It’s an understatement to say a lot of things change when we surrender to God’s call to serve in a cross-cultural setting. Whether we serve in our home country or overseas, the nature of the work puts a distance between us and others. Of course, traveling thousands of miles from home also puts a physical distance between us and those we’ve known as friends in life. Some friendships can withstand the separation, others fall to the wayside.
You need a friend.
We cannot do life alone. No man or woman is an island, not even in ministry. Serving as a married couple helps fill part of that need, but we all need friends of our same-sex to relate to and confide in. The trouble comes in making friends in new places. If you’re blessed with being part of a team, there is no guarantee that they become friends. We work in harmony together, yes, but a close friendship is not always a given.
So, where do we find friends?
A friend is someone who has mutual likes and interests and can relate to the things you enjoy or the work you do. It may be that you find just the right person in your teammates, and that’s wonderful. I have several friends who worked for the same company, and we’ve remained friends over the years. I think the reason we became and remained friends was because we didn’t work “closely” together. We had our ministry and they had theirs. Being too close to the people you serve with can have its downside, so having a bit of a distance in service is better.
Friends can also be found in ex-pats from other organizations—secular or religious. They relate to you because you’re all living overseas or serving a cross-cultural community. You are able to build a friendship with them because they understand your struggles.
Do not neglect the possibility of developing deep friendships with national believers. I say believers because friendships with nonbelievers will always be at a different level. There are simply needs that believers can fill in friendship that a nonbeliever cannot. Sharing struggles with nonbelievers can be misinterpreted, and they can’t pray about them as a believer can. On the other hand, I have several strong and long-lasting friendships with national believers. They don’t come quickly, but as I got to know them on a deeper level, we bonded over our love for Christ and for the nations. They have also become my greatest prayer supporters as I’ve moved back to my home country.
Even friends need a healthy distance.
My late husband had a saying about keeping a healthy distance in relationships. That included those with extended family, church members, and friends. We can all become too dependent on our friends to the detriment of our dependence on God. When we seek out a friend’s advice before asking God what he would say about a certain issue in his Word, we are treading on a dangerous path. When a friend hears something before our spouse does, we need to ask ourselves why. Finding balance in friendships is just as important as balance in other areas of our life.
What do you do when you can’t find a friend?
Building friendships takes time and effort, and in a cross-cultural setting, it is not always easy or automatic. This is where your prayer support team comes in. Ask them to be praying for God to provide you with a friend. It may be one person for a long time, but it’s never about the number of friends we have but the quality. Be thankful when you make a connection with another person and find friendship. He is faithful to know our heart’s desires and provide for our needs, even friends.
I have found a friend in Jesus.
It sounds trite, but it is no less true. Jesus called his disciples friends. We are his friends. There is no one who knows us like he does, no one who cares for us like Jesus, and no one who will stay with us longer than him. Be ever mindful, that no matter how lonely you may feel in ministry, you have a friend in him.
Grace and Peace