I have always enjoyed African proverbs, and one thing I have noticed is that there are a lot of African proverbs about collaboration:
If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.
Sticks in a bundle are unbreakable.
A boat doesn’t go forward if each one is rowing their own way.
As we all know, the concept of partnership is also very biblical. It is core to who God is as He works in partnership as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In the rebuilding of the wall in Nehemiah 4, God’s people worked together. In Ecclesiastes 4, we are told that a cord of three strands is “not easily broken” and that “two are better than one.” Romans 12 tells us about the many parts of the body all working together. And of course, Jesus Himself chose to live life with His disciples, in community, even when it slowed up the journey or put a pause on the important mission of proclaiming the coming Kingdom of God.
Collaboration is a call to relationship and to see and invest in the Imago Dei in others. Yes, we partner for the mission we are on as God’s people. But equally, we partner because God has partnered with us simply because of who we are — His children. We are not just objects to be used; we are children whom He wants to spend time with. Collaboration is more than working together toward a common mission — it is working together because we see value in how God has wired other people.
I can think of many incredible examples of God’s people partnering together — in business, in church planting, in education and the arts, and in community activism and seeking justice and shalom for our world. But it is in the area of Bible translation where I have encountered collaboration that transcends anything I could have even hoped for this side of heaven. Partnership across ethnicities and races and cultures and geographic settings can be challenging, and yet the rewards far outweigh the slower pace involved in a partnership-driven mission.
Below are three partnership principles I’ve learned throughout my years at Wycliffe that I believe can work for any organization.
1. Find the Third Space.
Each of us comes to a partnership or venture from a certain background that we often feel comfortable or familiar with. This could be our language, our talents, our organizational power, our theology, etc. Years ago, I was part of a Wycliffe USA delegation invited to South Africa to meet with leaders of other Bible translation agencies who serve in various African countries.
We all liked each other, but we soon realized that we were working in proximity, not necessarily in partnership. We were each operating from our own safe place based on our organizational histories, values, and perspectives. We knew we needed to find that third space where interdependent cooperation is encouraged. The third space is where all parties demonstrate mutual respect, learning, influence, and benefits.
As we each shared our concerns, trust and confidence were deepened. We learned that transparency needs to exist, true relationship and reflection need to happen, we must be committed to mutual learning and interaction, and we must have ample joy and laughter.
2. Multiply Your Reach.
When collaboration is done well and the third space is created, our goals have no limits! Those of us in the Bible translation movement see this all the time as different people from different backgrounds work together to get the Bible into complex and varied languages. In 1975, Campus Crusade for Christ (CCC, now Cru) created the Jesus Film with the goal that everyone who watched it would understand the love of Jesus. Ten years into that effort, Wycliffe partnered with CCC to have local speakers help translate the film into their context.
Today, the Jesus Film has been translated into more than 1,900 languages. Through the collaboration, both organizations have been able to reach more people with the gospel message than either could have done alone. Multiplying never happens in isolation, and the more we work together, the more likely we can do even more than we could have imagined.