted to respond to the global HIV/Aids epidemic, focus their commitment, giving and prayer on the community where many are affected by the disease.

A visit was just the start: "When you've sat with a family and watched them with no hope in their eyes you feel you just have to do something," said Simon Benham. "On our return we shared our passion for Serenje and it provoked interest from those outside the church too. A local football team donated kits and we received offers of help from the whole community."

Holy Trinity Church Springfield in Chelmsford has a vision for sending Bibles to China. Through the Bible Society's partnership scheme, B The Word, they support Bible printing and distribution and receive updates about the impact scripture is having in the country.

Vicar Keith Roddy said: "We give through regular mission giving and the weekly collection from our Planet Life Sunday School. When people see the desire of the people in China for scripture, it draws them into mission. "They say: 'If they value it so much, I should too'. The spread of God's word is an essential part of mission. We benefit from seeing the global perspective, rather than just the local."

Peter Ivermee, a disaster relief volunteer with Samaritan's Purse, spoke of the benefit of a direct connection between gift and outcome for churches. "A typhoon hit the Philippines and we had to provide jerry cans and chlorine to kill the germs in the water. We needed £1,800 to buy this chlorine and this was the exact amount that Christchurch Baptist Church, Dorset, had donated. To tell them that the money meant that 4,000 people did not get dysentery as a direct result was great. The more visual and directthe link, the better."

Sheddocksley Baptist Church in Aberdeen responded to the oppressed Dalit community's cry for help. The partnership, through Operation Mobilisation (OM), focuses on work in Lalganj, Uttar Pradesh in India (pictured). The pastor Stephen Hibberd and a team have helped build classrooms in the local school and teams visit regularly using their skills including running a medical camp alongside local medics.

Stephen said: "The personal connection with the work in Lalganj has been tremendous. More than 60 people in the church sponsor the education of a child at the school. It's been another way for us to demonstrate to our community that our faith impacts our daily life. Local schools have joined with us to support the Lalgani school."

Letchworth Garden City Church (LGCC) has a strong partnership with churches in Mbale, Uganda, through Compassion UK's church partnership programme, sponsoring more than 200 children in one project.

"Some organisations more or less tell the local church to pray, pay, then get out of the way. Instead, both the sending and receiving church is enabled to take its rightful place on the front-line of mission," said senior pastor, Dominic De Souza.

On visits, churches have learned to let go of pre-conceived ideas of mission and instead to listen to the unique needs of that local community. LGCC linked up with a formerly sponsored child running training for local pastors in Uganda and Dominic helps leaders understand Islam and evangelism in the strongly Muslim area.

Dominic added: "We have noticed an increase in mission-consciousness and activity in our church – not just internationally but nationally and locally too. Our heart is increasingly breaking for the things that break God's heart."

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