The Story of a “Together Moment”

March 2022

By Brian Heerwagen, CEO, Standards of Excellence


A Lesson about Lasting Partnership

I imagine that you have a heart like mine. You truly desire to see multitudes come to know Christ as Lord and Savior, and to see God glorified as people respond to His saving grace. But as the church, sometimes we just keep doing what we know how to do. We do it by ourselves – we just keep going – in our small neck of the woods, our church, and our mission field. We’re too busy to see any other way of doing things and in an effort to retain the life of whatever we are doing – we just keep doing whatever IT is. Just us. Sometimes we even tire – we are dedicated, but tired.

In 1997, I broke out of this malaise and had a “together moment.” A space in time where I connected with someone else, and we discovered that we could do far greater things if we just worked TOGETHER. Not just one time, but in tandem, in partnership, in it for the long haul, climbing into the trenches together, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer. 

And for 20 years, we weathered storms, raised lots of money, and saw hundreds and hundreds of Christians serving side by side and across cultures. Most importantly, we have seen countless lives transformed by God’s amazing grace. Salvation decisions, households changed, leaders raised up, and Christians growing in maturity with new convictions about their own missional role on earth. God has accomplished great things in this partnership through and in us all.

I’m talking about a partnership between the church in the USA and the church in Italy buoyed by the friendship that would develop between missionary Doug Valenzuela and me. Our “together moment” has led to hundreds and hundreds of “togethers” between Americans and Italians.

We care about each other and for each other – like when someone gets married, has children, or when someone dies. We celebrate baptisms. We pray when hard times hit. We are together. It’s only a “physical together” on occasion (when we have a mission trip), but it is a “heart together” all the time. We nurtured this togetherness as we persevered in communication, in sharing resources, and in hosting each other as we each traveled.

With such dramatic changes in technology, communication and transportation, churches are growing in the capacity to establish true and lasting partnerships with workers and churches in other places in the world. The depth and breadth possibility when you establish a genuine partnership is life-altering and exponential in impact.

Here are a few things I’ve learned about keeping partnerships alive and vibrant:

  • It must be clearly of the Lord.
  • It requires relationship, trust, determination, intuition, communication.
  • It requires a decision in the beginning that this is for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer. It is a union to last until God should show it to be done.
  • It requires a commitment to mutuality, not equality. The balance will be forever shifting as the two sides work together year after year, in various projects, with different gifts and different workers.
  • It requires a cultural sensitivity from both cultures.
  • It requires sacrifice, courage, and a willingness to take risks – a lot of risks.
  • It requires perseverance in hard times as well as in the mundane things.

This partnership between American and Italian churches, and the friendship between Doug and me, has seen glorious and romantic days. We’ve wandered through some pretty dark days, too, as we’ve negotiated differences in culture and philosophy, and as we’ve tried to sort out miscommunications and budget blunders. Yet, the togetherness has multiplied the blessing and life-change in ALL our churches and has given birth to extraordinary friendships that span the globe.

I praise God for that first “together moment” and all the “togethers” since then!