Transformation of Partnership through Mission


A speech of Rev. Teijo Peltola, FLM Associate Director, in the 2019 partnership seminar of the Mekane Yesus Church in Addis Abeba, Ethiopia 

Sisters and Brothers in Jesus Christ,

I wish to thank you, Rev. Yonas Yigezu, President of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY) and Co-Moderator of the Committee for Mutual Christian Responsibility (CMCR) for your invitation to address the seminar today. This is the 40th CMCR-meeting and the organization I represent, Finnish Lutheran Mission, began working with EECMY 50 years ago.

Before I address the topic given to me, I go back to last year. A year ago, when I participated in this seminar, I visited the Jimma-Bethel Synod (JBS) of the EECMY, in the foundation and growth of which the Mission Agency I represent had the privilege to be part of. I had been invited to preach in a worship service of the Jimma parish. I knew the congregation was made up of students, but I was greatly amazed when I saw people streaming to the church. The church filled up and the service began with about 1500 people attending, mainly young adults. But I was even more astonished to hear afterwards: ”Today, unfortunately there were less people than normally. We usually have about 2,000 participants in a service. But it is holiday time now and with the congregation mainly made up of students and staff, many were away on holiday. “

Friends, that experience was like looking through a window back in time in God’s mission. I can imagine what the situation was like when the first evangelists began working in that town when the challenges were overwhelming. As I was preparing this talk, I tried to learn also about the beginning of the Jimma-Bethel Synod but will on purpose omit mentioning any names because inevitably I would forget many who had a decisive role in the growth and strengthening of the Church and its congregations. There were, however, times when only a handful of Church leaders met secretly. From a human perspective everything was fragile – almost impossible. But Jesus Christ walked with his people also through those difficult years. The promise of the Risen Jesus Christ was true then, and it is true today: ”And surely I am with you always, to the very end of theage.”(Matt. 28:20)

I believe many of us gathered in this Forum would have similar stories and exp eriences to share. In this auditorium we can see the polycentric reality of God’s mission. I think there is something quite special for all of us in our partnership with the EECMY. I also believe that many of us have experiences of different kind of partnerships – not all churches grow. We have worked with churches that for decades have laboured faithfully yet, from a human perspective, results seem modest. There have also been situations in which our faith has been tested . With some partners we have worked for decades with no assurance whether we would ever see fruit in our lifetime. This has been the situation especially in the Islamic world. For decades, this was true in the work with the persecuted churches here in Ethiopia and behind the Iron Curtain. In these two worlds, however, we have also had the privilege of sharing a time of exceptional change.

God’s Word is doing its work, and no power can keep the doors shut to the Gospel for ever.

Even in difficult times this promise holds true: “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharperthan any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; itjudges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebr. 4,12)

But what is most difficult for many of us to see and to admit, is that our own churches are not growing but are, in fact, losing members. There are many tensions within and around us and these questions are present also in our partnerships.

Finnish Lutheran Mission as a mission agency of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland

I serve as the Director for Overseas Mission and Director for Administration of the Finnish Lutheran Mission (FLM). FLM has 64 missionaries in 15 countries. The FLM is one of the mission agencies of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland. Due to its history and identity our Church has chosen to participate in God’s mission with and through seven mission agencies. The FLM is one of them.

Our church has organized its mission work through The Framework agreement between the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland and its mission agencies. In this agreement each of the mission agencies agrees to abide by the Basic Policy on Mission of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland. So, I represent a mission agency of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland and a Church that in its policy is committed to the mission of the Triune God.

According to this policy we understand that:
“The church, and every parish, carries out the mission of the Triune God (Missio Dei), to which all Christians are called (Luke 4:16-22; Matt. 28:18-20; Jn. 20:21). Christians are at the service of God’smission (2. Cor. 5:20; 2. Cor. 6:1). The gospel of the uniqueness of Christ is to be proclaimed everywhere and to everyone. Mission is the basic, all-embracing task of the parish. The future of the church and the parish is bound up in mission.“ (COMMON WITNESS – Basic Policy on Mission of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland)

The FLM started working with the EECMY in 1968, and from the start the goal of our work has been to support your Church. In the beginning we worked in Ethiopia in co-operation with Norwegian Lutheran Mission (NLM) and later EECMY made an agreement of co-operation with FLM and assigned us to work at the Dembi Dolo Secondary School and later in the Jimma District in the Kaffa Region in South East Ethiopia.

Today FLM has 5 missionaries in Ethiopia. One of them is working for DASSC in Jimma -Bethel Synod and another as Diakonia adviser for Cen tral office of the Church. In partnership with DASSC in Jimma-Bethel Synod FLM have a Child Development Program which benefits 440 children in Agaro, Bonga, Limu and Sokoru. Within Bible translation projects two of our missionaries are serving as consults for SIL and Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus in South -West Synod. One of our missionaries is working as pediatrician who is specialized in neonatology.

Biblical inspiring of the theme

Transformation of Partnership through Mission”. This theme is inspired by the First Epistle of John, Chapter 1, verses 3-4.

We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us.And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.” (1 John, 3.4)

The Apostle John wrote his epistle to the churches in the area of modern-day Turkey. Among them were also the seven churches mentioned in the Book of Revelation. Also, the apostle Paul had worked in the same area and taught for two years in the hall of Tyrannus and made a great impact (Acts 19, 9-10).

Young churches lived under threat and already the apostle Paul had warned them (Acts 20:28) of things that could threaten them inwardly and from outside. Paul had had to, for example, draw a line against syncretism. Some ten years later the apostle John arrived in the area. The situation for the church was very different from what it had been during the apostle Paul’s time. Peter and Paul had perished in persecutions of Emperor Nero. The church had been persecuted and the Return of Jesus tarried. Many started to lose faith and faith tu rned into uncertainty. Into this discouraged atmosphere God sent John. The situation was different also in another sense: they no longer made a distinction between Gentile and Jewish Christians. The situation had changed in many ways from Paul’s time and now the question was, how to live as a Christian in the world?

In this situation John writes to churches where the Christian faith is already well established and seems to be losing its dynamicity. Many of the believers were second or third generation Christians. To this situation the epistle of John brings a correction to the spirit of the time.

“We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us.And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.” (1 John, 3.4)

John knew what he was talking about. The Gospel was real to him and he had no need to doubt it. He had personally met Jesus in the beginning of His public ministry in a way that had change d the direction of his life. This meeting had taken place in Jerusalem together with his bro ther Jacob and laterwithhisfatherwhentheyweremendingtheirnets. So,Johnrememberedwellthetimeand place of that encounter. Then, on that day Jesus called John to be with him. That day the old team of fishermen was left behind, and life changed. Instead, he got a new team and the fisherman became a fisher of men.

Apostle John starts his letter like this:

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyeswhich we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life”.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ was extremely real to John. Something that he and many others had heard, seen, looked at and touched. So truly obvious, personal and real.

Our situation is, of course, different in the sense that we don’t meet Jesus in the same way beside the nets or at camp fire like the disciples did but, in the Bible, we have the witness accounts of the apostles of Jesus Christ, and their witness causes us to believe.

As apostle Peter writes: *“Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy,” (1Peter:1:8)

And apostle Paul encapsulates the heart of this concrete, historical Gospel as follows:

“Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which youreceived and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance:
that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,
that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.
After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.
Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
— this is what we preach, and this is what you believed. (1Cor.15:1-11)

This was the Gospel that had changed the life of the apostle John and of many others. The explosive growth of the church was, however, dying down. Christian faith had become familiar and seemed to be losing some of its dynamicity.

Friends, you asked me to speak about ”Transformation of Partnership through Mission”. To be honest, thinking on this topic caused a disturbance within me. The question is not only about transformation of mutual relationships of Churches or mission agencies but basically it is about a change concerning us. As mission agencies and Churches, we are used to evaluating what change our work has brought and what effect it has had; but now I realize that we ourselves are also being evaluated. This is healthy!

The mission agency of the Church I represent was born out of youth revivals. Those revivals started in the nineteen-sixties and continued after that. One fruit of those revivals was love for missions which caused hundreds upon hundreds of young people to leave without asking permission from anyone. They travelled around Europe in vans in poor condition to evangelise those who did not know Christ. Without any special skill, with only the desire to proclaim the Gospel, it opened the eyes of the young people to see Europe as a mission field. Not everybody was pleased, and it took a while before the older generation understood what it was all about. The birth of our mission agency was part of a wider mission revival that took place in many countries.

The foundation of FLM and its vision for mission was inspired by that revival. That vision was expressed thusly:

Make the vision plain (Habakkuk 2:2)

  • To the Jews first (Romans 1:16) “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.”
  • All nations (Matthew 28:19) “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of theFather and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,”
  • Persecuted Christians (1 Cor. 12:26) “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”

This vision caused thousands of young people to leave first to short term mission and later many of them to long term mission work.

Back to worship service at Jimma-Bethel Synod

I go back to last year and to Jimma. I can still see in front me the worship service at Jimma with the church full of young Christians. What, in their lives had been the story of change that, like the apostle John, had been something so tangible that they would talk about hearing, seeing, looking at and touching?

I know that it is not very common in such a forum, but I would like to take the risk and share something of my own experience with you.
I was also part of that youth revival. I share this because now, at the age of 58,
I recognise that something in me was moved last year when I saw those 1,500 young Christians at the service at Jimma and when I read, as I was preparing this talk, in the Epistle of John about a situation when faith was losing some its dynamicity.

I want to say, what I say because we should never take revival for granted!

Shortly after the first generation of our mission, God called also me. Mid eighties was in many respects a time of fear and uncertainty- it was time of the Cold War.
I was a young adult and seeking direction for my life. Then something happened that changed the direction of my life in a very concrete way.

I was alone at home and for some reason opened the Bible. I had been raised in a Christian home but was losing what I had learn t from my parents – faith in Jesus Christ. Then God spoke to me in a way I cannot explain but cannot forget either.

I read the words of Jesus to Peter and they were etched in my mind in such a way that they became both a calling and my life’s work: “But I have prayed for you,(Simon), that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

Many of us in this auditorium are in leadership positions of Churches or Mission Agencies. We must deal with difficult matters. Also matters between mission and Churches are difficult. We must deal with financial matters and face many kinds of tensions. In this reality, change has much to do with relations between organizations.

Transformation of partnership through Mission

Summarizing topics:

  • The change in mission and the way it affects partnership is perhaps different in a relationship with a growing Church and a declining Church.
  • In partnership with a suffering Church we share the same wounds.
  • Because I trust you, I dare to ask you: what is the change in partnership in the growing Churches in the South when you see how the Churches in the North and West struggle with internal tensions and departure from the values of God’s Word?

Responsibility of present leaders towards coming generations:

What could we do in our polycentric partnership?

When the world we are leaving to our children is radically different than the one in which we grew up ourselves.
To make the mission of the Church possible both locally and globally.
To see that the capacity to work globally is possible only if we have the capacity to work locally and draw conclusions from this.
To recognize the polycentricity of world mission and open our connections and networks so that we can ”introduce our friends to our friends”.
To recognize the leading role of the Global South in God’s mission and ask how, afte r this shift of the centre of gravity we Churches in the West and North can still be part of the work with you in this movement of life.

It is vital that we hold on to God’s Word and the message of the Crucified and Risen Jesus Christ in the way that the Bible reveals to us. “…to make our joy complete.” (1 John, 3.4)

Rev. Teijo Peltola, FLM Associate Director

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