Ministry Insider: Wolfgang Riedner and Qavah

There are a lot of exciting things happening behind the scenes here at Compassion that, as a sponsor, you might not hear about. I want to give you a little glimpse into just one of them by introducing you to Wolfgang Riedner.

Wolf was born in Nuremberg, Germany, and spent five years as a pastor in southern Germany before he moved to Uganda for 12 years to teach in Bible colleges.

Eventually he made his way to Compassion, and now he serves as our Church Partnership Director, using his cross-cultural and pastoral experience to help us build healthy relationships with our Implementing Church Partners.

two men kneeling surrounded by a group of children

Wolf, what motivates you in your job?

Honestly, what attracted me to Compassion is our commitment to the local church — how the ministry sees that God has chosen the local church to be His instrument in this world.

Many organizations started this way and then left it because it’s not always easy. One of my goals is to help local churches better see their role in the world as missional communities, to be the salt and light in their communities.

What is your role as our Church Partnership Director?

My first goal was to help us get our minds around what our philosophy of church partnership is — what we as an organization think and what our ground rules would be.

We developed our partnership principles — our commitments to how we want to behave as a partner with local churches around the world.

(In fact, you can read the fruit of Wolf’s labor — how we define partnership, what we view as healthy partner relationships and how we build healthy partnerships.)

What is the most exciting thing you’re involved in now?

Qavah — it’s an initiative to empower the local church.

Qavah is Hebrew for “binding together” and it’s our new approach to empower local churches to have a new mindset to see what God can do through them. I want to give credit to Tear Fund UK; they’ve been using a similar model for 10 to 15 years, which has really helped us.

We facilitate Qavah through Bible studies held with new church partners and potential church partners. So far we’ve done it with 50 churches in six countries. It takes them through several different steps.

The first step is to help churches understand that God has placed them in their community for a reason. There are needs in their community that they can address, and children are a big part of this.

The second step is celebrating what we already have, and that’s a key distinctive. Often when you go into a community, you ask, “What do you need?” When you go in with a needs-based approach, you get a huge laundry list of needs. But through Qavah, we’re training churches to first ask, “What do we have? What has God given us already?”

That makes such a difference in terms of a developmental mindset.

Can you give an example of this?

I visited a church in Burkina Faso doing this Bible study. It was a dirt-poor area, and the facilitator had one blackboard. You could hardly read what he was writing on it. But he wrote on one side, What do we have? and the people were listing, listing and listing.

Then he wrote What do we need? on the other side. They listed some things, like a water well and other important things.

But when they compared the lists and saw all they already had, it was powerful.

The pastor asked, “Are we poor?” And the church all shouted, “We are rich, we are rich, we are rich!” They understood the new mindset.

What’s the third step for churches?

The third step is to help the partner church assess the surrounding community and what the needs are. And suddenly the church feels empowered — that they can do something about it.

In the fourth stage, they prioritize the needs they’ve seen — and then they dream dreams. Before, they were either waiting for outside help or for government help. Someone else had to do the first step. Now they’re dreaming and saying, “We can do the first step. It might be small, but that’s OK.”

The final step is to measure outcomes and make sure children really are being helped.

two men standing with a woman

What is the most moving thing you’ve experienced so far?

I visited some of the churches who went through Qavah, and it was the most moving thing to see what can happen when the church is empowered in the right way, understands what God has given them, and starts using their own resources. I was in India, and one pastor said that normally when he invited people to come to a Bible study, hardly anyone would come.

But when they did Qavah, the whole church came.

It’s very grassroots; the whole church can contribute. This church has now already started taking care of children — without our help. Wow! God has so much He can do through the local church. It just needs to be ignited, and there are so many churches where that is happening.

If you could tell sponsors one thing, what would it be?

One thing we are working on is understanding that partnership is a journey and our Implementing Church Partners go through certain maturity stages.

We want to give space for innovation. And we even want to come to a point where we can graduate church partners, to say “We have done this for a long time together, and now you, the church partner, can do it without us.” Then we can graduate them, which will enable us to go to an area of greater need.

That’s very exciting, but it’s also disturbing because it means change. It means a Compassion sponsor may lose a child if that church partner can start caring for those children without Compassion’s aid. But it is an important step for any partnership.

Then this graduated church can be part of our network and mentor another church to show them how to minister to the children effectively. This isn’t where we are now, but it’s where we’d like to go. So sponsors would need to understand that although it’s disruptive, it’s a huge developmental step.

8 Comments |Add a comment

  1. Leonel Xuya December 7, 2012

    Since I first heard about Qavah, I said wow this approach will change our way of partnering with a church. I really like the concept

  2. Christine November 26, 2012

    This is so powerful! Thank you for sharing with us.

  3. Vicki November 26, 2012

    I also find this so exciting–to reach a point (now, still a goal) where we start graduating churches!! That would be real evidence of community transformation!

    However, I also understand Debbie’s concerns and hope for a good answer, soon!

  4. Stacey November 26, 2012

    As an advocate, I am excited about learning and seeing how the Lord is guiding all of you. To make families and communities self-sufficient is Compassion’s ultimate goal. I really like the idea of graduating churches helping other churches. After all, isn’t the true church of Christ supposed to help others? I truly believe that the Lord is blessing Compassion and its work.

  5. Jeff Hoerr November 26, 2012

    This is a great article about empowering churches. it is exciting to think that more children will be introduced to Christ. Thanks for sharing it!

  6. Debbie November 26, 2012

    Would sponsors be given any advanced warning about this, or would it be, oh, sorry, that church is no longer part of Compassion. Also, birthday gifts and family gifts are so pushed by Compassion, and even though a church is now doing great, it doesn’t mean the families are. So basically, you cut off sponsorship, and all gifts and letters to that child. I see that the whole concept is great, but it’s not doing a thing for the sponsor/child relationship that is always pushed by Compassion. What if someone has a trip planned to visit a child, will this all of a sudden be, sorry, this church isn’t a Compassion church anymore.

    1. Shaina Moats November 27, 2012

      Great question, Debbie! We will always notify you if your child’s church partner is no longer a part of Compassion. In cases like this, we make a phone call and send a letter. Also, we will be able to tell you all the details on the ending of our partnership in that area. Decisions on the closing of a project is something that is done carefully and prayerfully. Normally, we move out of areas when the overall economic status of an area has improved drastically. This means that many of the families are doing much better financially and they have decided that they no longer need Compassion’s assistance. Often in situations like this, the project staff will deliver final letters and monetary gifts to the sponsored children even after the Compassion partnership has ended. We will also notify you if a visit is not possible in situations like this. Blessings, Susan

    2. Tondja Colvin November 27, 2012

      Debbie, excellent questions. I hope to see a following reply to you.

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