The snowstorm responsible for stranding me in a burm on the way home last night was not unexpected. Had I taken the newscasts seriously, I would have carried a shovel, a cell phone, a full tank of gas, warm clothes and a thermos of hot tea in my car. Instead, I left home mid-storm to gather those very items which I didn’t have. And so when a joyriding BMW full of heroic youths pulled a quick 180 to come to my rescue, I was on my knees digging the car out with my drenched and frozen mittens one tick away from both an empty tank and a dead cell phone battery. In a blizzard, preparedness, experience and the right equipment can make the difference between a crisis and an opportunity.
In the world of international mission, the current economic crisis has looked to many missionaries like a dreadful approaching storm. We saw it on the horizon and now the winds have started to howl. Even so, because of the trust earned over decades of service in Europe, Alongside Ministries is uniquely equipped not only to weather this storm but also to provide needed assistance.
Take Estonia for example. Since the early 1990’s, Alongside teams and missionaries have aspired to adopt the hopes, challenges and daily realities of the people with whom we minister. Through this sustained witness we have communicated our commitment to a shared path with the Estonian Church. As Estonia has changed, this path has changed as well. But because Alongside’s methods are defined by our partnerships, we have been able to change our shape to meet new challenges.
Two recent shifts in Alongside’s shape in Estonia bear noting.
First, it has become clear that the needs of Estonia’s rural churches cannot be met by recruiting an ever dwindling number of long-term Alongsiders for each church. And since the problems faced by individual churches are often regional, we doubt that dealing only with local church symptoms will lead to long term health. At the same time, young people who have either grown up in our supporting churches or who have attended Alongside Discovery conferences have begun to express interest in joining us during summers in Estonia. So, we are now developing internship opportunities based in local Estonian churches with an eye to encouraging regional networks. Similarly a number of our American supporting churches have expressed interest in welcoming Estonian summer interns. Such internship exchanges are a low cost way to intentionally disciple a future generation of mission minded Christians through practical and lasting service in local churches.
Second, over the years the Estonian Church has developed an impressive array of ministry projects and events. Unfortunately, young Christians often move from one program to another without maturing spiritualy or committing themselves to a local body. Estonians who have experienced the integration of ministry, reflection and discipleship in Alongside Discovery conferences have encouraged us to offer something similar in Estonia. So this year we are offering a discipleship method for teams of Estonian youth which uses mentored participation in existing ministry projects as a context for spiritual development.
Both of these ministry models have grown organically out of the longstanding relationship between Alongside Ministries and the Estonian Church. Were it not for Alongside’s vision, our size, our flexibility and the very real trust of our partners, such models might not have emerged. And Estonia is not alone. Similar things are happening in France, Scotland, Albania, Germany and Czech Republic: today’s Alongsiders are experiencing the fruit of decades of faithful service.
Even so, there is no denying that a storm is now upon us and the only way out is through it. We are all checking our budgets, tightening our belts, and reinventing our ministries to make our way through. But because Alongside has conducted itself faithfully all these years, we won’t need a bailout, we just need your continuing commitment to share this road with us. Do what you can and we will do what Alongsiders do best.
*This article was recently published in the Alongside Voices newsletter. If you would like to receive this newsletter, contact Alongside Ministries at firstname.lastname@example.org.