Lisa Nichols Hickman: Surprising partnerships

Surprising partnerships broaden ministry, heighten expectation and lengthen stamina for the long haul.

A recent international story speaks to the power of unlikely partnerships.

As the Everest climbing season came to a close, a twenty-four year old Israeli law student is the Good Samaritan from 26,000 feet, an elevation known instantly to expert climbers as the “death zone.”

A mere 1,000 feet from the world’s roof, Nadav Ben-Yehuda noticed a 64 year old Turkish man, Aydin Irmak, lying in the snow with no gloves, no oxygen, no shelter as other climbers streamed past him in their quest for the summit. In an instant, Nadav relinquished his summit bid and put all efforts into Aydin’s rescue. Nine hours later, Nadav arrived at base camp having saved the life of Aydin.

Here’s the hook: Nadav and Aydin’s story is receiving international press because the relationship between Turkey and Israel is as icy as the slopes of Everest. Nadav’s act not only saved a life, but also bridged a distance between inimical countries.

When asked why he stopped to help when all others gave Irmak up for dead, Nadav answered, “Because we had shared a meal together.”

Their story recasts the Good Samaritan narrative in a new light. Luke 10 hinges on a question asked by another Israeli student of the law. “What must we do to inherit eternal life?” the man asks. Jesus responds with the greatest of commandments and the parable of the Good Samaritan. Certainly this is one of the greatest stories of self-sacrifice and the surprising nature of the good news to radically include those we otherwise deem unfit.

But as I read this in the entire context of Luke 10, I’m left with a “what next” question that verse 35 hints at when the Samaritan promises to return to the inn.

It points something else about Luke 10 -- it’s an extended reflection on partnership in ministry. The chapter begins with the sending of the seventy, in pairs, to the hills and valleys of Galilee. The partnership broadens the ministry, deepens the ownership, heightens expectation and lengthens stamina for the long haul.

And Luke 10 ends with another invitation to partner in leadership for the sake of the kingdom. The story of Jesus’ supper with Mary and Martha is all too often domesticated by heralding Mary for her devotion and scolding Martha for her anxiety and busyness in the presence of Christ. Ken Bailey’s “Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes” draws a very different conclusion from this text. The Mary and Martha story is an invitation into leadership. They are being asked by Christ to go out and serve. The anxiety in this story comes from knowing that their social situation will be in upheaval.

Reading these stories as invitations into surprising partnerships, I am left with a prayer for the Good Samaritan. As much as this text is celebrated as a divine command to stop and serve, I wonder if there is an underlying lament. What if this story aches because of missed opportunities for surprising partnerships? What if the priest and the Levite worked together? Or the Levite and the Samaritan?

Could surprising partnerships not only save a life but also bridge the distance between nations or local communities?

The documentary “The Power of Forgiveness” ends with a final story on surprising partnerships. The grandson of Ples Felix murdered the son of Azim Khamisa in a tragic story of violence. Khamisa knew that bitterness between families would lead only to more tragedy. He reached out to Felix and formed a surprising partnership, the “TKF” project to stop youth violence. Not only do Felix and Khamisa speak tirelessly to school kids on finding alternatives to violence, but they also have forged a brotherly bond between themselves.

Perhaps this summer allows time for all of us to consider the call to surprising partnerships. The Good Samaritan asks us to consider “with whom” would we serve? The sending of the seventy asks us to pray for the “where” we might be sent. And the story of Mary and Martha asks us to consider “what cost” that surprising partnership might have for our situations, our churches, our institutions. Ples Felix, a southern Baptist, and Azim Khamisa, a Muslim, have answered those three questions and made quite a difference in the lives of school children in San Diego.

Nadav Ben-Yehuda and Aydin Irmak have lived into those questions as well. What cost? A summit bid. With whom? The one with whom I shared a meal, even though our countries are at odds with each other. Where might they be sent?

A broken world waits to see how their surprising partnership will serve as a bridge for broken nations.