by Andrés Castillo, communication intern
There is power in simply staying connected. The reborn Partners in Ministry emphasizes that.
The revival of what used to be “Partners in Mission,” according to Franconia Conference’s Leadership Minister for Missional Transformation Noel Santiago, are partnerships made between groups with similar values and visions and greatly emphasizes relationships. In the past, the relationships with Partners in Mission were mostly leader-to-leader; as a result, when leaders relocated or moved on, some of those relationships faded. In reviving Partners in Ministry, Santiago continues, the Conference is emphasizing a renewed commitment to engaging and experimenting with diverse communities, not just leaders.
Partners in Ministry with Franconia each have a staff person who can accompany them, if desired, as a coach or listening ear, to help connect them with equipping and resources, and to walk with the community during leadership transitions or times of conflict. Franconia also provides credentialing for the pastors of Partners in Ministry if they need it. Leaders from Partners in Ministry are welcome to attend equipping events, Faith & Life gatherings, and other events that may benefit them as growing Anabaptist groups.
Partners in Ministry relationships are different than Conference-Related Ministries, which include institutions such as Spruce Lake Retreat, Care & Share Thrift Shops, and Camp Men-O-Lan. A Partner in Ministry relationship is more of a connection with communities, who, many times, are on the margins (because of geography, social situation, or as a church plant) rather than established organizations.
“Franconia Conference played an important role in the birth and continued growth of RIMI,” explains Kirk Hanger, pastor of New Hope Fellowship Church (Alexandria, VA). “In 2003, after 11 years of church planting ministry in Mexico, they encouraged me to continue.” Today, the RIMI Network includes around 80 churches, church plants, and ministries in 12 countries, with 28 churches and church plants in Mexico. The RIMI Network also includes a radio ministry, a short-term missions school and a leadership school affiliated with Global Disciples, a medical ministry, a prayer network, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center, and a microfinance ministry working with some 4000 people in economic development in Paraguay.
Franconia has recently renewed relationship with the Conference of Evangelical Anabaptist Mennonite Churches of México (CIEAMM) through the Partner in Ministry program. Carlos Martinez Garcia, CIEAMM moderator, believes that partnership is essential in order to fulfill Christ’s mission in the world: “We encourage each other, the Word says, to love and do good deeds (Hebrews 10:19-25),” he explains. “The Christian church is diverse in ability, understanding, and vision. By sharing with one another, we can grow and learn to serve better. In the mission the Lord has given us, we must not isolate ourselves, but connect in order to embed ourselves in the world…. We must try to learn from the different understandings the Lord has given others of his word, as well as how they are fulfilling their mission.”
The relationship between Franconia Conference and CIEAMM has been mutually beneficial: while CIEAMM was birthed out of Franconia mission work 60 years ago, CIEAMM has also trained leaders from Franconia congregations, including Centro de Alabanza de Philadelphia, through the Community of Anabaptist Theological Institutions (CITA). “The fact that we interact with other organizations makes us feel like more than part of a historic relationship,” says Oskar Dom, director of the Biblical Institute of CIEAMM. “It’s good to know that we are in a position to share what we have learned in these sixty years of existence.”
Partner in Ministry relationships are not highly structured, according to Franconia’s Executive Minister Steve Kriss; many communities may have just been introduced to Mennonite theology or practice. The Partner in Ministry relationship can provide space for these communities to learn what it means to live as Anabaptists in their complex contexts. With supportive partners, anyone can thrive. It is Santiago and Kriss’ hope that Partners in Ministry will continue to be a space for communities to interact, experiment, and get to know one another.