Tag Archives: friendship

Soul Care

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I have not blogged for a couple of weeks now.  I’m just breathing in and out every day, doing my job, taking care of responsibilities.  I’ve been focusing on Soul Care issues with any spare strength I find.  Boundaries- I’m pushing back those boundary lines that have crept too close to the center, giving myself space to breathe.  One of those boundaries is pulling away from social media for who knows how long- until I feel more like myself and less like a conglomeration of acquaintances who share a page in cyberspace.  I had already been toying with the idea of not blogging so much because it was starting to feel like homework.  I need to go back to the place where writing brought me joy and for me, that means less structure and more spontaneity.

Another boundary I’ve decided to resurrect is to read more real books.  Reading articles and news headlines on line has not been renewing my mind enough to be refreshing.  I have been spending my weekends curled up in a comfy chair with a good book, ignoring the world as much as I can.  I still have to do ministry things on the weekends and take my kids to birthday parties and go to church, but I’ve decided not to feel guilty about guarding my weekends and doing what I enjoy for once.

And finally, I have been making space in my schedule to have those coffee dates with friends that I have neglected the last few months.  Even though I don’t have much to give them, just being with them, hearing their life updates, and enjoying their friendship has brought me joy.  I need to do that more often.  A friend of mine came into town as she traveled from Thailand to Dallas to Costa Rica and home to Argentina.  I dropped everything and told my husband, “Find your own dinner and take care of the kids.  Don’t call my cell phone asking when I’m going to come home.  I’m going to be with my friend for as long as I possibly can.”  And it was a magical 5 hours of talking and laughing long after the coffee and dessert was gone.  (Waiters here never bring the bill until you ask for it, they just expect that you’ll sit as long as you want after you’ve eaten.  It’s all about relationships in Latin America.)  I needed that time with her.

So here I am, just living each day one by one.  I wake up every morning and ask the Lord for the strength to get through today, for the wisdom that I will need to do my job, for the Lord to bless the work of my hands.  Having boundaries and knowing what my soul needs to be energized are part of my Soul Care plan.  You’ll see me around the blogger-sphere more sporadically for a while.  Thank you for all your loyal readership over the last 2 years.  Let’s bump into each other again soon.

P.S.  I do have a blog going up tomorrow too.  So come back then.

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Love to the End

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I often speak of the friends that the Lord has put into our lives who love us unreasonably.  You know, those friends who have no reason to open their hearts to you, but they do.  They take a chance and reach out.  Those are the friends through whom I most feel the love of the Lord radiating towards me.  When that dear friend hugs me, I feel like God is taking me in His arms and smiling down into my upturned, little girl face.  Those are the friends that “stick closer than a brother”. 

Recently one of my Facebook friends posted this beautiful photo of her step mother and her aunt reconnecting at a funeral.  The story she posted with the picture brought tears to my eyes.  I wanted to share it here to show you how far love can take you.

Two hearts still connected after so long.

Two hearts still connected after so long.

This is a picture of my mom & my sweet Auntie Bernice yesterday at the funeral of my dear Aunt Hazel. They may look like two ordinary, older women but there is so much more to the story. I will cherish this picture because it reminds me of the long time & unlikely love these two women have shared.

Aunt Bernice is my first mother’s (Bernadine) sister.   My mother Bernadine died at the age of 29 leaving my father Dale a widower with 4 young children under the age of 7.  Aunt Bernice was so close to Bernadine.  They were born 20 years apart…to the day!  She being the oldest  and my mother being the youngest of 9 children.  What a sorrow she felt at the loss of her dear young sister!

Then my father starting “courting” my 2nd mother, Barbara the same year.  Many family members were not happy (that had to be so hard).  But dear Auntie Bernice, with so much love in her heart, just opened her arms to Barbara.  She insisted that she stay with her when Barbara came to visit us that first time.  When Barb and Dale married that following July, 1965, sweet Auntie Bernice LOVED my NEW mother just like she was one of her sisters.

Over the years Aunt Bernice has made sure to pass on all the memories of our first mother, her sister, on to Barbara.  So now our second mother had those to share with us (dad forgot so much!). Aunt Bernice loved on us so deeply over the years, even moving to be within a block from us so she could help.  What a wonderful link she has been to our first mother’s family.

Now they are nearing the next part of their journey.  Mom is 82 and Aunt Bernice is 98.  So yesterday at the funeral of Bernice’s other sister Hazel, I wheeled my sweet mother close to my dear 98 year old aunt and they spoke, quietly heads bowed.  We all stood in such awe.  Later when I asked my mom what Aunt Bernice said, she told me, “She said that she loved me from the first moment she saw me.” I am in awe of that kind of love.  It only comes from the Father.

Thank you Mari for sharing the story of your step mother and your aunt who loved her like a sister.  It isn’t just because I too knew Barb and Dale and loved them both that the tears swelled in my eyes.  This is such a beautiful story of the love of God shining through us and it’s power to heal and hold.  Because Bernice accepted Barbara who replaced her own lost sister, the children were blesses as well.  Her love brought wholeness where there was brokenness.  That’s what Jesus does.

A Letter to Friends who are Gay

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I have posted before how I am proud of several of my Christian Facebook friends who are breaking the stereotypes that the world holds concerning Christians.  Recently I read this post by a friend of mine and fellow missionary.  Normally this woman cracks me up with her wit and humor, but today she made me wish I KNEW some friend from high school who came out of the closet just so I could say these kind words to them.  (I actually keep in contact with so few people from then that it’s just pathetic and sad.)  Catherine, you make me proud to be a Christian… the kind of Christian who can extend loving friendship to someone who is gay even though we don’t agree about everything.

Having grown up in the Twin Cities where there is a large gay community I have worked with and gone to school with many people who professed to be gay.  I generally have found them to be delightful, creative and witty people (pardon my stereotyping).  They always know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am indeed a Christian, but I have always tried to show that a relationship with Jesus was not a political position nor a social weapon for shunning someone.  But my relationship with Jesus gave me the FREEDOM to love someone outside of my “tribe”.  

Jesus ate with tax collectors, prostitutes and other shunned people from his time, much to the dismay of the religious leaders.  A real follower of Jesus will do the same- reach out to those who need a friend regardless of their lifestyle.  This does not mean I condone their behavior, it is still sin, but I am deliberate in extending my friendship to them by following the example of Jesus.

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Dear old friend from high school that I just learned is gay,

Dude! How’s it going? So, I stalked you on facebook. The snoopy part of me sees bits of your profile, and I have pieced together that you’re gay. I have wanted to “friend” you. I want you to know I remember that nebulous cloud of high school where I was half asleep to the things that really mattered, and more focused on emotionally surviving my day. I wish I had been more bold back then, but everything in it’s time… If you look at my profile, you’ll see that I’m a Christian. A missionary, in fact. You would laugh if you knew the detours I took along the way. I hope that doesn’t bother you. You’re gay, and I love you, like you even.

We’ve all changed since school, but I think we would both fondly remember moments of being with someone and you didn’t have to try so hard. You could just be. I was grateful to you for those reprieves. We laughed a lot. Sweated a lot. (it was the desert after all.) We had acne together that the beautiful people magically avoided. We weren’t goth and we weren’t quiet grunge. What were we? We were awkward together. We dabbled in the more creative electives, and perhaps nerdy pursuits. I remember not feeling like I fit in my own skin. I wish I could go back in time and tell us we were beautiful.

So I’m a Christian and you’re gay. We won’t agree on everything, and maybe we don’t have to talk about everything. But you’re still my friend and I still treasure you. I promise not to hit you over the head with a giant Bible, (until I am overcome by love and concern for your soul, that is. I can only hold it in so long, you know.) But in the meantime, I would only say you are deeply, deeply loved by your Creator. He sang a song of delight over you as you were purposefully formed. And…I still like you. (Not like-like, just like, don’t get all vain.)

Now don’t you think that sounded just like how Jesus might sound?  At least he sounds that way in MY head.  Yes, Jesus says “Dude” in my imagination.  But more importantly, wouldn’t Jesus be the first one to say, “I still like you.”?  I think he would.

Photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/thomasleuthard/7186832081/”>Thomas Leuthard</a> / <a href=”http://foter.com”>Foter.com</a&gt; / <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>CC BY</a>

I see you

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I wrote this article last summer for an on-line newsletter about women in ministry.  I was under contract not to publish it anywhere until the newsletter published it first.  Now that they finally used it, I can share this story too.  If you want to see the original page, go here.

I could feel my palms sweat and the index cards in my hands tremble. Taking a deep breath, I slowly recited my Bible verse in Spanish to my conversation partner, Sujen. As a new missionary on the field, three times a week this young Nicaraguan woman would come to my house to teach me how to clean my ceramic floors or how to cook the perfect chicken and rice dinner. And three times a week this introverted missionary would be pushed to my conversational limits by having a Spanish speaker in my house. It was way beyond my comfort zone, but I pushed myself even further.

One day after practicing my Bible verse with Sujen, she casually told me that she was having marital problems. She asked me if I thought prayer would help. I said, “Of course!” With my 3 months of Spanish, I said a simple prayer for Sujen and her husband Jimi. When I opened my eyes, Sujen was crying. I was shocked that the Holy Spirit could do anything with my pitiful little vocabulary – my loaves and fishes’ sack lunch. Right there in my kitchen, I prayed with Sujen to accept Jesus into her heart.

Soon after, Sujen invited my family over to her house for lunch. We followed her directions to the entrance of a little alley where she met us and lead us back through a maze of make-shift houses. Her house consisted of one small living room with a kitchen divided off by a curtain, one bedroom, and a small bathroom with the only running water coming from a pipe shoved through the wall. Her “kitchen sink” was a cold water tap shared by several neighbors just a few steps outside her house. She considered herself fortunate to have running water so “conveniently” placed near her kitchen.

I sat humbly on a stool in her kitchen watching and listening as she taught me to make tortillas by hand. It was such an awesome thing for me to feel the love of God radiating from Sujen towards me. I was the missionary – the one who was supposed to be blessing her – and on that day I felt God shine His love on me through her. There was nothing in her background that could have prepared her to accept a foreigner. Nothing taught her the patience she would need to converse with someone just learning Spanish. No one could have prepared her to be my friend, but God had glued us together somehow, and we were both blessed by the relationship.

I was blessed with her trust when she showed me her wedding photo album. I was blessed with her intimacy when she opened up a well-loved box of photos. With tenderness and a few tears quickly wiped away, Sujen showed me the birth certificates of two baby boys, both stillborn. I saw little faded footprints stamped onto the treasured pieces of paper. I saw a glimpse into her pain. I saw her mother’s heart. I saw her.

After my visit to Sujen’s house, I struggled to put the experience down on paper for my interaction report that week in language school. It was more than just a cultural experience for me. After reading aloud the first few paragraphs, my Spanish disintegrated, and I dissolved into tears under the weight of the kindness I felt from Sujen. I simply lacked the vocabulary to describe it.

In English, I apologized to my teacher. I said, “I just don’t have the words to describe how much it meant to me that she invited me into her home, and that she loves me like that!”

My teacher had such a tender heart. She told me, “But April, we see who you are in your heart. And we can tell that God’s love is there even if you don’t have the right words to say in Spanish.” After that, I began to relax in the knowledge that God’s love was indeed shining out through the cracks in my paltry Spanish and my nervous, introverted social habits.

We don’t need to worry so much about being missionaries who want to save the whole world. Instead we need to see ourselves as women with the love of God in our hearts, just looking for friends with whom to share His love.

 

 

You burst my personal bubble

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Before I moved to Latin America I had a rather large, roomy personal bubble.  Most Americans do.  I didn’t like “close talkers” to use a phrase from Seinfeld.  You know, a close talker is someone who stands uncomfortably close to you when they talk.  And they may even unconsciously pursue you as you back away gradually.  A close talker could easily creep me out or make me super irritated.

This past week at the conference I was basically chased around a table by a close talker.  I kept backing up and he kept following me!  I even tried throwing a few chairs in his path, but they didn’t deter him!  He was WAY into my personal bubble.

But in Latin America, my personal bubble was completely burst.  Here girlfriends often touch each other’s hair and clothing as they talk.  Old ladies hold my hand or pat my cheek or rub my arm while they talk to me.  Friends link arms as they walk along.  Everyone kisses as a greeting.  Closeness is part of the warmth of the culture.  Sometimes I like it and sometimes I don’t.

When we lived in Mexico occasionally we would take advantage of our two oldest kids finally being in school and we would go to see an early movie.  No parents in town meant no babysitters for date nights, so we compromised.  Naturally because we are Americans we always bought our tickets early and arrived at the theater early enough to choose our seats.  Being the first ones, we had the whole theater to chose from.  But it never failed, the very next couple to enter the theater ALWAYS chose the seats RIGHT NEXT TO US with no buffer seat between us.  (Have you noticed how Americans put their coats on the seat next to them as a buffer?)  To our American sense of space, this was incredibly awkward to be sitting in an empty theater shoulder to shoulder with total strangers.  Awkward!

But for the Mexican who were used to living in one of the most crowded cities in the world, it was nothing to be nearly on top of each other.  More than likely they were thinking we had chosen the best seats and naturally they wanted the best view too.  It’s kind of like how you can draw a crowd just by staring and pointing to something vague in the distance.  (It’s kind of a fun prank, you should try it sometime.)

Here in Latin America touching and grooming and friendship all shrink my personal bubble.  I have discovered that when I return to the United States I often freak people out by standing too close for comfort.  I don’t mean to be a creeper, I just forget!  One time I was in the grocery store in the meat section.  There was only one other lady in the whole place.  She was looking intently into the cooler case, examining some packages of meat.  I thought because she was looking so purposefully that she must have found a sale item.  So I slid over to her side and looked right where she was looking.  She looked up in surprise and took a few steps to her right.  Instinctively I followed her a few steps to the right.  She gave me a dirty look.  Then I realized what a creeper I was being.  I apologized and headed to the bread section post haste!  It was pointless to try to explain that Latin America had broken my personal bubble.

Heart Language

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It does not matter how fluent I am in Spanish, there always seems to be a point at which the words coming out of my mouth feel inadequate to describe what is happening in my heart.  When I hit that linguistic wall, I know I need to revert to speaking my heart language.  There are some things that are just better expressed in your native tongue.  For me, the top two situations that require English are Praying and Expressing Love.

Probably because both love and prayer come from the deepest part of my heart, I have a hard time breaking my thoughts down into verb tenses and indirect object pronouns.  Finding the right words is hard work, not the work of the “moment”.  My mind refuses to violate my emotions by forcing them into an unnatural form, twisting and tangling the strings of the heart until they no longer play a pure tune.  It’s like contaminating the deep well of sweet caring with the sweat of labor.  Some things just need to be expressed in my heart language.

For some time now, I have had a desire to tell our best Costa Rican friends just how I feel about them.  I want them to know just how much their friendship has meant to me.  I want them to understand how special I think it is that they would take a risk and get close to a foreigner… especially knowing that we are missionaries who come and go every few years.  It is a lot of work to be friends with someone who struggles to communicate in your language.  I wonder if I would have the courage to be that kind of friend if the shoe were on the other foot.

I want to tell my friends that I love them so dearly, but I just can’t find the right words in Spanish.  I want them to know that I see the risk they took, I appreciate the work it takes, and I am so very thankful for their patient love.  Our friends have opened their lives and their homes and their hearts to us.  They have shared their food and their family.  They have given us more than they will ever know.  They have, in many ways, gone against their own cultural current and opened doors for us that we could have never opened on our own.  Their sacrifice does not escape me.

For a long, long time now, my friends have been silently precious to me.  When I am with them, my heart pulses telepathically.  I love you dear friend!  I love you!  I don’t know how, but I think they can hear my heart beat.  I think they know that my heart is open to them.  They can sense it, though I can’t express it.  I love you with my heart language when my second language doesn’t feel like enough.  And I look forward to the day we meet again in Heaven and we both will speak and understand the language of the heart.

 

Thanksgiving for a New Friend

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Recently I have made a new friend at the school where I teach.  She is more than 10 years younger than me, but age has never been an issue with me.  I have had friends who are much older than me and friends who are much younger than I.  The quality that really attracts me to any friend is her authenticity.  Nothing is more delightful than someone who is comfortable just being her self.

A friend like that is like your favorite pair of jeans.  Sometimes you just want to grab your “go-to” outfit without thinking too hard about how nice you look.  Sometimes you just want to wear something comfortable that you won’t have to be adjusting or fussing with all day long.  Sometimes you just want those jeans that are a bit worn and always the perfect fit.  Yeah, a real friend is like a great pair of jeans… you never want to take them off.

My new friend is “sweet”.  That is the first word that I would use to describe her- and it’s a genuine quality in her.  The other day I had a crazy thought.  I wondered if it could actually hurt to be so sweet.  I mean, it would pain me to try so hard to be sweet, but she seems to come by it naturally.  I don’t think anyone would use the word “sweet” to describe me.  I have a stubborn, ornery streak that spices up the flavors of my personality.  (I come by that naturally too.  My mom says I’m just like my dad.)  At least I don’t perceive myself as being sweet like my friend is.

But my favorite thing about my new friend is how she talks about Jesus.  Our conversations nearly always wind their way around to Jesus.  We both love God with all our hearts and have dedicated our lives to serving Him, so naturally we would talk about God a lot.  My friend’s conversations are always so uplifting and refreshing.  I’ve had some friends who talk about God in a pious, self-righteous sort of tone and that just rubs me the wrong way.  But my friend talks about Jesus in a personal way that I can identify with.  She is not ashamed to tell of times when Jesus has scolded her in her heart for a bad attitude or revealed a falsehood in her way of thinking.  She is not afraid to admit when she screwed up and to ask God to forgive her.  And this is a lesson that I am still learning for myself.  I always feel closer to Jesus after I’ve talked with my friend.

In my taxonomy of friendship, I know I have a really great friend when I feel like I never get enough of spending time with this person.  Normally people wear me out, but when I realize that a friend fills me up instead of drains me, this is a good thing.  I only get to eat lunch (18 minutes) a few times a week with my friend and to see her a few times in passing in the hallway.  So yeah, I feel like I don’t get to spend enough time with her.  She doesn’t drain me; she leaves me always wanting more.

Since she is a single girl living overseas and away from her family, I invited her to our Thanksgiving dinner with the other missionary families that we work with here.  Secretly I was hoping that we would get to spend more time talking together… and we did.  We spent the whole afternoon in the kitchen together.  (I broke a wooden spoon stirring my thick, gluey mashed potatoes and we died laughing at that!)  Then we joined the other missionaries for our big feast.

Not only did we get full of food, but we filled up our spirits as well.  We talked of Jesus and what he’s doing in our lives.  We laughed and enjoyed each other’s company.  We got teary-eyed telling each other touching personal stories.  I feel like our hearts were even more knitted together over our turkey and pie.  So for me, it was a wonderful Thanksgiving Day and I have so much to be thankful for.  I am very thankful for my new friend who encourages me and builds up my faith.  I wish we all had a friend like her.

My sweet friend. Isn’t she adorable?!

My Tribe

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I used to think that “Kindred Spirits” were rare kinds of friends, few and far between.  

The other night I was thinking back over our 18 years in ministry.  There was a time in my life when I didn’t have any real friends.  I had co-workers in ministry, but I didn’t share my inner most thoughts with anyone at all.  No one took the time to get close to me, and I opened up to no one.  I blamed it on a lack of time.  I blamed it on my need for strength and my fear of weakness.  I blamed it on a need for confidentiality between pastors and congregations.  I blamed it on the fact that I saw no one around me who was exactly like me… as if that were really the only kind of person that I would enjoy being friends with.  I was very busy, but when I slowed down I was deeply lonely.  I didn’t like slowing down.

I remember the night that we “graduated” from School of Missions and we were commissioned to become missionaries.  My parents were standing somewhere in the crowd behind us, supportive, conflicted, and tearful. I was so excited to finally be in the group of people that I had longed to be a part of ever since I was 10 years old.  I was finally “in” the tribe that I had admired for so long.  Then I turned around and saw the sad-proud looks on my parents’s faces and I realized in one sinking moment that they were not coming with me.  They were not joining the club.  I was leaving one tribe to be a member of another tribe.  Yes my family would always love me like only family can, but the people who would UNDERSTAND me were other missionaries. My family was left standing on the outside, separated by more than the physical distance between counties.

More than 8 years later I have reached a new, fresh level of life in ministry.  Here overseas I have made more life-long friendships than I ever had in full time ministry in the States.  Here I have nothing but time on my side.  I have shed that old, tight friendless skin and have embraced a softer, more flexible and friendly  sort of skin.  The friendships I have here are deep and satisfying, giving and being filled up at the same time.

I can honestly say that the change probably occurred when I was pummeled into tenderness during our time at Language school.  But that time of trial and transformation is yet another point of connection that I have in common with my tribe mates and fellow missionaries.  (So I don’t begrudge one moment of the beating.)  I have never felt such deep camaraderie in ministry as I feel with My Tribe.  My cup overfloweth with friends.

Language School graduation, surrounded by our Tribe who knows “what it’s like”.

She Left Her Mark on Me

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Today (April 16th- this is posting later) is the anniversary of the death of a dear friend of mine.  She was one of the first victims of Swine Flu in Mexico back in 2009.

Nely and her family.

That was a really rough year for me.  We had just come home from our first term in Mexico with a sick baby and I myself was going through cancer treatment.  At the same time, we were traveling around raising our funds for our next 4 year term overseas.  One day between my surgery and my radiation treatment, I was at home with Lucy when I received a call from my husband who was out of town.  He said he had received a call from Mexico from our friends telling us that Nely had died unexpectedly that morning.  I felt like someone punched me in the stomach.

I remember falling back against the wall and trembling all over.  How?  What happened?  All the details were sketchy.  We called several friends to try to piece together the details.  We called the airlines and booked tickets for that afternoon.

Our two oldest children were in school and would not be able to accompany us on the trip since their passports had just expired.  That was terribly hard to leave them behind, but we made the arrangements for them to stay with family and called the school to break the news to them over the phone since we would be leaving for the airport within the hour.  It was so hard not to be with them when they cried.

The service in front of her parents' house.

There is no embalming in Mexico.  Bodies are buried within 24 hours of death.  Often times, memorial services are held in the home with the rented casket and the body right there in the home.  Nely was a well loved pastor’s wife.  People came from all over the city to attend one of the 4 or 5 services that were held in her parents’ house.

The thing that I remember the most is looking into the faces of her three children and wondering Why.  Her youngest son Abel, stands out in my memory.  His face brightened to a wide smile when he saw us then immediately crumbled into tears.  I scooped him up in my arms and just hugged him without saying anything.  What could I say?  I had too many questions unanswered in my heart.

Friends comforting Nely's husband

Nely was the kind of friend that every missionary needs.  I feel like God gave her an instinct to understand foreigners.  She left school when she was pre-adolescent and was married by age 15.  Nothing in her education could have prepared her to understand me.  She had never lived outside of Mexico City, even visiting relatives in the country side stressed her out.  She had never even visited many of the famous tourist sites in Mexico City!  So what could have prepared her to understand someone coming from another culture and country, speaking a strange language?  Only God could have given her the understanding and compassion to befriend a foreigner.  Only God could have given me a friend like Nely.

I lack the words in English OR in Spanish to describe the indelible mark that Nely left on my heart… on my life.  And I’m not the only one.  Everyone who knew her loved her and misses her tremendously.  A mom, a wife, a sister, a daughter, a friend.  She was so very ordinary by the world’s standards, but so very EXTRAORDINARY in all the ordinary things she did day in and day out.  She left her mark and in some small way the world is a better place for having known Nely.  And Heaven is all the more extraordinary because someday I’ll see her again up there.

Culture: The Mole on the Back of Your Neck

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Unless you are a cultural anthropologist, you probably don’t give much thought to your own culture.  You don’t think about what makes your nationality or ethnic group different from other groups.  You don’t consider where your opinions come from or what deep seated believes inspire your reactions to the world.  You never see all the different colored strands that go into making the tapestry of your world view.

Unless you physically move into another culture, you have very little to compare yourself to.  Up until that point, your culture is like a mole on the back of your neck that you never knew existed.  How can you possible know it’s there unless someone points it out to you?  For example, when we visited Thailand, our missionary friend humorously informed us that Thai people think Americans stink.  I was incredulous!  We don’t stink!  They stink!  (Americans tend to think the smells of fish, cumin or garlic are potent, so anyone who eats a lot of those foods will stink to the American nose.)  But the amazing thing was that after sweating profusely for 5 days straight, I was out of clean clothes.  And so was everyone else in the group.  Now I agreed with the Thai people… we do stink.  But unless I came in contact with someone with a different perspective than mine, I never would have seen myself from a different point of view… or smelled myself from down wind.

When missionaries enter a new culture, one of the things we pray for is that God would give us friends who can unlock the culture for us… gatekeeper friends, I call them.   These are friends that are able to love you for who you are and help explain their culture to you in a non-judgemental way.  These are the friends that will gently correct any mistakes you make without causing you additional embarrassment.  These are the friends that you can trust with your questions like, “why don’t we flush the toilet paper here?”  and “what does it mean when someone rolls their eyes at me?” and “how am I supposed to take my turn if we don’t form a line?”  A gatekeeper friend is an invaluable resource for learning a new culture.

I am continually amazed when God gives me friends like this because sometimes it is very difficult being friends with an outsider, a foreigner.  Having a conversation takes a lot of work on both sides, for me to struggle through Spanish and for them to concentrate so hard on understanding my meaning.  It’s exhausting for both of us!  Always having to explain things that are automatic or that are generally taken for granted requires patience.  Noticing the tired, glazed over look in my eyes or the look of confusion or of shock means paying attention to the details of someone else and taking compassion on them when their reactions are not your reactions.  It’s a lot of work being friends with a foreigner!  And I am so grateful for the friends that are willing to put in that kind of work to be my friend.  In their compassion towards me I feel the love of Jesus.  It’s a beautiful thing!