partnership? yeah, nah!

The 100% Pure New Zealand website, with its collection of Kiwi slang, describes ‘Yeah, Nah’ in this way:

Kiwis are exceptionally agreeable, so even when they want to disagree with you, they’ll throw in a “yeah” as well. Basically, “yeah, nah” is a non-comittal way of saying no. As in: “Do you want to go for a hike this weekend?” “Yeah, nah, I’ll think about it ay.”

I am a long way from feeling like a 100% Pure New Zealander and yet I catch myself saying ‘yeah, nah’. And it expresses how I can feel when I hear the word ‘partnership’ being used…

Early Monday morning

I rose very early to finish my final talk/slides in a series of three webinars I’ve been doing for Carey Baptist College’s Center for Lifelong Learning on Mission in a Secular Society. The purpose was to add voices to the conversation from ‘in here’ (biblical metaphors), ‘back then’ (the pre-Christendom time), and ‘over there’ (the majority world space). This final one became more personal. Essentially, I explored ten ways—mainly, expressions of gratitude—in which these 15 years of wandering and wondering among the peoples of the world with Langham Preaching has changed me. With the people quoted and photos shown, we visited 21 countries in 60 minutes.

I was scrambling to get finished before heading off on a few days of annual leave with Barby. One of the issues on my mind was this one of partnership. It is a good word, with fine intentions, but it tends to get a bit lost, don’t you think? Just scratch a bit at issues like money and power and even the most well-intentioned partnership can be demonstrated to be unequal and transactional.

Transactional says, ‘I have something you want, but you can only have it if you give me what I want.’ Relational acknowledges, ‘I need you in my life, and I’m here when you need me’ (Mekdes Haddis, A Just Mission, 100).

Desiring the ‘relational’ turns us towards friendship and family. What is the difference? While partnership tries to target 50:50 arrangements, maybe friendship and family lean towards 100:100 ones? The giving and receiving that marks such f & f relationships is fuller and deeper and wider—and is more the longing I hear from ‘over there’.

Alongside his humility, it was John Stott’s capacity for friendship that was so striking. Partly because of Stott’s impact on me, I recalled with Barby, as we were driving away, my single, simple request of the Lord when I started with Langham: “When my time with Langham is over, please leave me with a whole bunch of friends in my life.”

Early Tuesday morning

Enjoying Tairua together

Our first stop was Tairua for one night, before travelling down to Tauranga for three nights with Mark and Anne, my brother and his wife. With that webinar put to rest, I was desperate to get lost—from which Barby might say I have not yet been found—in my latest book on history…

It is the story of VS Azariah. It was given to me by the author at last year’s Vision Weekend in the USA. I was chatting away with Susan and Chuck (her husband) and she just pulled it out of her bag, signed it—and gave it to me! It is her PhD dissertation. For readers who know their mission history, she was urged to take on the topic by Stephen Neill and one of her supervisors was Lesslie Newbigin. Very cool.

Back to Azariah (1874-1945). He was from a lower caste Tamil family. He became the first Indian bishop. His diocese was a new one—Dornakal, up in the Telugu world, and so a different language and culture from his upbringing. It is an astonishing story, which I’ve not yet finished. In fact I’ve just arrived at the ‘Overcoming Caste and Culture’ section, with the ‘Conflict with Gandhi and Political Nationalism’ one (in which I have dabbled already) still further ahead of me. It really is such a shame that I have a day job. I keep taking photos of pages from the book and sending them to my friend, Father Fred, an Anglican priest here in New Zealand, because the parallels are so intriguing…

Now before I get to the convergence of Tuesday morning with Monday morning, I need to give you a greater sense of the impact of Bishop Azariah’s life. So here are a few words from Harper’s Introduction:

Azariah succeeded as a bishop far more with the Indian masses than with the missionaries or high officials of the (British) Raj. He never fully embraced either of the secular ideologies then fashionable in India—nationalism or socialism. Nor did he use his unique position within the official religion of the British empire to become either an appendage of, or a rebel against, imperialism. He neither adopted all the amenities of western civilization nor theatrically flaunted his connection to the Indian villages in which he worked. He never identified himself irrevocably with any caste, social class, or ethnic group

He was, quite simply, a committed Christian totally preoccupied with winning and saving souls. In an age electrified by secular ideologies, Azariah remained devoted to a traditional religion. He sought to create an indigenous Indian form of Christianity, not a Christianized form of nationalism. Yet he was not the simple quietist that all this might suggest. He was also a dynamic leader and organizer. He lived and died working largely at the local level, and with the poor—those ordinary people in whose name contemporary historians like to speak but whose actual beliefs they often choose to discount.

… Azariah displayed his greatest strength in personal integrity and spiritual consistency (2-3).

So Azariah is ordained a deacon in 1909, by the far-sighted Bishop of Madras, Henry Whitehead. At the time of the ordination Whitehead lets it slip that he plans to make Azariah a bishop, with the eventual consecration taking place in 1912. Between these two events, in 1910, Azariah makes his first trip to Europe—with Whitehead’s wife, Isobel, as his minder—for the purpose of attending the historic Edinburgh Missionary Conference. He is one of the 18 delegates from the Majority World among more than 1200 participants. At this point my reading slowed as I succumbed to that compulsive behavioural disorder of mine, when reading books of history—travelling down Wikipedia and other Internet tributaries.

It turns out that Bishop Azariah is one of the speakers at the conference and I find his full message online. Before I take you there, no sooner had I returned to Harper’s book, than she tells the story leading into the speech. Isobel is just a wee bit domineering (“Ah Paul, I see what you did there, adding the word ‘wee’ to match the Scottish setting for the story! Nice work”). She had already given him a tough time back in Ooty on his choice of clothing as a future bishop and now she was being a right pain on the boat to Europe. “What seemed to her a scarcity of conversations seemed to Azariah a virtual bombardment” (145). On arrival in Britain the overbearingness continues as is clear from Azariah’s letters home to his wife, Anbu. In fact Harper contends that

His irritation with Mrs Whitehead was one factor prompting him to deliver a radically critical speech on the subject of racial relations between missionaries and their foreign converts at the Edinburgh Conference (147).

Here are the first and last pages of Azariah’s speech, to give you a taste (if the font is not too small!):

Isobel wrote to Anbu describing the speech to have “struck the missionary community ‘like a bomb’ … little realizing that she was part of the problem” (148). Here are the words which Harper extracts:

I do not plead for returning calls, handshakes, chairs, dinners and teas, as such. I do, on the other hand, plead for all of them and more if they can be expressions of a friendly feeling, if these or anything else can be the outward proofs of a real willingness on the part of foreign missionaries to show that he is in the midst of the people, to be to them, not a lord and master, but a brother and friend (ahh, there it is—family and friendship!) ...

Through all the ages to come the Indian Church will rise up in gratitude to attest to the heroism and self-denying labours of the missionary body. You have given your goods to feed the poor. You have given your bodies to be burned. We ask also for love. Give us FRIENDS (147-148).

“Give us FRIENDS”. The end.

So, there I was switching channels from work mode to holiday mode, from Monday morning to Tuesday morning, only to be confronted by the very same topic. Amazing, eh? I was stunned (… and saddened that Azariah arrived too late to be included in my final webinar!).

Of course, the ‘Nah’ can be dropped when attention turns to partnership—and is often enough. But I wonder if in the years ahead partnerships will need to move closer to 100:100 than resting content with 50:50. And maybe laying a foundation by having one side claiming to be the generous, servant-hearted resourcers—as has tended to be the case—will no longer be sufficient. Family and friendship is the foundation.

Partnership yeah. Full stop. Period.

nice chatting


PS1: Interestingly, Barby’s grandparents arrived in India from the USA in 1913, the year after Azariah’s consecration :).

PS2: Here is a slightly edited, summarising, slide from the three-part Mission in a Secular Society webinar—starting with the line from the chorus of a favourite hymn—and showing the context into which partnership was set…


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About Me


the art of unpacking

After a childhood in India, a theological training in the USA and a pastoral ministry in Southland (New Zealand), I spent twenty years in theological education in New Zealand — first at Laidlaw College and then at Carey Baptist College, where I served as principal. In 2009 I began working with Langham Partnership and since 2013 I have been the Programme Director (Langham Preaching). Through it all I've cherished the experience of the 'gracious hand of God upon me' and I've relished the opportunity to 'unpack', or exegete, all that I encounter in my walk through life with Jesus.

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