Five principles to consider when interacting with new friends.
As I read in the lobby of a Disney resort in Orlando, I rocked back and forth in a wooden rocking chair. I was feeling overwhelmed by my circumstances that afternoon, so I had positioned myself in that rocking chair to read, journal, and remember God’s love and faithfulness.
But I had no idea that I’d discover refreshment through a conversation with 2 hotel employees. In that conversation, 5 principles -- which I identified later -- nudged me into a refreshing interaction about God’s love and grace.
1. I asked thoughtful questions, and I listened.
From my rocking chair, I greeted the 2 hotel workers near me. Their responses were thick with African accents.
I asked, “Where are you from?”
Sibu from Swaziland and Naledi from Botswana were a part of Disney’s 6-month, college-work program.
Instead of asking questions they could answer with one word, I said, “You are so far from home. What do you miss the most about your homes?”
They paused before answering; I knew they had just mentally transported to a distant familiarity. Naledi alternated between laughter and a furrowed brow as she introduced me to each member of her family; Sibu blushed as he described the simple landscape of his village.
I could have easily stolen the conversation by telling them that it’s been hard for me, too, to live far from home. Instead, I listened intently and asked for more details.
“Could you tell me more about your chores?” and “Tell me more about your siblings.”
As they talked, I could visualize the heat from the African sun rising from the dirt, and smell the seasoned meat in their kitchens.
2. I sought to understand their worldview.
When I asked about their spiritual beliefs, Sibu began, “You must understand how our respect for our African ancestors is important in our Christianity.”
Naledi explained, “My family goes to church, but we’re concerned about our totems and traditions. My family is protected by the alligator.”
I listened. And as they further unpacked their spirituality, I knew that we had 3 different worldviews. We were all saying “Christianity” and “prayer” but meaning very different things.
Furthermore, had I blindly jumped into an evangelistic presentation about salvation through Christ alone, I would have lost their attention. Instead, I discovered precious insight.
I sought to wrap my mind around their past experiences, present attitudes and future desires. Only then could we begin a heart-level conversation in which the gospel of Jesus Christ could be understood as good news for each of us.
3. I pointed out the grace of God in their lives.
Initially, I chose to sit down in that hotel lobby because I was discouraged. I am dependent on the grace of God in my daily life, so I was looking for His fingerprints.
Yet while listening, I began to see God’s fingerprints all over Sibu and Naledi’s lives. And like pointing out a sunset, I wanted to invite them to gaze at His beauty with me.
Naledi said she left her daughter in Botswana with her parents while she worked at Disney. She had me in tears as we laughed about her daughter’s silly comments from their last Skype conversation.
Sighing from laughter, I told Naledi that I’d recently asked God to show me more of His delight in me, His daughter. I marveled at how graciously God had given her a taste of His love in her love for her daughter.
She was silent for the first time since we’d exchanged names. She added quietly, “I’ve never thought of that before.”
We went on to talk -- dream, really -- about God’s fatherly love for His children.
4. I was unafraid to be myself.
Just because I am in relationship with Jesus Christ and experiencing His grace in my life, I still get lost in doubt, confusion and discouragement on a regular basis. Just like everyone else.
As we discussed God’s fatherly love, I told Naledi and Sibu about my loneliness without trying to clean it up. Naledi could relate, although she admittedly handled her own difficulties differently than I was handling mine.
I’ve learned to seek Christ in the beauty of His creation and the Bible while journaling my thoughts. Naledi had never before thought about seeking comfort this way.
5. I listened to the Holy Spirit.
My conversation with Naledi and Sibu was cut short when their shifts ended. I still savor our unexpected -- supernatural, really -- connection.
When I train Christians in evangelism, I typically define 3 phases of growth in communication: me-centered, message-centered and others-centered.
As a new “evangelist,” I was consumed with thoughts like: What will this person think of me? What if I don’t know all the answers?
Through time and experience,I shifted my focus from self-obsession to obsessing over every single detail of themessage of salvation in Jesus Christ. I wanted to counter arguments with truth.
Through further time and experience, although still self-aware and concerned with scriptural truth, I was able to grow into others-centered communication.
I want to listen, ask questions, offer insight from my own spiritual journey as one human to another, and connect gospel truths with that specific person. Ultimately, I’ve learned to listen for the Holy Spirit’s guidance in my conversations.
As Sibu and Naledi talked about their lives that afternoon, I gained an understanding of their past experiences with their families, present attitudes about spirituality, and even their future desires.
Having established trust, I could point out God’s gracious fingerprints in their lives and lovingly trace the brilliant colors of His good news for all 3 of us without feeling anxious about how they’d respond. I could communicate the message of God’s love and salvation through Jesus Christ from a trusted, personal perspective.
Yet the true refreshment of our interaction was that it was perfumed with the Holy Spirit. He refreshed me by displaying the Father’s unfailing love through Sibu and Naledi’s stories.
The 3 of us had very different past experiences, present attitudes and future desires. But our hearts connected so that the message of love and salvation in Jesus Christ was good news for each of us that afternoon.