This year will be an exciting one in Trinity as we enter into a partnership with Viv and Sadoc Chongo from Latin America. As explained during worship on 14th February, through Latin Link they plan to come to work alongside us from August for up to two years. Currently, they are studying and working as Assistant Pastors in Guatemala. They have a vision for serving longer-term in Mexico and are testing their call and would value experience of western culture. It is important to stress that they will be working alongside us, and as we learn from them, so they in turn are hoping to learn from being with us. They are not coming to work instead of us, but alongside and in partnership with us.
As we prepare for this exciting opportunity, we can be guided by what the Apostle Paul tells us about ‘partnership’ in the Gospel. He writes to the Philippians:
I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy,5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now (Philippians 1:3-5)
That word ‘partnership’ is a very important word. The encouragement that came from the believers in Philippi clearly had a marked effect on Paul which was a great blessing to him, even as he had been a great blessing to them. The word ‘partnership’ translates the Greek word ‘koinonia’ which means communion, or fellowship, or, as is translated here, partnership.
First of all, Koinonia is a Gospel-centred partnership and so is deeply personal. This makes it unlike any other partnership. It is not a business partnership which may be centred on the success of a business venture, or centred on the common goal of producing wealth. It is not a partnership centred on convenience, but a personal and mutual working together with Christ and so with the gospel at the centre. We share ‘in’ the Gospel and then share ‘out’ that Gospel in service together, in a Gospel-centred partnership. Koinonia is ‘partnership in the Gospel’. The Philippians demonstrated their partnership with Paul by ‘striving side by side for the faith of the Gospel’ (1:27) This meant that they were bound closely and personally to Paul, as they supported him in prayer. (1:19)
The New Testament presents the Gospel as that which not only draws us to Christ but also to each other. Such partnership as we read about between Paul and other believers is not intended to be anything other than normal church life. Being committed to Christ means being committed to one another. In fact, Jesus made clear that to love and care for brothers and sisters in Christ is to care for Christ Himself. (Matthew 25:34-40)
The coming of the Chongos to Dalry presents an opportunity to enter into that kind of mutual, personal, caring and supportive partnership with believers from another culture, which should extend well beyond their time with us thus creating a connection between us and, through them, the Lord’s people in Latin America.
Secondly, Koinonia, partnership, can be material as well as personal. On several occasions Paul uses the term ‘fellowship’ to refer to the collection of money made in Macedonia for the believers in Jerusalem. There are times when fellowship involves making a financial contribution.
The word ‘fellowship’ is sometimes used in a rather restricted sense in church circles. ‘We had good fellowship’ can sometimes mean no more than ‘We had a good blether.’
There is nothing wrong with a good blether (in fact it is important), but fellowship, or partnership in the Gospel is a broader reality, embracing caring and sharing and loving and even, as with the Philippians, giving money.
It is significant that the Philippians not only sent some hard-earned money to Paul, helping to encourage him in his ministry, but they also sent a person to him. They sent a man called Epaphroditus to minister to Paul while the apostle was in prison:
But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs Philippians 2:25
In an echo of this, the Chongos are being sent to us by the Church in Latin America. Many churches there, together with the Chongos, are giving their hard-earned cash to make the trip possible. Many believers in these churches are giving out of a level of poverty about which we know little. Isn’t that wonderful? Isn’t it exciting and encouraging that we have brothers and sisters in Christ who are committing themselves to the work of the Kingdom here in Dalry in this way? Much like missionaries from our own land, the Chongos must secure the ongoing support of churches in their own part of the world, in order to make their service here possible.
Meanwhile, we must raise some funds in order to support them whilst they are with us. We must find around £9,500 to ensure they can remain for up to two years. If you are able to give to this fund, it would be a huge encouragement to the Chongos, just as their ‘sending churches’ have brought us such encouragement in their interest in supporting the work, through them, in Dalry.
Thirdly, the partnership between Paul and the Philippians was very much an ongoing fellowship ‘from the first day until now’. (1:5) Whilst other churches had perhaps lost interest in the Apostle Paul and his ministry, the Philippians had maintained their prayerful and material support. The Chongos represent to us an opportunity for friendship and fellowship in Christ that may develop into real bonds between ourselves and churches in Latin America. Let’s pray that we learn to commit to, and experience more deeply, such koinonia over the coming years.
The more I have thought about this, the more it seems that simply being a Christian actually means entering into partnerships to share in the work of Christ. That is, of course, true in the very nature of our fellowship together. There is no such thing, in the ordinary run of things, as an isolated Christian. Equally, there ought to be no such thing, in the ordinary run of things, as an isolated fellowship.
In simple terms, we belong to those who belong to Christ. Only then is there truly the caring, giving, loving, sharing experience that is koinonia, fellowship, partnership.
P.S. There will be an opportunity to ask questions and find out more at the ASM.