ANM’s vision is that all people, everywhere, should hear the story of Jesus before He returns. This is based on Jesus’ promise in Matthew 24:14, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” ANM strongly believes that each country should be evangelized by its own people. Therefore, we see our vision becoming a reality through fruitful indigenous missionaries sent out by 351 native partners in 115 countries. People often ask me, why do you so thoroughly vet your native partners, and how do you select them?
Why do we vet new partners?
There is a direct connection between our vision and the stewardship of donors’ gifts to ANM. One of the primary objectives of ANM is accountability — accountability to God and accountability to our donors. In the sight of God, we have to do justice to every gift that comes in for our native partners. Every effort is made to send each donation to the right place and the right person, to be used in the right way — that is, the way the gift was intended. Unfortunately, in my 35 years of missions experience, I have encountered many so-called “ministries” that exist only as a name on their letterhead in order to find funding. They aren’t real. There is no work being done for God’s kingdom. Therefore, the process of vetting native partners is critical and requires a great deal of work.
How do we vet new partners?
ANM often finds new partners through the recommendation of trusted ministries that we have worked with for many years, as well as by word-of-mouth as local ministries get to know ANM. If their suggestions look promising, we then plan a personal visit to each potential native partner. Because ANM’s resources are limited, I want to know before the visit if the potential partner is strategically located and is committed to reaching those who have never heard the story of Jesus. I begin the visit by sitting down with the ministry leader, usually with another ANM staff person. We always begin and conclude every meeting in prayer, asking for God’s guidance.
Once we begin the interview, normally out of excitement, the ministry leader will start describing his vision and ministry activity. But I will stop the leader and first ask several important questions.
Personal testimony. Before we can evaluate the work of a ministry, we need to know the person behind it. When sitting down with a ministry leader I have never met, I want to know about his spiritual journey. Is he a first-generation believer? How did he come to know Christ as Savior? What challenges has the leader faced, and how did he deal with them? What led him to start the ministry? Was it his personal calling from God, or was the ministry someone else’s idea? If possible, I talk to family members to gain greater insight into the leader’s character. When these and other questions are answered well, then I ask about the ministry itself.
Ministry leadership. I often interview ministry workers and ask them to describe the leader’s “leadership style.” The ministry’s growth since its founding is examined. I want to know something about the leader’s spiritual and natural gifting and what God has already accomplished through him without outside support. This is what I mean by a “fruitful” ministry. I look at the structure of the ministry’s board of directors. Are there only family members on the board, or is there a leadership body of sufficient independence to provide proper accountability? Then I look to see if there is the healthy development of a “second line” of emerging leadership. Do they have a five-year or ten-year plan? All of this helps me to evaluate a potential new native partner relationship.
Fiscal responsibility. ANM does not support any ministry at 100% of its expenses, as we do not want any partner to develop an unhealthy dependency upon us. We request annual, audited financial statements from native partners to ensure accountability. Does the ministry employ a CPA? What is the ministry’s financial situation now? Only when I am satisfied with the answers to all of these questions, do I inquire about the ministry’s most current needs, asking, “If the Lord provides, what do you believe God is calling you to do next in your ministry?” I listen carefully to the leader’s answer. It might be material needs, such as a motorbike, or more workers in the field. It is good to remember that as a ministry grows, so do its needs.
When do we make our final decision?
When I return to the United States, I discuss the evaluation report with other members of senior leadership. Evaluation reports from our Regional Directors are handled in the same manner as well. These reports become the primary documents for determining whether the ministry that was visited will become a new native partner. Often the decision is not made immediately. We wait on God.
We also wait to see how the potential partner responds to the field visit. Once, many years ago, an ANM field director and I evaluated a potential native partner and were not at all impressed by the ministry. It seemed that the leader was putting on a show for our benefit, and so we declined partnership. Later, the leader sent an email accusing us of having asked for a bribe to approve his ministry. This was his way of “saving face” and taking revenge for being rejected. That is an extreme case, but it demonstrates just how critical the vetting process is to securing both the integrity and mission of ANM.