Partnership has become a popular term these days. It is a term used in different domains, in business, in human relationships, in legal practices and in religious conversations. We in the Great Plains Conference talk about our international mission partners (Haiti, Nigeria and Zimbabwe). In the last few weeks I have had the privilege to visit two of our international partners, the Methodist Church of Haiti and the Zimbabwe United Methodist Church. I have hesitated to use something from Zimbabwe and apply it to Haiti or something from Haiti and apply it to Nigeria because these places of ministry have unique contexts. However, in the spirit of partnership we are called to learn from various contacts of ministry and broaden our missional engagement.
These travels have made me reflect more deeply upon partnership. Does partnership really have boundaries? Are there ways of doing partnership across ministry areas in the Great Plains Conference? What about partnership between Clergy Excellence and Congregational Excellence teams, or the Communications and Administrative teams?
The organizers of the Haiti Partners’ Conference asked me to create a presentation on mission partnership. I decided to use the Zimbabwean concept of partnership, “Chabadza.” As Bishop Nhiwatiwa puts it, “Chabadza happens when one person is working and another person joins the work.” The ideal comes from the Zimbabwean farmers who go to work in the field early morning. Every person will take a couple of hoes, one for the farmer to use and another one for a neighbor passing by who will stop and offer them a hand (Chabadza). Chabadza means offering a hand to a person who has already been working hard by becoming a partner with them in their work. The Haiti Partners’ Conference delegates enthusiastically embraced the idea. The Haitian church leaders explained that this is what they have been trying to communicate to their local churches.
Out of these discussions, an idea was born in the area of Volunteers in Mission. The Methodist Church of Haiti and our Great Plains delegates agreed that we will work together to train and equip our Haitian partners to form local VIM teams whom international VIM teams will work alongside when they come to Haiti.
As we work together in this new conference structure, I wonder if we are doing too much individually. I wonder if we are missing the opportunity to create room for a neighbor who is passing by to offer us Chabadza. Are we taking two hoes when we come to the office? Are we taking two hoes when we are on the road throughout Kansas and Nebraska? Micki McCorkle (Small Membership Church Coordinator), Sarah Shaw (Coordinator of Camping Ministry), Shane Hinderliter (Local Church Youth Ministry Coordinator), Nicole Conard (Coordinator of Young Leadership) and I have begun exploring what it means to have a common Great Plains summer internship application (I have seen others doing similar collaborative works). We have come to the table each with two hoes, or maybe three or four, allowing the other persons to offer and receive Chabadza.
In addition, during my last visit to Grace UMC, Hastings, NE, I observed the work in their Community Garden. Various families come together to till the land, plant seeds, and tend to the vegetables as they grow. They offer and receive Chabadza from one another as they do the work in the garden. People of different ages and cultures sharing joy as they work in the garden is a great example of Chabadza.
These examples remind me that I need to come to work with two hoes and leave room for my neighbors around the Conference Office to offer me Chabadza and likewise, I have to come to work prepared to offer my neighbors Chabadza. What this means is that we are affirming each other’s work, ministry and efforts. This also means that we are supporting each other and we are working in synergy allowing our ministries to be a whole not some isolated pieces of ministries. Are you leaving room to receive Chabadza? Are you coming ready to offer others Chabadza?