Pastor’s Column: ‘Tuko Pamoja’: We are Together

One of the first things I learned while living in eastern DRC was how to say goodbye. In our Congolese community, it is common to say farewell using the Swahili phrase, “Tuko pamoja,” translated as “We are together.”  “Tuko pamoja” signifies ongoing fellowship and relationship. Paul shares something of this same sentiment with the saints of the Philippian church when he writes to them from prison, “I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel” (Phil 1:7). In Greek, “partakers” is related to one of the New Testament writers’ most favorite words: koinonia. In Scripture, koinonia describes the sharing that we have in God through Jesus Christ, the fellowship with have with other believers through the Spirit, and the tangible sharing of possessions and money for the sake of the gospel.

In Scripture, koinonia describes the sharing that we have in God through Jesus Christ

My Congolese brothers and sisters seemed to get this more than I did initially. Yes, they were thankful for cross-cultural partnerships and the skills and talents that foreign friends could offer, but, more than that, they were interested in cultivating community. They valued sharing meals, praying, worshiping, and even mourning together just as much conversations about material and human resources and strategic planning sessions. This is instructive for us in the North American context who tend to value productivity, efficiency, and “impact”, often at the expense of deep, patient listening and time required to develop authentic fellowship. The challenges of DRC—like many parts of the world—are real: ongoing violence, exploitation of natural resources, health emergencies, poverty. But for our Congolese ministry partners, these challenges can only be fully addressed through the slow, deliberate, and redemptive work that happens in the spirit of “tuko pamoja.” Koinonia is foundational to their mission strategy; long term change will not happen any other way.

Koinonia is foundational to their mission strategy; long term change will not happen any other way.”

Today, I sit on a different side of the world, spending my days imagining how to help members of my congregation participate in God’s global mission. It’s a different context, but my question is the same: what would it look like for the church in our North American context to prioritize koinonia in the way we go about global mission engagement? Many examples come to mind, but here’s a few to get started:

  • Actually pray: I find this is often one of the most talked about but least executed form of mission engagement in churches, often, because prayer invites us to sit in the needs and brokenness of the world while confronting our own inability to do very much to solve it. But what if we lived like this posture of dependence is the place of greatest empowerment? Gary Haugen, CEO and founder of International Justice Mission, says, “Prayer is the heartbeat of the sufficiency of God.” Your mission partners likely know this; they are working and serving in places where this kind of prayer and dependence upon God’s sufficiency is not a nice add-on to end a meeting but is essential. So, pursue fellowship with them by pursuing fellowship with the Lord on their behalf; share in their dependence upon God through the ministry of intercession. Learn their needs and desires; ask regularly how you can be praying for them; see God move.
  • Change-up your short-term mission trip strategy: I once heard a field office director working in SE Asia share with tears in his eyes about how much it means for short-term teams to come for the express purpose of learning and encouragement. He said, “You are the eyes of Jesus to us—looking at us and loving us and seeing God’s work when we can’t always see it.” The day-in and day-out grind of poverty alleviation, church planting, peacemaking, and anti-trafficking is hard. There are often more obstacles than clear paths. More failures then victories. More challenges than ease. The gift of encouragement and fellowship offered by a short-team can mean the difference between burnout and resilience to a mission partner and can often bear far more fruit than building a house, drilling a well, or running a VBS that an indigenous community, church, or long-term missionary could easily do if financially supported and encouraged. Sometimes our short-term teams can add value through skills and service, but as my Congolese friends often reminded me, being can be just as significant, if not more so, than doing.
  • Assess and strategize around your congregation’s and your mission partners’ capacity for global relationships: For decades, evangelical churches pursued mission strategies where more equaled better. But if koinonia is what we’re after, then it’s important for mission leaders to assess and steward their congregation’s capacity for global relationships; depending on resourcing, a church could be a donor to many but can pursue deep relationship with much fewer partners and organizations.

Ultimately, this is about God’s work of transformation on all sides of the relationship. One of the greatest gifts of global mission relationships is the opportunity they offer for us to take a good look in the mirror. I recently spent time with friends serving the persecuted church, and

“I was reminded of how the relative ease we have in following Jesus in our own context does not necessarily equate to greater joy in him”

I was reminded of how the relative ease we have in following Jesus in our own context does not necessarily equate to greater joy in him. I felt compelled to look at my own life and wonder where I’ve made compromises for personal comfort rather than sacrificially loving my neighbors—which is also at the expense of my own joy in the Lord. Pursuing koinonia means we are continually reminded that our global mission engagement is just as much about the transformation that God desires to do in us as through us.

Emily Hamilton is an ordained pastor within the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians and received her M.Div at Duke Divinity school. She is currently the Pastor of Missions at Christ Presbyterian Church in Edina, Minnesota. Emily is adjusting to being back in the States after spending two and a half years in the Congo for missions. A Louisiana native, Emily loves traveling with her husband Kyle, and cooking (and eating) gumbo, jambalaya, and étouffée. 

February 4, 2020
Categories: ,