Partnership as Fellowship
World Team missionaries enjoy a vast array of ministry partnerships. We partner with our sending churches and other supporters; we partner with our sending centres; we partner with national workers and we partner with one another. When God grants the opportunity to link these partnerships together, the results can be quite enriching. Partnership is one aspect of the biblical term koinonia, which goes deeper to include fellowship in the bonds of God’s family. Last summer, I had the opportunity to participate in the Honor-Shame Conference at Wheaton College with three ministry partners, three brothers in Christ: Karry Kelley, Pastor Tim Bales from my sending church and Pastor Varma Geelalsingh from the Evangelical Church of the West Indies, World Team’s ministry partner in the SE Caribbean.
I recently interviewed Brother Varma about his experiences at the conference.
Sean: How did the conference personally affect you and/or your faith?
Varma: Initially I was overwhelmed by the new information; I felt like I was in Kindergarten.
Right after I returned home I encountered a crisis that rocked my world as a young man very close to me committed suicide. We were shocked. A local Christian counselor told me it was because of shame that he took his life. The young man felt a deep sense of feeling unacceptable, exposed, humiliated, unworthy of love and belonging before his family. This impressed upon me how important it is to communicate all of the gospel that speaks about breaking the chains of shame and restoring honor.
I also enjoyed the fellowship at the conference and overjoyed at meeting so many cultures and colors, yet joined together in Christ. It showed that we’re not alone in this.
Sean: What were some new things that you learned at the conference?
Varma: There are parts of the gospel that I’m not sharing. I’ve always focused so much on guilt, but I see that shame is a big part of what the gospel resolves. We aren’t changing the gospel, we are seeing the gospel in a broader vision. We need to deal with people’s shame when we share the gospel. I have to revisit how I communicate the gospel! We can be so systematic in how we present the gospel, but the shame aspect really hits people’s emotions and that’s important too. Shame is a facet that has been left out.
Sean: What did you find in the conference material that is especially useful to your ministry?
Varma: We need to reframe our message, study our people, our Caribbean culture and what came to us from the missionaries. The missionaries shared from their own experiences which was guilt-based and individualistic. In Trinidad and Tobago we are still very rooted in the Indian and African mindset. We need to communicate the gospel in a way that communicates to this mindset. The gospel is more than only removing our guilt. It restores the honor that we were made for. Man’s whole being is affected by the gospel, not just our eternal destiny. And what about the life of Jesus? Isn’t his life part of the Gospel? What about the three years he spent here and related to nobodies? With him there were no undesirables. He communicated with his life how God feels about people. We sometimes go from his birth to his death and we skip so much.
Sean: What else would you like World Team missionaries to know about your experience?
Varma: I am so thankful that missionaries came to Trinidad to share the gospel with us. I have had many good experiences with World Team missionaries working in my country. My own experience of becoming a Christian in Trinidad led to alienation from unsaved family members. Our decision to follow Christ brought shame to our families who live in closely connected family and village communities. Many rejected the gospel because of this. The alienation that resulted was compounded by a spirit of looking down at the believers’ previous faith. Also, a strong culture of rules and regulations in the church caused even further separation. I appreciate the work of our missionaries but I wonder now if some of their early approaches did not consider fully the honor/shame operating system in the lives of our people. It will certainly help to develop practices and policies for working among our communities that would result in a greater harvest. We need to look at how Jesus did ministry. He had dinners with the Pharisees and tax collectors. He valued people. Let me also express my deepest gratitude to Word Team for making this timely, life changing conference available to me*. I’m looking forward to the finish line in Christ.
Photo caption: (left to right)
Karry Kelley, WT Director of Global Mission Practice ; Sean Christensen, WT America’s Partnership Ministry Director ; Varma Geelalsingh, Pastor, ECWI-TT ; Tim Bales, Discipleship Pastor, Faith Community Church, Janesville, WI
* WT sponsored Pastor Varma’s participation at the Honor-Shame Conference using the Dodrill Funds available for the training of national workers.
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