Missio Dei: A Journal of Missional Theology and Praxis 2, no. 2 (August 2011)

playlist_add_check Review Article

Mary T. Lederleitner. Cross-Cultural Partnerships: Navigating the Complexities of Money and Mission. Downers Gove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2010. 230 pp. $17.00.

Partnerships are trendy, du jour, and very fashionable in missiological literature. This is, in itself, not a bad thing, but demands thoughtful guidance and supple wisdom as the massive amount of commentary on this critical topic can be confusing. Mary Lederleitner’s recent work, Cross-Cultural Partnerships, provides one example of helpful direction through this maze of material. Lederleitner, a consultant for Wycliffe International, provides numerous examples of real life partnering (and mis-partnering!), and draws the reader into critical issues that can make partnerships fly or fail.

The book proceeds from the foundational assumption that, although necessary for effective mission practice, partnerships are fraught with difficulties and hidden cultural traps. That is, the formation of faithful and effective partnerships requires more than simply goodwill and earnest desire. Indeed, partnerships can function as simply the latest way of controlling the Other. The term “partnering” often functions as a new external wrapping given to a very familiar type of “ministry,” i.e., control by those who possess greater resources. Because this type of faux partnership is so common, Lederleitner’s work is all the more urgent for those who wish to work faithfully and effectively in cross-cultural contexts.

To help us navigate these complexities, Lederleitner weaves two primary topics throughout her discussions: relationships and money. Much of the material on cross-cultural relationships will be familiar to informed readers. Important cultural dynamics to which all should pay close attention include individualism and collectivism, the issue of “face,” monochromic and polychromic approaches toward time, ambiguity tolerance and uncertainty avoidance, and communication in high- and low-context cultures. Her important reminder that the seemingly innocent metaphor “children” applied to non-Western partners often hides an insidious neo-colonial paternalism is right on the mark. She raises the important question of who decides how to define dependency and the shape of partnerships, often a conversation driven primarily by expatriate missionaries and donors. All potential partners, Lederleitner insists, should have a say in these definitional and foundational issues. In my opinion, one of her most important contributions in the entire volume is the extended discussion in Chapter 5 on “paternalism couched as accountability,” which she could easily have also sub-titled “dominance couched as partnership.” Her insight challenges readers to look hard at how these dynamics may be tacitly at work in even the most sensitive and caring missionaries.

Lederleitner devotes considerable space to her other key concern, namely issues involving partnership and money. She discusses the frequent occurrence of recipients using resources contrary to donor’s wishes and offers possible ways to navigate such sticky situations, noting that a critical piece to all financial challenges is real and substantive friendship, rather than merely formal institutional arrangements. An approach based upon realism, friendship, and humility undergirds her many practical and specific examples. She advocates giving dignity and mutuality while still working towards financial accountability. Lederleitner offers helpful suggestions if funds or other resources are misallocated.

In terms of the use of money and dependency, Lederleitner aims at a middle way, avoiding both the free use of money advocated by some and the aversion to using money at all. The reader will have to decide if this chastened approach is feasible in real life. It was unsatisfying to me, as she tries too hard, unsuccessfully I think, to hold on to both approaches, resulting ultimately in a proposal that lacks power and consistency.

Overall, Lederlietner’s work rests upon a foundation of humility, genuine love, and friendship, resources that are often scarce in cross-cultural partnerships. This work could serve as a fine introduction to the issues involved in cross-cultural partnership. Those who wish to dig deeper may want to consult Lingenfelter’s work Leading Cross-Culturally (Baker Academic, 2008) and Jonathan Bonk’s enduring classic Mi$$ions and Money (Orbis: 2007).

Chris Flanders

Associate Professor of Mission

Graduate School of Theology

Abilene Christian University

Abilene, Texas, USA