The Presbyterian Mission Agency does mission in partnership. Recently we wrestled with some of the ‘nuts and bolts’ of what this means for us in Congo. We had been struggling for more than a year with frustration about a colleague who’s actions were hindering the work of Christian Education. We wondered why he was not disciplined for his irresponsible actions, or even removed from his position. We wondered how exactly we were to respond and what role we were to play. We shared our concerns with a couple of church leaders, and one wisely told us “this is a process”; that is, there are many steps involved in disciplining someone and it often takes a long time.
As we prayed, talked, and waited, we thought about the cultural differences. This is a generalization, but Americans tend to value truth, justice, and transparency, and Congolese tend to value harmony. Americans (the “cool” culture) also value productivity, results, and effectiveness, while Congolese (the “warm” culture) tend to place more importance on loyalty, honor (hierarchy), and trust. We realized that this colleague we were frustrated with was a relative of one of the top church leaders in his region – if other church leaders pushed hard for his removal, there could be negative repercussions for them in other areas as a result.
We wondered what approach to take. In this case, he had taken some money sent for a specific project and used it for another purpose. Part of the accountability that PC(USA) provides is that they require that funds that are sent be used for the intended purpose, and that they get reported on before more funds are sent. Since a valid report was not able to be submitted, more funds for ministry in Christian Education were blocked from coming. As ‘bridge people’ working with both PC(USA) and CPC, we were tempted to say “because of the ways this colleague has disregarded the correct procedures of the use of funds, we refuse to work with Christian Education or raise more money for projects unless he is removed from his position”. However, we realized that would be rather ‘heavy handed’ and impose our values on our partner, the CPC. Yet, the other approach, of sitting back and saying “we respect the leadership of CPC and whatever decisions they take” while continuing to watch this struggle drag on also seemed irresponsible. This is the crux – where is the balance in partnership? Each side has things to give, goals to work towards, and requirements to abide by.
We decided to write a letter, expressing our concerns and outlining what we saw as the serious mistakes our colleague had done that was hindering the work. We wrote the letter in February. Then we let it be, continuing to think, pray and discuss. In April, we showed the letter to two church leaders who we work with – we said to them “We wrote this letter, but before we officially send it, we want to know your thoughts and advice about it. Is it a good idea to send this letter?” Both of them affirmed us for expressing our concerns, and the highest leader encouraged us to send it to the Department of Evangelism. So, in May we sent it, and waited rather nervously to see how it would be received.
The board meeting for Evangelism was in May. Our letter was read out loud in the meeting (with the colleague concerned present), and then everyone was invited to discuss and ask questions for clarification. It was a good, open discussion, and people expressed appreciation that we were willing to share this concern rather than just holding it in. The board made a decision to issue a written warning and give him a fixed time period to repay the funds that had been taken (so that they could then be used for the intended purpose). We felt that it was as good a result as we could have hoped. At least it was stressed to him in the context of other leaders the importance of respecting the structure that their partner, PC(USA), has put in place for the use of funds. Now, we wait to see how things pan out. Either way, we have to be willing to work with this colleague, forgive him, and continue in relationship with him. We have to respect how the CPC seeks to handle the problem. But, it doesn’t mean that we have to pretend to be blind to mistakes or that we can’t work together for resolution. There is a proverb in Tshiluba that goes “Tshikuyi, batshikulula misenga; muntu wa tshilema bamubelela mu bantu.” Literally, “They scrape the bark of the black tshikuyi tree and find white powder; a person who has erred is counseled in the midst of other people.” Figuratively, the point is that wise counselors can give needed correction to someone who has made mistakes, and help them back on the right path.
We welcome you to share with us your thoughts and experiences on the challenges of cross-cultural partnership. And we welcome your prayers too, that we would be faithful partners for the good of God’s Kingdom.