Significant Others

By Jennifer Johnson

I have never liked team sports. I avoid group projects. I am a recovering perfectionist who highly values competence and who has found that the quality of an endeavor is often inversely proportional to the number of people involved. Unless I can handpick my team (and, often, be in charge of it), I usually resonate with Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert comic strip, who said the key advantage of collaboration is that “you end up with something for which you will not be personally blamed.”

Pau Khai in his family stand in front of “Bryan House,” Emmanuel House’s first apartment building. The Khai family lived in Bryan House for 18 months as they saved for a down payment on a house of their own.
Pau Khai in his family stand in front of “Bryan House,” Emmanuel House’s first apartment building. The Khai family lived in Bryan House for 18 months as they saved for a down payment on a house of their own.

But God designed the universe to reward teamwork, even to require it. You’ve read the verses: two are better than one, there is one body with many parts, spur one another on to love and good deeds. Moses was given the instructions for the tabernacle, but he needed others to complete the project. Jesus sent the apostles out two by two. Paul included others on his missionary journeys, even if he sometimes argued with them. (Paul gives me hope that there is hope for me.)

I can happily live to be 85 before I hear another person talk about “doing life together,” but that doesn’t negate the biblical truth behind the cliché. The nature of our faith and the existence of the church are predicated on the belief that we need others if we are truly to grow.

Of course, teams make sense pragmatically as well as philosophically. Have you ever tried to move a couch by yourself? Whether it’s shooting a film or building a house or planting a church, darn it if we don’t absolutely need other people, scores of them, to get the job done.

This is the genius of Emmanuel House. On their own power, most of the families this ministry works with would never be able to afford a home, even if every adult in the household maintained good credit and worked hard—rents are too high and pay is too low.

But when a person with means buys a building, and a team of volunteers maintains it, and generous families and small groups and Sunday school classes donate to it, and a staff of professionals coordinate it, this family who couldn’t dream of overcoming the poverty cycle themselves quickly become proud homeowners.

The process rewards financial stewardship, rallies community members around a cause, encourages hard work, celebrates accountability, stabilizes neighborhoods, blesses multiple generations, and honors God. And none of it could happen through the work of just one or two people.

Stories like these make me less stubbornly independent and more enthusiastic about partnering with others. I don’t have the strength or the funds to do everything myself. I certainly don’t have the monopoly on good ideas. And although I’m sure there have been disagreements and disappointments along the way for Emmanuel House, as there are when any group of fallen people work together on something that matters, families and entire communities are being transformed. Any short-term setbacks are less important than the long-term successes.

From the days of Noah until now, God designed us to all be in this boat together. Examples like Emmanuel House encourage me to decide it’s worth it, even if occasionally I want to smack someone with an oar.

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