I was standing in a large undeveloped field located just behind the main sanctuary. The church had once been on the outskirts of town, off a rural dusty road, but it was now surrounded by growing businesses and restaurants as the edge of the city crept its way farther north.
“We have a vision. We believe this land can be developed and used to draw young people to the church. We want to build an outdoor auditorium and host concerts,” the pastor shared. “The music will loud enough that even those on the streets will hear the name of Jesus being proclaimed through song.”
It was a bold vision for a traditional church, and I was encouraged by their passion. The community even had a local Christian artist who produced his own rap albums.
“That sounds like a great idea. How do you plan to build it?” I replied.
“When can you bring a team down to start?”
It was a sobering moment. I wanted, with everything inside me, to make this happen. My American “change the world for Jesus” spirit coupled with my love for this place and the people made me want to respond with assurances of teams and money and revivals. But I knew that wasn’t the right response. I knew that with the help of churches in the U.S. we could build the facility, but if it wasn’t deeply embedded in the vision of the local church and sustained through local funds, it would be around for a few years and then fall into disrepair.
I responded, “I can’t bring down teams, but I hope you guys will still find a way to make the music venue happen.”
A decade later I had the opportunity to revisit the church. The city has continued its movement northward, and the church now sits among chain hotels, luxury car lots, and coffee shops. The church, though, is more or less the same as when I left it. No renovations of the property have been done.
Global partnerships are difficult. They are complex. They intersect with conversations about government regulations, societal expectations, and accountability. There are cultural differences in our approaches to money. There are power dynamics that make transparent conversations difficult. And as Americans, we want to save the world, but we can end up inadvertently inflicting harm or causing relational issues when we don’t truly count the cost.
I have often asked myself whether I made the right decision about supporting this work. I have questioned whether I thwarted the work of Jesus in that place by not making the music venue a reality. And those nagging questions are what keep me engaged in global development, working to ask more and better questions and, in the midst of it all, to follow Jesus and respond to the Spirit.
Listen to a three-part series on global partnerships featuring Alan MacDonald, Samir Salibi, and Joshua Weiger in season three of A World of Good podcast.