Briefly in the Union office trying to catch up on paperwork. Also trying to sort through a strategy for rural/small church missional development. So many thoughts and questions!
Since leaving Estonia for seminary back in 2003 we have been on the lookout for Alongsiders who might partner with our friends in rural Estonian churches for either shorter stints or longer terms of service. We’ve encountered a number of challenges along the way and each of these has given us an opportunity to re-evaluate our goals. For example, the value we’ve placed on learning the Estonian language posed a major barrier to short term ministers. But since many rural communities are hungry to practice their English with visitors and would take any help they can get for any period of time, we have factored language learning out of our short term expectations. Over the years, we have also re-evaluated our recruiting audience, their length of stay and the amount or kind of experience they need in order to thrive in their assignment.
Here are some of the approaches we’ve taken to recruit for short or longer term help for rural Estonian churches:
1. Project Team
During the four years we were away in seminary, Lea and I traveled back to Estonia in the summers in order to help our rural partner churches with their summer ministries. Because our ministry during this time was project-based, it created wonderful opportunities for teams from our North American partner churches to come and experience Estonia first hand while blessing their hosts with their love and efforts. Since returning, our ministry has been much more local and pastoral and less project oriented. But we’ve missed welcoming teams and would like to find ways to free these avenues and create opportunities for travel.
2. Traditional Alongsiders
When churches request an Alongsider, they have a model in mind similar to my early partnership with the Viimsi Church. Unfortunately this has been a particularly hard model for which to recruit for a number of reasons. First, the difficulty of the Estonian language means that Alongsiders intent on learning and living the culture must commit to a significant term. Second, churches have a specific skill set or area of interest in mind when they seek help which narrows the field even more. Third, because our partners are small rural churches, the emotional effects of isolation can be significantly greater than those experienced simply by virtue of living in another culture. Even so, we have had a few ‘bites’ and ‘hits’ from potential Alongsiders to Estonia and we hold out the hope that some day we will be able to match an Alongsider with one of our Estonian partners.
3. Seasonal Interns
The most fruitful area of recruitment has been youth interns. Our interns typically come to or go out from Estonia during gaps in their education/career path. These people are flexible and don’t have a lot of competing commitments. They tend to be adventurous and eager to learn and serve in a variety of capacities. In addition, the cost of a short stint can be less than 2,000 USD making it competitive from a financial standpoint. However, unlike older applicants interns may still be working through their sense of gifting and calling. Indeed this is often part of the reason they come to serve. It is also much tougher to find young people who are able to survive emotionally – even for a short stint – on their own in rural areas of a foreign country. To overcome this, we are beginning to recruit intern pairs who can provide support for one another while they minister. Because we are committed the ministry of missional discipleship and because internships have proven so fruitful, we will continue to build on this area in the future. We would especially like to identify intern sending and receiving churches on both sides of the Atlantic that could participate in annual intership exchanges.
4. Church Twinning
This is an approach which Gary Payton has used extensively within my home presbytery and beyond to develop supportive relationships between churches. Often the term “friendship church” implies financial support of some kind. While not excluding that possibility, our langauge of “twinning” is meant to gain some distance from the “friendship as finance” equation and encourage an exchange of other kinds of “goods and services”, namely individuals or groups whose personal experience of ministry fits into a larger context of living and developing friendship between two very different communities. Already the seeds of twinning relationships have been planted between some of our partner churches. These relationships have developed quite naturally as successive teams or interns have tread paths cut by their home church predecessors.Twinning relationships offer the possibility for long term missional investment and mutual exchange between two church communities. Our sneaking suspicion is that twinning relationships would also be the best seed beds for future Alongside recruits. If your church would be interested in twinning, please let us know either via the comments section below or through email.
The idea of twinning is especially attractive to me because it decentralizes Lea and I and frees our international network of church partners to begin relating with one another. We continue to be highly involved in facilitating these relationships but the life that fuels them is free to grow and develop without our oversight.