What do you get when you put a Swede, a Canadian, an American, a Brazilian and an Austrian into a conference room in Slovakia?

While this may sound like the beginning of a bad joke, it’s actually a great example of what partnership can look like. Just last week, I (the Canadian) was sitting with representatives of Project Hannah (part of Trans World Radio) and Herzwerk in a conference room in Bratislava, working on the final touches of the Hidden Treasures Initiative. This great initiative is a collection of true stories of women who have escaped and survived trafficking and sexual exploitation. These stories are being collected, dramatized and will be produced as an incredibly powerful audio resource to be used by all EFN partners who are working in the area of intervention. We are excited by the potential that HTI has to help women see that there is hope and life beyond the streets.

While I am personally excited by what we accomplished in Bratislava, I am more excited by how I saw true partnership at work. The people at the table represented Herzwerk, Project Hannah and EFN; all vastly different entities with different areas of focus and different agendas. Project Hannah is part of a large, well established organization that has many decades of experience in radio and media. Trans World Radio has a large donor base and partners all over the world. They have set policies and guidelines for how they work and who they work with. As the director of Project Hannah told me, “we are like a large ship in the ocean. We are strong and powerful but it takes us a while to make any sudden changes.” Herzwerk is well known to many of our EFN partners as an innovative and inspiring front-lines ministry. They are courageous in their intervention and awareness work and aren’t afraid to push the boundaries in what they do and who they work with. And then there’s EFN, a nascent network of organizations, churches and freedom fighters. We are fluid and constantly growing. We have partners all over Europe who work both individually and together. EFN is emerging as a player on the trafficking and sexual exploitation scene in Europe but many times we are still figuring things out as we go.

So how does effective partnership actually work with such a varied group of individuals and organizations? We asked ourselves that question on our second day of meetings and the answers we came up with are great lessons for all of us as we strive to work in partnership with each other and those outside of EFN.

The first lesson is that trust needs to be built. Our first meeting in Stockholm in April 2013, was all about getting to know each other and see if we could really work together. Immediately we recognized the common links but also the areas of possible divergence. While we recognized we were different we also understood that together we could create something great. The key to building trust though was that each person in the room had to do what they said they would do. Trust requires fulfilling your commitments. Over the last year we’ve all worked hard to show that we are trustworthy people and organizations, able to keep our word, even when it hurts.

The second lesson is that trust should develop into friendship. We didn’t just get into conference rooms around Europe to produce project plans and tasks lists, we spent time together eating, drinking and laughing. Storytelling and sharing became just as important as vision casting and goal setting. Each of the varied cultures in the room brought a beautiful and unique thread into the tapestry we were weaving. We didn’t hurry back from lunch nor did we work late into the night. Instead we talked about our families, our journeys and our best experiences of food. We toured Stockholm and Bratislava and during those times realized we actually liked each other. What started as a formal relationship built on our positions in our organizations became honest friendships where gifts, hugs and prayers were shared with each other.

The third lesson we learned was that everyone needs to bring their very best to the table. At first this may seem like posturing or showmanship but each person needs to know what they are good at AND what they are not good at. Once that has been established then humility and servant leadership can truly be experienced. We do no one any favours when we hide our strengths and what we are best at BUT we also block the power of partnership when we steamroll ahead with our own agenda. Partnership can really only happen when we commit to sharing our best ideas and skills with each other in order for the goal to be accomplished. We have to be willing to recognize those skills and expertise in others and submit to them when the moment calls for it.

The fourth lesson we learned is that in order for the first three things to happen, you have to have the right people at the table. Sometimes partnerships fail because we send the most “talented” people from our organizations to represent us, not realizing that talent and ego sometimes get in the way of synergy and empathy. It is not always the best negotiator, strongest leader or champion of the organization who will be the best one to sit around the table with people from vastly different ministries. Partnership require people who are gracious in their interactions, who can see the big picture and are committed to the end goal but also willing to listen to others and be flexible in their demands.

The fifth lesson we learned is that we always need to keep the big picture in mind. HTI is about helping women experience hope and freedom. We always came back to that shared belief when we got stuck in our thinking or sidetracked by our own agendas. Keeping the big picture in mind means you don’t care if your best idea isn’t chosen or your unique contribution isn’t needed in a particular moment. Keeping the big picture in mind means remembering this isn’t about us but about them and they need the very best from us.

The final lesson we learned is that in order for partnership to be truly effective it requires a firm belief that God’s power and presence are absolutely key in all aspects of the project. We would never start or end our times together without meaningful moments of prayer, reflection and proclamation. When we felt like we were losing momentum or under attack, we would pause and pray for Christ’s power and authority to come into the room. This belief that God’s power and presence is with us means that we also have an unwavering belief that we will accomplish what we have come together to do, regardless of our gender, culture or organizational backgrounds.

So what does all of this mean going forward? We are aiming to have an audio blueprint for the 10 english episodes to be done by December 2014 and the final english product to be completed by the Romania conference in April 2015. In order to to do that we are asking for you to partner with us in the following ways:

  1. Find stories of women who have escaped trafficking/exploitation and have experience freedom and restoration (we have guidelines for how to collect these stories and how they will be used)
  2. Share with us any music that you own the rights to or is royalty free
  3. Be willing to be part of our focus groups who will listen to a few of the episodes when they are produced.
  4. Cover HTI in prayer in this critical time
  5. Help us find sources of funding for translation into different languages. The goal is to have it produced into Russian, Hungarian, Bulgarian, Romania and Czech to start but other languages are also needed.

You can find out more information by contacting sheldon@europeanfreedomnetwork.org