In 2017, International Mission Board (IMB) workers Mark and Hannah Bustrum attended a retreat with missionaries from the region and invited national partners to participate. For more than a decade they had worked to strengthen relationships with Portuguese believers, but inviting them to this retreat was about more than building or maintaining those relationships.
“We know that national partners have keen and unique insights into their culture,” Mark said. “So, we invited them to be the main speakers at our meeting to help us learn how to be more impactful with the gospel in our specific European context.”
Because of their relationship, Mark and Portuguese church leaders realized that partnership in the gospel was not only possible, but essential. Working toward a shared goal gave them both a sense of responsibility to bring the gospel to Europe.
“Working with national partners is not just a good idea,” Mark said. “It’s vital to long-term ministry to have our local partners speak into and guide the ongoing strategy. We don’t do our work apart from our local partners.”
God used that attitude toward partnership in an essential way. In 2018, the Bustrums returned from their scheduled assignment in the U.S. and followed up with local leaders. As they talked, they prayerfully considered what they learned from their time together on the retreat the year before.
Mark said that one message was especially clear. His national partner told him, “God loves Europeans. God wants to save Europeans. So, come to Europe and work alongside us for the long term to make a difference with the gospel for God’s glory in Europe.”
But how? What would a long-term partnership look like? Once again, Mark’s national partners had an answer.
“Europe is like an old lady who is learning to dance again,” one Portuguese church planter told him. “Missionaries want to come in and sweep her off her feet, but we need to be patient and take our time. We need to think for the long term how to reach Europe with the gospel.”
Today, IMB workers and Portuguese believers are committed to this type of sustainable partnership for the sake of the gospel. The Bustrums and their national partners have submitted themselves to prayer, fasting and studying scripture. They have made this their priority and have been completely committed to God’s work, God’s way, God’s timing. Together, Mark said they have taken ownership of the mission to bring the gospel to unreached people in their city; not in their own strength or wisdom, or clever marketing or strategy, but through the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Through intentional times of prayer, fasting and study, God led them to plant a church in their city in 2019. They realized that many people were living in one part of the city and commuting to another part for work. One part of the city had a church, but no healthy church existed across town. The Bustrums and local believers formed a core group and started meeting in homes in the local community. God blessed that work, and the church grew.
In 2020, that small core group of people has grown to become a full church plant. They have been meeting and developing leaders to lead the church and its ministries. In early 2021, it will become an independent, self-supported church.
Mark said he believes this type of relationship will be key to reaching the unreached in Portugal and beyond.
“Because we believe the gospel, we want to continue in humility and partnership.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Mario Russo works among European peoples and is a contributing writer for the IMB.)