Friday, September 27, 2013

Making friends

We have a pretty basic outreach model. It's making friends. Group affiliations, beliefs and persuasions, genuine community, it all flows and develops along relational networks. There's like a whole lesson about it in Perspectives. Outreach is relationship building, and showing love and loyalty towards others builds trust and credibility while demonstrating the same regard that was given to us.

Like, it sounds obscene when it's written out all clinical and theoretical like that, because I hate thinking of loving others like it's some kind of strategy, but, seriously. I write it because I believe it's true. They will know Who we serve because of how we love.

We've been here a few weeks, but I've already racked up a debt of gratitude to those who have brought us into their social spheres. As an outsider who can't even speak or understand the local language, I have been the beneficiary of so much hospitality, generosity, and kindness. They offer us rides, take us shopping, invite us into their homes, answer our never-ending translation questions. My heart melts every time someone invites us to do something with them; I had forgotten what a precious gift inclusion was!

And all this inclusion makes me wonder about the life I lived back home. For as long as I could remember I bemoaned my isolation; I begged to be put in school when I was ten so that I could have some friends. In high school my social thirst was quenched through NCFCA and youth group, but I still wanted for opportunities to share my convictions through relational pathways. So my first semester of college blew my mind; there were so many potential new friends! And this mindset led to some G0d-ordained conversations in the 24-hour room of library. And as my fear lessened the same thing happened at work, and testimony grew from that. But when commencement ended and I found myself officially graduated, what happened then?

Don't get me wrong, my summer was well-spent. The expeditions to rural hiking trails, the ritual of movie nights, basketball and tennis, beach days, coffee dates, sleepovers, talking by the fire's glow, fireworks and food. I stockpiled a lot of happiness. But how often did I bring an outsider into these social escapades? . . . with some shame I answer, seldom.

Yeah, I had to come halfway around the world to realize what it means to show kindness to strangers. It's not just the poetic anonymity of paying the toll for the person behind you, but also the uncomfortably direct invitation: "We are doing this, would you like to join us?"

I think I actively avoided doing that sort of thing at home, because I assumed it would be awkward and uncomfortable. This is 100% a correct assumption. You think it's uncomfortable to invite strangers to do something with you? It's even more uncomfortable when you're crossing cultures. My blush reflex has been getting a workout since arriving here. It's less of a question if I will make a cultural flub and more of a question of when and how many. But I credit Intervarsity and my staff worker for teaching me a golden, simple truth that is proving itself here. Ain't no one ever died from awkwardness. Embrace the awkward. If you push hard against it, it often surrenders something precious.

A thing so effortlessly typed, written from the quiet solitude of my desk where I sit alone and comfortable inside my head. A thing far more strenuously exercised, when I am tired and afraid and selfish. But I will lift you up in the seeking out and inviting in of those "outside" if you will do the same for me. 

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