The following is a guest post by my friend, Sandy Ovalle. Sandy recently led a task force in her organization to tackle the issues raised in this blog series. Rather than quickly develop solutions, she led the team through a longer process. I asked her to share reflections on values that motivated how she led the task force. She shares here from her own perspective and does not represent her organization.
If you have been around the parachurch ministry industry for some time you have surely heard about the struggles most ethnic minority colleagues have with the funding model. Perhaps, you may know a few ethnic minority staff members who have left the ministry due to funding. Maybe you know of others who were never able to report to the field because they could not raise the necessary funds. While this is not unique to ethnic minorities, maybe you have seen a trend among these groups. You may even be someone who is seeking a solution and have been at it for a while. I want to commend you for engaging in this topic, especially if this is not part of your experience.
For some of you this is one of the first times you hear about this issue and you may have recently begun wondering what is going on. Some of the questions that may be in your head may include: “What is wrong with the model? Are we doing something bad? Why do ethnic minority communities not give as much? Why do they not care about missions? Are ethnic minority staff members working hard enough? Are they really trusting God? Are they really called to this ministry? What can we learn from their experience?” I love that you are asking these questions.
Perhaps, you are an ethnic minority brother or sister serving with a parachurch organization. Maybe this is part of your story and you could have written this post many years ago. Maybe you have had some rough conversations explaining your point time and time again. Maybe you have walked away from those conversations feeling misunderstood. You could be one who has greatly benefited from the efforts made towards addressing this issue. Maybe you have given input and someone has listened. I want to encourage you as you have demonstrated servant leadership through your support raising efforts and perseverance in them.
There are probably others who represent different audiences here. Regardless of where you are coming into the conversation, we are glad you made it.
One of the things you must know about this conversation is that it’s a lengthy one. The subject is a sensitive one for most. For some this is a call to face power and privilege. For others this is an invitation to expose their vulnerable self and their community. For most it means taking a step towards being misunderstood, towards being questioned about their true motives, or towards becoming aware of complexity and stewarding their newfound knowledge. Ultimately, I believe the invitation for all of us in this conversation is towards a more unified community, towards a deeper experience of the kingdom, and towards a more effective partnership with God in seeing His kingdom flourish. However, the way there may not be as easy or as fast as we may desire.
With that in mind, in this post I will share why there is a pressing need to trust the process as we seek solutions to the current funding model of many parachurch
organizations. Mainly, I will explore 3 reasons why we must enter a process and be patient with the timing rather than come up with quick solutions.
The Body is Disjointed
I came to faith in Christ in between two worlds. One was the predominantly Hispanic immigrant church that reached out to me through the only other college student in the congregation. The other was a primarily white middle class parachurch college ministry that reached out to me through a staff member interested in starting something in my ethnic community on campus. Both worlds were special to me.
The church family had become a literal family. As a single immigrant Latina they offered the emotional and physical support I needed to live in the US far away from my biological family. Their lives were examples to me. Friday morning prayer meetings started at 5am. Faithful men and women would gather in the dark before heading to their worksites. They helped me establish disciplines to nurture my relationship with God. They knew God in a very unique way. Many of them did not have health insurance so when sickness came they really had to rely on God’s healing power. Many of them depended on seasonal contract work that was not always on demand. Because of this they also relied on God for provision. Beyond that, most of our families were away in another country so we had to lean on each other and build support systems that would carry us through. They helped me know God and his power to care for his children. They understood parts of my story really well.
My other community was characterized by one-on-one interactions with my college mentor. She singled me out and invited me to grow alongside her. She challenged my thinking and helped me deepen the application of Scripture in my life. She helped me unlock parts of my story that I had blocked. This was new and refreshing to me. She helped me know a God that was intimately acquainted with me. I was also introduced to the concept of personal visions and dreams and plans that will help me get there. This community inspired me in different ways.
Both communities had people I trusted and loved.
Years after I came to faith, I joined staff with the same parachurch organization that had reached out to me. The support raising process helped go deeper into both communities and farther away at the same time. Juggling relationships in both became harder. The exhaustion of constantly crossing cultures became evident. I felt known and misunderstood at the same time.
I was tired and frustrated. Support raising is not an easy task. The added complexity of crossing cultures made it harder. After my first year, I had to raise a significant amount again. The night before my deadline I talked to God about these two worlds that would never meet and how sad I was to live in between them. I talked about the people whom I loved and with whom I wanted to do life, but they were in distant communities that would never enter into each other. It would be too complex, too painful, too disappointing. I was conflicted. I loved both communities, but the inner turmoil and loneliness living in between them seemed too intense, so I had to pick one to which I would belong.
But God had other plans. The next morning, He provided the last 25% of my goal at once. I believe this was his invitation to not give up on either community but rather to engage with both and live in the tension between them. I’m so thankful He invited me to this.
One of the biggest obstacles on our way to developing new funding models is precisely the distance that exists between these two worlds. I get a sense in this conversation these two worlds are beginning to meet. As we develop new models to help mobilize ethnic minorities into vocational ministry, I believe a key component will be to reconnect the body of Christ.
But this is a process. In order to live out the biblical picture of suffering and rejoicing together as one body (1 Cor. 12:26), we must know each other. Without relationships that invite us into deeper knowledge we are in danger of continuing to misdiagnose the problem. From a distance there is only so much we can see. Our solutions will only be as effective as our accurate understanding of the problem. Our understanding of the problem is only as deep as we know the most affected by it and their context. Without relationships we are in danger of blaming each other’s communities for the failure of the system and we will continue to broaden the distance between us. Most importantly, unless these relationships are built we miss out on the invitation to be the body of Christ. We miss out on living the picture of community God intended for his church.
The Problem Was Not Created Overnight
The current funding model has been in used for many decades among some of the most prominent American parachurch organizations. A lot can happen in 60 years. There are many stories of failed attempts at raising support. There are stories of failed efforts at addressing the problem. There are stories about how both of those experiences have been handled. Each of these stories has contributed to a narrative that helps people explain why the funding model is what it is and why it works for some and not for others. These narratives create ideas about who God is to some and not to others, about who our communities are, and about who we are. Often, some of these narratives reinforce wrong perceptions.
In order to unlearn these false narratives about God, about different parts of the body of Christ, and about ourselves we must take time to share them and invite each other to speak truth into them. This process takes time.
Dignifying solutions that involve diverse parts of the body of Christ will come as we develop trust with each other and make room for each other’s leadership. Without trust and space for others we are at risk of continuing to develop solutions that lack context, are not sustainable, and are often paternalistic. This will in turn perpetuate the problem, rather than move us closer to a solution.
Today, we are at a point where we cannot afford more of these fixes. We have lost too many laborers and we have used too many resources to keep going after a solution that ignores the root of the problem. We have to do the hard work of building relationships, sharing stories, and learning together. This will require time and maybe a slower pace.
God Must Show Up
Jesus tells a story about a man who scatters seed. He goes about his days, without much regard for the seed. Then one day the harvest is there and his job is to pick it up. Jesus says the kingdom is like that.
The work of the kingdom happened while the man was going about his business. He did not cause the seed to sprout or to produce grain. He planted it and forgot. And then boom the harvest was there. The seed grew without his help.
In the same way the main work of the kingdom happens without our help. Too often we have made ourselves indispensable to the work of the kingdom. We are too concerned with being the topnotch organization with the best techniques. We are so preoccupied with being the ones who solve this problem. When our ability to contribute to finding a solution becomes our focus we have gotten it wrong.
We take a place that is not ours. Just like the man who scattered the seed could not have caused it to grow or to produce, we must not think ourselves the main player in the story.
The main work of finding solutions to the current experiences with the funding model has to do with changing our hearts to engage in mission together more effectively. God alone can bring it about. A process rather than a quick fix creates an environment for God to show up. When we engage in building relationships, exchanging stories, and learning together hearts are transformed, stories acknowledged, and wounds begin to heal. When we understand the depth of the impact an unjust system has had on some, we are humbled. We realize our extreme need to depend on God. We realize we need to slow down to allow Him to speak to us, to lead us, and to heal us. We become better able to create a safe space for other people to collaborate with ideas.
As we do this we reflect more and more the picture of the one body of Christ who suffers together and rejoices together. I believe this will really help us create systems that make space for the rich and the poor, the Asian American, the Native
American, the black, the white and the Latino to participate in helping fulfill the great commission.
photo credit: notnyt