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Building Local Friendships: Is It Worth the Effort?

in Blog, Disciple-making, East Asia
Thoughts from a Crossworld worker in East Asia

Before I moved overseas, I had no idea how deeply I desired to “only connect,” as British novelist E.M. Forster so succinctly put it. When I lived in North America, I was surrounded by people with whom I had much in common, and I never struggled to express myself and my heart to others. Rarely did anything hinder our connection.

But now I live in a foreign country. In the last seven years, my family has been part of two small communities of believers: one made up of English-speaking foreigners (our “team”), and the other of mostly local believers (our church).

When I spend time with the English-speaking foreigners, I feel more naturally encouraged, understood, and loved. Communication is effortless. Not only do we speak a common language, but we come from a similar cultural understanding and we share the deeply affecting experience of being outsiders in this country.

When I spend time with my local believing friends, I often wish I could express myself more effectively and understand better what they’re trying to say. Despite years of language study, I’m still not fluent, and our different upbringings produce different core perspectives.

We come together in the body of Christ and are united by worshiping Jesus, and that is a beautiful thing. However, loving them — wanting to spend time together, desiring to know them more deeply, and allowing myself to be more fully known — is simply harder. I hold back because I might be misunderstood. Or because I don’t understand. Or because I’ve never been — and never will be — in their particular situation.

Sometimes I wonder why I even make the effort. And this is the attitude that reveals to me the strength of my drive to “only connect.” Yet connection must not be my deepest desire. Love and connection are related, but love that requires connection is an anemic love.

Is Jesus’ perfect love contingent on His connection to us? Thankfully, no. He loved us while we were still sinners — by definition, disconnected from Him and misunderstanding Him in the worst possible way.

I find glorious encouragement in His definition of love: the greatest love lays down its life for another (John 15:13). I can too quickly believe that I need connection to truly love. But if Jesus’ sacrificial love for me is the defining example, then in some ways, the more sacrifice that is required for me to love another, the more my love reflects His.

As I release my grip on the desire to emotionally connect, I see glory forging these cross-cultural friendships. Often, just when I feel most discouraged or disconnected, one of my friends will express love and care for me in a way that gives me a glimpse of Jesus’ heart. Despite — really, because of — the language and cultural barriers between us, we behold our unity in Christ. And it is richer and more beautiful because it doesn’t come from feeling connected or being understood. It flows only from Him.

Crossworld worker Chloe and her family make disciples in East Asia.

The people in this story are real, but their names have been changed to protect their privacy.

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