The Power of Cooperation Over Competition
In the last year, I have developed an addiction to podcasts. Ken makes fun of my inability to be in a car without someone sharing a novel idea, a true crime story, or in-depth teaching about a current event. Seriously, I can’t get enough of my NPR One App.
During one of my recent long car rides, and subsequent podcast binge, I listened to the “TED Radio Hour.” They highlighted a talk by Sharon Terry called, “Science didn't understand my kids' rare disease until I decided to study it.” In this talk, she shares about her family’s journey after both of her young children were diagnosed with pseudoxanthoma elasticum, PXE for short. “It's a rare genetic disorder, it's systemic, it's a slowly progressing, premature aging disease. It causes loose wrinkly skin in the flexor areas. It causes legal blindness, like macular degeneration, and a host of cardiovascular problems. Little is known about this disease, and some people die in their 30s, say some of the reports at the time.”
Because this disease is so rare there was very little research available to them on how to manage, treat or even reverse the disease process. She reached out to researchers interested in the disease, and they began to assess the children. This assessment required a different blood sample for each doctor. She started to ask them why the children needed to have so many blood draws. Why couldn’t they just work with the other researchers for the benefit of the children? That is when the ugly truth came out. She says she discovered that “researchers competed with each other because the ecosystem was designed to reward competition, rather than to alleviate suffering.”
As I was listening to this program, I was reminded of a story a friend shared with me about an experience she had while on the mission field. A friend had asked her to deliver a small gift to a child she had sponsored for ten years and developed a healthy relationship with via social media, letter writing and visits. My friend had recently had a falling out with the leadership of the child’s sponsorship organization. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that my friend was a little nervous about delivering the gift to the child, but still wanted to honor her friend. While out to lunch in town she happened to encounter one of the American representatives of that sponsorship program. She attempted to give the child’s gift to the woman, but was rebuffed with the statement “Our children will no longer receive anything from individuals associated with you."
So yes, there is a ton wrong with this situation; giving gifts to only one child in a sponsorship program, the paternalism of the woman, “our children,” and much more. However, I want to focus on the fact that there was competition between the two parties. Could it be that, like medical researchers, Christian outreaches reward competition rather than cooperation to help alleviate suffering?
This doesn’t just happen in developing countries. It’s one of our dirty little Christian secrets that our western competitive nature leads us to compete in feeding programs, vacation bible school, weekly church attendance and so much more. It’s time that we, as Christians, stop fighting over those in need like school children in a game of tug-o-war because, in the end, it is those who are in the middle that suffer most.
So, like many healthy churches and ministries, LET'S DROP THE ROPE!
What does this look like? It goes back to our core values:
Empower and offer dignity to both those they serve and those they serve alongside
Reach out to the greater community to be discipled and disciple others
Work hard to develop honest and loving relationships with individuals and the surrounding community… Including other ministries with a shared mission and vision
Focus on sharing the love of Christ not only with their words, but through their actions
Only move forward when led by the Spirit