As I exited the airplane, I called the woman I would be traveling with for the next leg of my journey. We chatted while I rapidly walked through the Boston airport; she assured me I was heading in the correct direction, even though the way to the gate where we were meeting was long and confusing. While I listened to her, I thought of how she sounded exactly like a friend of mine who grew up in the same city she did. After a couple of hallways and unclear signs, I saw her.
We said hello in person for the first time and shortly thereafter boarded a flight to Portugal. For the next two years we worked, lived and played together. Our adventures included sightseeing trips throughout Europe and consuming massive amounts of coffee. Although we haven’t lived in the same place for three years, our friendship continues to deepen through occasional visits and regular phone calls and text messages.
The story above is one example of the many friendships I have built because of my years as a cross-cultural worker. From organizational training sessions to parents of students to Velvet Ashes connection groups – my friendships and network regularly grew. However, the growth wasn’t simply a longer list of friends. Instead my friendships have provided me with an enlarged perspective of how God is working around the world and a greater appreciation for the diversity found in cross-cultural ministry.
Discussions concerning the need to network in order to raise funds can be common in our communities. As important, if not more important, are discussions about networking in order to share ideas with and provide support (not the financial kind) for each other. Some of my safest friendships are with others who have lived or are living through similar circumstances. These are friendships where I can be honest about the difficulties I’m facing.
Because of an enlarged network of friends I have multiple safe people with whom to share. Not all of my cross-cultural worker friends serve with the same organization I served with, and not all of them lived in the same countries or had the same ministry focuses as I did. What all of them do have is a heart for the world and a desire to minister wherever and however God directs them.
As an introvert all of the friendships and networking can overwhelm me at times. More Facebook friend requests and more people to meet up with in person and more relationships to build – all of the “mores” exhaust me. So when I’m overwhelmed, I remind myself of how each new friendship and each new connection is one more way for me to allow God to use me, one more way for me to have my world perspective expanded. Permanent reentry has challenged me as I focus my energy on establishing new friendships while maintaining existing friendships with people all over the globe. Instead of allowing the “mores” of reentry to cause me to shy away from new friendships, I’m consciously choosing to enlarge my friend base, to view the reentry process as a way to expand my perspective of life in the same way living abroad did.
The community here at Velvet Ashes is beautifully diverse, and my life has been enriched and blessed through the friendships I have built here. My heart has broken for women who are struggling with reentry and maneuvering through culture shock. My walk with the Lord has been challenged by the words of others. My understanding of various cultures has deepened as I have discussed questions in Connection Groups. Women I have never met in person have become friends. Skype conversations with them about writing or reentry or relationships have brought joy to my heart. I am thankful for the prayers of these women and for the opportunity to pray for them. Because whether connections occur in person or through social media, the result remains the same – a heart enlarging in its ability to pray for and invest in others.
How have you been relationally enlarged this year?