Report from the Conference of the Christian Community Development Network

by Marcus Grohmann
The conference took place from 23rd-27th April 2012 in Schwäbisch Gmünd in the South of Germany. Around 100 participants from a large number of mission agencies were gathered to discuss issues related to the conference header “Partnering for Change”. Most of the participants and their organisations were involved in some kind of development activities with their partners. The main speakers were Joel Edwards (Micah Challenge International, UK), Elisa Padilla (Fundación Cairos, Argentina) and CB Samuel (Christian social activist from India).

Joel Edwards laid the theological foundation for worldwide partnership relationships. The underlying understanding was that we are called to join God’s mission of redeeming the world in a holistic way, meaning that we are to understand the relevance of the Gospel for every aspect of life in this world – the social and the individual, the material and the spiritual, the political and the economic, and so forth. As God himself “has gone global” already in the first century, we are to follow and to continually reassess what this cross-cultural mission involves in our time and where today’s challenges lie for us.

Elisa Padilla, working for an Argentinean NGO, shared very frankly the problems in North-South partnerships she has experienced herself. She pointed out the difficulties of having to deal with differences in power, finances, status and culture. The problem, however, as she saw it, lie not so much in the existence of these differences but in the deficits of the partnerships: lack of trust, lack of sensitivity towards each others’ needs, lack of willingness to not only work for the poor but to actually live with them, lack of willingness to stand back and to learn the local way of doing things, naturally including the learning of the local language. The strongest partnership she has experienced was not based on big projects and big budgets but on a deep friendship.

I myself took part in a three-day workshop on “North-South relationships”. My impression already on the first day was that (Western) people were troubled most by the issue of finances in these partnerships. All have had some negative experiences related to Western funds in mission and development work. Here and for the rest of the conference my impression was that not giving was not considered to be an option from an organisational perspective. Especially Elisa Padilla strongly supported Western financial generosity, allowing for the money not to replace genuine relationships and that it is used to support the work the Southern partners are doing independently.

After the conference I was left with an ambiguous feeling: on the one hand the value of God-inspired partnerships which are based on equality in status was clearly depicted and some great examples were shown of how North-South partnerships accomplished great things and how churches can be agents of transformation for their communities. On the other hand we discussed many challenges for North-South partnerships but remained with many open questions, despite the inspiration we undoubtedly received.

Relating to Vulnerable Mission I could definitely make out a longing for cooperation and partnership in a humble spirit. In a few cases – e. g. in Frank Paul’s presentation on their time in Chaco/Argentina, working alongside local churches – the issue of local languages and local resources was explicitly addressed. Questions related to it were often there implicitly, with many people struggling to find solutions of how to deal wisely with Western wealth in today’s globalised (Christian) world. It was encouraging though that in this and other respects attempts were made to step back and listen to what our brothers and sisters had to contribute from their Southern perspective. We experienced remarkable frankness but noticed also how much there is to learn on the Western side to live partnerships and mission in a vulnerable way.