I have feared that no matter how much time we spend in this country, how fluent I become in the language, or how comfortable I become with my surroundings, that I will always be viewed as the foreigner and never truly be “in” and considered a friend to any person outside of the expat community.
I’ll never speak like a native. I’ll never have dark skin. I’ll never look good in traditional dress. I won’t get the inside jokes or know the little songs and stories that children grow up with. Culturally, I am coming from a totally different planet. No matter how much I adapt and adjust, I will never truly belong.
I desire and ask God for a close friend of national ethnicity. I know that I can learn and grow so much in this context if I develop deep and meaningful friendships in the midst of the enigma that is culture and language adaptation.
But will this person ever look at me in the same way I look at them? Will I be their friend…or just a foreigner with new and fun things with which to introduce them…just the person who tries really hard but will never really get where they are coming from?
Can I find common ground with someone whose life resembles mine in so few ways? Is it possible to bridge the gaps between our worlds and create an atmosphere where a budding relationship can thrive?
For this reason, I love what the Word says about friendship.
- are friendly (Prov. 18:24)
- love at all times (Prov. 17:17)
- comfort and edify (1 Thess. 5:11)
- encourage to love and live better (Heb. 10:24-25)
- live selflessly and sacrificially (John 15:13)
So we don’t have to have the same skin tone and cultural background? Phew! That’s a relief! I don’t have to get all their jokes? Well that makes sense because, well, let’s be honest, I don’t always get my husband’s.
And the biggest-and maybe the hardest- thing I am learning is that I can be a friend without being a friend. Someone doesn’t have to welcome me into their inner circle for me to be friendly and to love, comfort, edify and encourage them. I can live selflessly and sacrificially to their benefit without them inviting me into the intimate parts of their life.
I have never really felt as though I had to try to make friends because I could always find someone like me, who appreciated me and understood where I was coming from amid the plethora of potential pals I had to choose from.
That will never be my reality here. But that doesn’t mean that the months and years of sowing seeds of friendship won’t eventually pay off. And I hope that when they do, I will have everlasting fruit in the form of new sisters in Christ for the time and heart invested.
It’s certainly not an easy or rewarding task investing in people who don’t want much to do with you or only want what they can get from you…which is basically the reason I don’t like Twitter, but that’s besides the point…really.
So I’ll never be a Nepali… but I can be a friend to many, and maybe a few will be my friends too!
Have you ever been put into a situation where you had to bridge cultural or social gaps to be a friend?
I would love to hear your experiences in the comment section below!
Excellent and so very true! A great post!
Thank you Lou Ann, I enjoyed yours on the BMW recently! About going from Hero to Zero ? know the feeling!
It can be so hard when you feel like a perpetual outsider, I lived abroad in Mexico for awhile and it was the same thing, I didn’t always get the jokes (though I tried to laugh like I did) I didn’t always understand the inside colloquialisms and I feared that I would always be looking in the window and never invited into the room. The barriers do start to break down over time, it takes awhile but I did keep a few special friends from that time who went beyond finding me just “interesting” because I was from the states.
That’s great to now and so fun to find out something new about you! I know it’s not forever! Thanks for sharing!
Great thoughts Amber! I often feel that way. I find as I get better in the language the gap narrows but there’s still a large gap culturally. So far the ultimate gap closer is the cross. Our Japanese brothers and sisters, especially those that have been saved many years, are much more relatable. There’s still many differences, but as Christians we have experienced some of the same joys and sadness. We share the same heart to serve Jesus and tell Japanese people about Jesus, even though we don’t agree on how delicious squid is! 🙂 keep sharing your experiences. They are a great help to Rebel and I.
Yes, it is amazing how much better as your language improves! I know what you mean, too, about the natural connection between believers as brothers and sisters in Christ and I am so thankful for that. I am looking forward to winning some lost people to Christ and gaining even more family! God bless you guys there in Japan. We miss you all so much and are super proud of all you are doing there and how hard you are working. We love those babies of yours SO much!
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