Cheonan, South Korea -
Our mission is to be a loving community that changes our world. We say it every week, and we mean it. Our church, KNU International English Church (at Korea Nazarene University), is passionately living out our calling to change our world.
However, we understand that we can’t change the whole world all at once. A key plank of our vision is Global Change through Local Action. We serve our local community in a variety of ways, and we are partnering with Nazarenes in Bangladesh to help build a village for widows and orphans. What follows is the story of how this partnership developed.
Missions in our DNA: As a multicultural church, founded by missionaries, our church has always had missions in our DNA. Since our inception in 1995, we have given generously to a wide range of missions projects. As we grew in size and strength, we did short-term mission trips to three different locations.
Missions in our Vision: In 2007, we assembled a Planning Team to clarify our church’s vision and strategy for accomplishing our mission. For the next year, the planning team met monthly to discern how God was leading us. We knew our calling was to be part of God’s global restoration project, but we also knew that we were a limited community with finite resources.
We hit on the idea of partnership through a few magazine articles describing the stories of two American churches with long-term partnerships in Kenya and the Dominican Republic. Developing a long-term relationship resonated deeply with us. We were tired of moving from one mission trip to another. We wanted something more enduring and personal. We wanted our missional partnership to become part of our church identity and ethos. We wanted to be changed through partnership, just as much as we would contribute to the change in another community.
Our Criteria for Partnership: In 2008, our church board approved the Planning Team’s suggestions and commissioned our Missions Team to find a long-term missions partnership based on the following criteria:
- Potential for strong connections between our church and those in the partnering community.
- Total cost of the project, including the costs of travel compared to the total budget.
- Total impact to the partnering community (not only the church in that area).
- Economic need of the local community.
- Organizational integrity and planning.
Our Search for a Partner: In 2009, the key task of our Missions Team was to guide the search for our long-term partnership. We gathered potential project ideas from leaders on our region, missionaries our members knew, and leaders at our denominational headquarters. After receiving more than a dozen potential partnership projects, our Missions Team narrowed our search to four projects that seemed to fit our criteria (in the Philippines, Indonesia, East Timor, and Bangladesh). We sent a follow-up questionnaire to local leaders at each site. We were also able to make personal contact with leaders from each location at the 2009 Nazarene General Assembly.
Next, we began the filtering process. The Indonesia site was withdrawn by the local missionaries because of safety concerns. Our Missions Team then faced the painful decision of narrowing the field to two candidate projects. We reluctantly withdrew the East Timor project from consideration, because the leadership there was in transition.
Finally, our Missions Team called an all-church meeting to present the finalists. First was a joint partnership with Asia-Pacific Nazarene Theological Seminary and a child development center in the Philippines. Next was a village for widows and orphans in Bangladesh. Some people in our church wanted to do both partnerships. However, we were committed to focused involvement in one community, and we didn’t want to dissipate our energy. After presenting the finalists, the opinion poll was strongly in favor of partnership with the Bangladesh project. The church board confirmed this with an official vote.
Our various members preferred the Bangladesh project for different reasons. Most people resonated with one or more of the following key points:
- 83% of Bangladesh lives on less than $2 a day.
- Only 0.5% of Bangladesh is Christian.
- The Church of the Nazarene in Bangladesh is growing quickly and is extremely well organized.
- The Philippines already has a lot of missional support from Korea. (The Philippines are to Korea as Mexico is to the USA.)
- The idea of building a village for orphans and widows (as a strategic improvement on orphanages) has a definite “cool” factor.
Opening the Partnership: At the end of 2009, we opened serious discussions with the leaders from Bangladesh about the shape and structure of our partnership. Through a long chain of emails, we shared information about our hopes for the partnership and their specific needs and strengths.
In the beginning of 2010, a cold front swept through Asia. Dozens of people in Bangladesh died of exposure to the cold. Our first official act of partnership was to send money to buy blankets for the widows and orphans in the community where our village would be built.
During Lent, we asked our church to engage in a “Rice and Prayer” fast. We supplied weekly prayer guides for our local church and for Bangladesh, and we asked our church members to eat only rice (once a day or once a week) as a sign of solidarity with the poor in Bangladesh and to pray during that meal. Then, on Easter Sunday we collected the money we saved from our fasting. The total offering was more than $3000.
Putting Feet on the Ground: In the summer of 2010, we sent our first team to Bangladesh. Although it was rainy season and not an ideal time for a work trip, we felt that it was extremely important to do something tangible to help our church engage the partnership fully. We experienced a variety of first time problems - ranging from visas to acquiring rare vaccines. However, we logged our experience to smooth the preparations for next time.
Our team spent the first half of the trip touring various Nazarene ministry cites in Bangladesh, learning about the context and the different ministry options. For the second half, we began construction on the first four houses at our village for orphans and widows. We also interviewed several of the widows so that we could retell their stories to our church community.
To raise money for this trip, we held a variety of local fundraisers including a baked goods auction, special offerings, and a coin drive. We also invited our church members to leverage our relationships with other churches. On visits to family and friends, our church members raised more than $5000 from other churches.
Deepening the Partnership: In the fall of 2010, our church board voted to give roughly 5% of our general income to our Bangladesh partnership, and we took our second trip in February of 2011. A retired teacher from outside our church community joined this trip to investigate the possibility of donating the funds to build a school in our village.
In May, we are hosting a leadership conference at Korea Nazarene University with the District Superintendent of Bangladesh and a supporting missionary from Germany. This will do two very positive things for our partnership. First, people in our church who can’t travel to Bangladesh will have firsthand experience in the partnership. Also, our church will take the role of learners and recipients, making the partnership more reciprocal.
Next, we are hoping to develop a unique child sponsorship program, custom tailored to our church. We want to sponsor the education and care for every child who will live in our village. We are also planning two trips to Bangladesh in 2012.
Bangladesh Nazarenes, and particularly the widows and orphans in our village, are increasingly woven into the fabric of our church. We are joyfully exploring how to grow closer and how to open our people for deeper transformation through this amazing adventure in missions. We are changing the world starting with local action in a small village in Bangladesh.