Birth of a Vision
It all started with a local church in a barrio of Siguatepeque, Honduras. The year was 1992. The red wall had come down and post-communist Europe was ripe for harvest. But what could a poor church in Honduras possibly do to make a difference? The odds seemed insurmountable as the leaders of Bethel Evangelical Church thought through all that would be needed to make disciples in those far-off lands. But they prayed and sought answers. The Lord of the Harvest responded with partnerships, a web of alliances that allowed them and other local churches to significantly engage the unreached of Europe for Christ.
As church leaders talked and prayed with the first missionaries they were to send to the harvest (Douglas and Gloria Livingston), they were convinced that God wanted them to pursue reaching that part of the world. God brought them in contact with a local church in Guatemala which had a similar vision. The leadership of Centro Bíblico El Camino, an independent church, had decided in 1993 to take new steps in the advancement of the Great Commission.
So in 1994, these two churches sent three people to explore Europe and see how and where they might begin the task. After thoughtful and prayerful consideration, they were led by the Spirit to begin with a focus on Albania and committed to finding a way to make it happen. Miramonte Baptist Church in San Salvador was invited to join the alliance, as the two initial churches needed the experience of the Miramonte leadership in cross-cultural ministry.
Finally, in 1998, Nueva San Salvador Baptist Church decided to take part in the coalition by sending their founding pastor, Herbert Handal, and his family to Albania.
Cooperation MAYA (CM) Launched
The partnership process was strengthened in 1994 with the formation of Cooperacion MAYA (CM), the name these churches gave to the project itself. It was established as an alliance of churches in Central America which were convinced that the local church is responsible for fulfilling the Great Commission and that it should be done in the context of unity.
The unity came largely through a commitment to a common vision: to plant multiplying churches in Albania and beyond which are capable of self-governance, self-sustainability, and self-multiplication.
From the beginning, CM has been led by a Steering Group made up of the lead pastor of each church and one or two leaders of its mission outreach team. The leadership of the group is rotated on a yearly basis. Together, these leaders define the policies and procedures of the project.
Each local church is fully responsible for overseeing the selection, training, funding, and sending of their own missionaries according to mutually agreed upon guidelines. As to the field ministry itself, a field leader answers to the Steering Group and the missionaries on the field report to this field leader. Field decisions are made on the field, not in the sending countries.
Solidifying the Partnership
CM’s development has been characterized by the participation of a wide variety of organizations in order to fulfill the vision of the alliance. For example, the First Encounter of Iberoamerican Churches and Missions Agencies, organized by COMIBAM (Missions Cooperation of Iberoamerica) contributed to the training of various CM leaders as to strategic alliances. A conference of COMHINA (Missions Cooperation of Hispanics in North America) was where leaders of the first two churches first discovered their common vision for Eastern Europe.
On the field, the Albanian Encouragement Project greatly facilitated the initial incorporation of the first missionaries. CAM Internacional and World Reach, both in the U.S., shared their experience with local churches of CM to facilitate the sending and sustaining of their missionaries. A European Christian Mission team in Albania received and embraced the first missionaries in their process of enculturation and establishment for the first two years after their arrival in 1996.
In the process of solidifying this partnership, several episodes put the commitment of the Central American churches to the test. In March 1997, the “financial pyramid schemes” that saw wide participation in Albania came crashing down, throwing the country into anarchy. Social and political unrest ensued with millions of military arms ending up in the hands of the people. Then in 1999, the war in Kosovo took Albania to the brink of war and again caused instability and uncertainty as thousands of refugees poured into the country.
In both cases, there was pressure to abandon the project temporarily and return home. But the certainty of God’s calling in the midst of a crisis and the experience of having been through revolutions, wars, and civil unrest in Central America were used by God to stay close by and return as quickly as the government permitted. This commitment to Albania served to solidify the relationship of the missionaries with Albanians, with other missionaries, with the sending churches, and between the CM churches.
Currently, CM has missionaries serving in Albania and Macedonia. After sixteen years, these partnerships are still going strong. We are now at a juncture where we want to see God raise up many more churches, missionaries, and teams. Once again, it will only be through key partnership and alliances that such growth will occur.
Lessons from CM
There are at least four lessons that the CM experience can teach us.
- Teamwork empowers the missionary vision of the local church. Fulfilling the Great Commission to the fullest is possible—even for churches considered small—because when there is a willingness to work with others, resources are multiplied.
- There are abundant residual benefits to cooperation. The fruit of relationships between the member churches has led to learning from each other’s experiences, sharing resources in other areas of ministry, and forming close ties of communication and mutual support between the leaders of the various churches.
- An alliance advances to the degree that the leadership of its members are involved. It is not a coincidence that the Steering Group of CM is made up of pastors and mission leaders of each participating church. This is an indispensible requirement of any church wanting to take part. In this way, there is greater ongoing commitment, more fluidity in the work, and better communication with the church body.
- Any cooperation, including mission work, is a divine, long-term commitment. A relational process needs time. The process of evaluating if the CM churches should work together, defining how it could be done, and launching the first missionaries took over two years of intentional relationship. It was a period dedicated to prayer for God’s confirmation. We understand this period was necessary to:
- understand the objectives of each local church,
- understand the experience each had or did not have,
- look at the possible candidates to go out,
- define the mission, and
- agree upon policies and procedures beforehand in order to avoid as much conflict as possible.
Cooperacion MAYA is an unexpected answer from God that came from the commitment of several churches in Central America to be light to ends of the earth. It is a testimony that allows us to declare together, as Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 says,
Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.