Effective mission partnerships must include nurturing the spiritual maturity of believers, serving the needy in a variety of ways and witnessing to the saving power of Jesus Christ, a leading missiologist told the Association of Presbyterian Mission Promoters (APMP) here Dec. 1.

"Globalization means that partnering at the grass-roots is happening all around the world," said Miriam Adeney, a member of University Presbyterian Church in Seattle and a renowned author and lecturer on the subject of global mission. "We're invited to join the partnering party that is already going on."

Adeney sprinkled her address — the first of four keynote talks she is giving during the Nov. 30-Dec. 2 conference that has drawn more than 100 mission-minded Presbyterian leaders — with stories illustrating her insistence that nurturing Christian maturity, caring for the needy and witnessing to Jesus Christ are inseparable components of effective mission.

"In Africa, it is said that Christianity is a mile wide but only an inch deep," she said. "This is an embarrassment to the churches and hinders genuine growth and partnership." Long-term relationships are therefore needed in order for Western Christians to foster the education and training of pastors and lay leaders, Adeney said.  

There are three components to helping the needy, she continued: charity, development and advocacy. "Many need survival help immediately," Adeney said, "but in the long run its development assistance and advocacy efforts that are going to truly empower people."

For instance, she said, "there is plenty of food in the world to feed everyone — globally, obesity is a greater problem than malnourishment." The root problem, she said, is distribution, and so people must be empowered to feed themselves and structures and systems must change to enable access to food by all the world's people.

She told of a woman in Bangladesh who longed to send her children to school to break the cycle of poverty in her family but could not afford it. Learning of a micro-finance organization, she applied for a loan to buy two cows so she could sell milk for income and to improve nutrition in her community. "She now has other women working for her, improving the economy of her community," Adeney said, "and all the children are in school."

Adeney cited advocacy efforts that have proven successful in recent years, including the Jubilee Campaign that reduced the crushing debt of many of the world's poorest countries in the last decade and worldwide pressure on pharmaceutical companies and governments that has reduced the cost of life-saving HIV/AIDS drugs in many parts of the world.

But Christians cannot "ignore or postpone" their witness to Jesus Christ, Adeney insisted. "All sorts of groups can do relief, development and advocacy," she said, "but only Christians can witness to the saving power of Jesus Christ — the surest prescriptions for health and wholeness."

Adeney, who has taught world religions in many places, said most of them "have beautiful qualities … but if [a religion] doesn't show God coming close and entering the depths of our pain and transforming our lives then it is sadly incomplete."

She told of an Iranian Muslim immigrant woman to southern California who, except for her young son, felt very alone in the U.S. One day in the park where her son was playing she met an elderly Presbyterian who befriended her and invited her to church. Eventually she came and was befriended by other church members.

Esmat stayed 10 minutes that first Sunday, then found the warmth, love and friendship she had been missing," Adeney said. "After one year, she said, 'I cannot resist Jesus any longer.' All the church did was be a friend to her."

Dispelling the myth that engagement in world mission necessarily costs a lot of money, Adeney suggested "six simple steps any congregation can do with no money":

  1. Ask high school/college youth what global issues they studying and pray about them;
  2. Ask business people what countries they buy from and sell to and pray for those countries:
  3. Challenge members to pray for world news — one item each week and talk about them;
  4. Develop a program to befriend foreigners living in your community;
  5. Develop relationships with your church’s missionaries;
  6. Create an adult education class on the biblical basis for mission.