This story begins with a friendship. The Bible tells wonderful stories of friendship such as Jonathan and David or Paul and Barnabas, and also refers to our friendship with God.
This story of friendship begins with two people, grows to include close families, and eventually becomes a partnership between two mission agencies. It is a simple story of our need for friendship, but also a profound story that illustrates the need for partnerships in ministry to reach our rapidly changing and complex world. No one church or organization can provide the resources to go to the ends of the earth. God has placed all necessary members into the Body, and every member is needed to work effectively. From a medical school friendship to a hospital in the remote regions of the Himalayan Mountains, God has uniquely and precisely woven together such a story, one that is still unfolding.
Doug Lindberg and Jeremy LaMotte attended medical school together at Loyola University. They rented a house together in Berwyn, Illinois, with several other guys. While the others negotiated over downstairs rooms, Doug and Jeremy were content to share the attic space. With a sheet to divide their living spaces and walk-in closets as bedrooms, they made the best of the situation. It was during those tough years of their medical studies that the two future doctors became the best of friends. They also shared another life-changing experience. While in Chicago, Doug met his wife Ruth, and Jeremy met his wife Ona. In fact, the two couples were married only eight days apart in the spring of 2003.
Hospital residency jobs split up the friends, but they never lost contact with each other. During a planned vacation together in East Tennessee, the couples began discussing what had been a far-away dream back in medical school. At first, the thought of serving God overseas was only mutual encouragement because the idea of going to a country, much less a specific town, together was not in the plan. Each family pursued their own unique path and with their residency jobs taking them apart, it was easy to just focus on their individual calling. But later, through a series of unplanned events, both families came to the same realization that a remote area of the Himalayas was the perfect fit for them. Medical care is a dire need in this small mountainous country, and it matched both families’ skills and passions perfectly. There was one interesting wrinkle in this ideal scenario. God had led them to the same place but through two different organizations. Doug and Ruth joined TEAM, an organization that had pioneered medical work in Nepal starting in the 1960s. Jeremy and Ona joined SIM, an organization that would be just beginning work in the country. The newly forming medical partnership between these two families was also paving the way for a partnership between the two organizations.
TEAM began in 1890 as one of many sending movements that Fredrik Franson, a Swedish immigrant to the United States, would initiate in his lifetime. Mission organizations in his home country of Sweden and other European centers would also follow. The first workers were sent to China and Japan, and TEAM has strong relationships in the Asian region today. SIM was founded in 1893 by Canadians Walter Gowans and Roland Bingham along with American Thomas Kent, and had a vision to reach sub-Saharan Africa. It later merged with the African Evangelical Fellowship that had been founded in 1889. This era was certainly an exciting time, as many pioneers of the modern sending movement crafted a vision to reach the world.
Both TEAM and SIM expanded their work over the decades to include many more regions of the world, and they sent out thousands of workers. On many occasions and for shared purposes, TEAM and SIM have worked side-by-side in various places globally. Sometimes this partnering involves the sharing of personnel, a practice known as secunding. When workers for an organization desire to serve in places where the organization has not traditionally worked or does not have a support system, other organizations with an established presence and relationships will receive those workers on their teams.
It is more than just sharing resources. Secunding is actually a good illustration of the Body of Christ. Members with certain gifts have the opportunity to use those gifts wherever the need exists, regardless of organizational affiliation. It is a very natural way to see the Body of Christ working together. However, it is not always easy. Mission agencies, like all organizations, run by certain rules and regulations. There is no one perfect model for organizational structure, and God uses a wide variety of approaches to support international mission. Different cultures, traditions, and procedures within organizations make sharing personnel complicated. It requires trust and communication between the team members and the partnering organizations.
One method of simplifying the process is for organizations to make ministry agreements. These formal – and sometimes not so formal – agreements establish mutual trust, open lines of communication, and resolve issues that might stand in the way of a smooth transition. From medical insurance and retirement benefits to member care and donor relations, there are numerous details that are worked out in the ministry agreements. Often, workers on a ministry team are not from the same home country, and partnering organizations may also be from a variety of countries and cultures. Multi-cultural, multi-national, and multi-organizational teams are quickly becoming commonplace. It not only displays the variety in the Body of Christ but it also underlines the need for diverse teams to tackle the challenges and complexities of our world. From remote and isolated places to large urban areas teeming with many different peoples and cultures, the task of reaching our world would be truly unthinkable without the realization that God is bringing an equally diverse and beautiful tapestry of disciples to the harvest.
Jeremy and his wife Ona and Doug and his wife Ruth exemplify such a wonderfully diverse team in their corner of the world. Ruth, who is also a doctor, serves as the team leader and also devotes much of her time to caring for their three-year-old daughter, Maddie, and eleven-month-old son, James. Ona is the area coordinator for a program to empower and build up teachers, a need just as crucial for this remote region as medical care is. She home schools their two older sons, six-year-old Christian and four-year-old Nathaniel, and cares for their new addition, 10-month-old Josiah. The families are often joined by short-term medical workers and volunteers from all over the world and are blessed with incredible local coworkers. They are praying for additional long-term workers to join them who could just as easily come through TEAM as through SIM.
Doug shares that working with such close friends isn’t always easy. “During medical school, we all were close friends, but our day to day decisions and actions didn't have nearly the same degree of influence on one another's lives as they do now,” he said. “Being part of the same team here is, in a lot of ways, like being married to each other. We have to talk about finances, how we raise our kids, schedules, how our actions are perceived by the community, etc. We've found that communication, keeping short accounts, and being gracious and forgiving with one another is critical. We must always think and assume the best of one another. We must look out for one another's best interests. The depth of the ties that bind us together are just on a whole different level working here as teammates compared to our medical school years. It's certainly not always easy to be teammates with close friends, as at times, honest communication can lead to conflict and disagreement. But we've found that working through these things, while difficult, ultimately leads us to love each other more, to be better equipped to serve here, and to function more effectively as a team.”
These insights are a good reminder for all of us, laborers together. Regardless of our place of service or local manifestation of the Body of Christ, we are one, and there is no division by ethnicity or station in life or even organizational affiliation. Inspired by a shared 120 years heritage as well as the partnership initiated by Doug and Jeremy, TEAM and SIM are pursuing more opportunities across the globe to partner together. Who knows where that friendship can lead?
-Written by Ray Scott
-Photography by Robert Johnson
[Originally published in TEAMHorizons, October 2012]