Friendship - Blog

Are All Your Friends Just Like You?

Mary Leigh Keith

If I gathered my close friends in one room, it wouldn’t take long for you to see that we’re far more alike than different.

We were raised with similar values. We come from similar backgrounds. Heck, we even kind of look alike and wear similar clothes. I love them, but it’s relatively easy for me to. They aren’t that different from me.

I’m drawn to people from my own culture, and you probably are, too. The problem is that as Christians, God calls us to more. When we don’t ever cross cultures, we miss one of the biggest pieces of God’s heart.

What is culture?

Merriam-Webster defines culture as “the beliefs, customs, arts, etc. of a particular society, group, place, or time.” My friend Aicel, who’s Filipino-American, compares culture to tinted glasses that color everything we see and interpret about the world.

No matter what culture we’re from, we’re drawn first and foremost to others within it. If given the choice, we’ll almost always choose to surround ourselves with people who see the world the way we do. Why?

Because it’s just easier that way.

We feel safe in our cultural boxes, and life stays relatively un-messy.

Consider some of the reasons we have for avoiding other cultures:

  • We’re unsure of how to cross language or communication barriers.
  • We don’t have enough time.
  • We’re unaware or don’t know how to begin.
  • We might say or do the wrong thing.
  • We’re sinful.

Does that last one feel uncomfortable? For me too.

But when I think about it, the biggest reason on this list really is my sin.  I don’t want to work past language barriers. I don’t want to sacrifice my time. I don’t want to feel uncomfortable. The extra effort it takes to engage with people from other cultures just isn’t worth it to me.

Yikes. That’s sin.

If we want to live a Christ-centered life, it’s vital that we confess this and come to know, love and care about what Jesus does.

What does Jesus really care about?

Jesus cares about all people groups and cultures. He celebrates and delights in each one. And He greatly desires they would come to know Him.

No one culture has it all. Because God created people groups, aspects of His character are reflected in each one – aspects of His character that we never get to see when we stay within our own culture.

In Philippians 2, Paul says that we should have the same mindset as Christ, who traversed the greatest cultural gap imaginable – heaven to earth. Can you imagine? God of the universe, willingly dressing Himself in the robes of a servant. All to save us.

While here, Jesus continually interacted with people from other cultures. Many of these interactions were considered scandalous. Like when He spoke with the Samaritan woman at the well or healed the servant of the Roman centurion, both from people groups who had hostile relationships with the Jews at the time.

A huge part of Jesus’ heart remains unknown to us when we don’t follow His example.

The amazing thing for us as Americans is that we have many diverse people groups and cultures right at our fingertips. I believe God’s done this for a reason. He wants us to see people who are different from us. He wants us to care. And He wants us to enter into their lives, and invite them into ours. This is what it means to engage cross-culturally.

So, where do we start?

  1. Pray for awareness. Before she visited North Africa, Aicel never noticed the covered women around her. “When I came back,” she says, “I began noticing all the time – who was wearing a hijab, if someone had an accent. It’s not that they weren’t there before. It’s just that my eyes weren’t open.”

    We also have to pray for His heart for people. Love preempts action. Unless God helps us love, we won’t ever act, at least not in a genuine way.

  2. Consider your neighbors first. Are there ethnic minority families or immigrants in your neighborhood? Invite them for dinner or a cup of coffee. Is there a local university nearby? It likely has a community of international students.

    80% of internationals are never invited to an American’s home. Invite an international student for a holiday meal, like at Thanksgiving, where they can experience American culture and you can learn more about theirs.

  3. Try the food. Even if it’s different. Meals and coffee offer such good opportunities to enter into someone’s life and culture. Everyone enjoys food that tastes like home, and sharing it with others.

  4. Be a learner. What are their favorite holidays? What kind of food do they like? When Aicel hangs out with her Arab friends, she tries to learn a few words in Arabic, because her friends light up when she greets them in their native language.

    If you’re worried about cultural sensitivities, ask. “My husband would say it’s better to make a cultural faux pas than to never reach out to somebody,” Aicel says.

  5. Welcome your new friends into your everyday life. In 1 Thessalonians 2:8 Paul writes, “Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.”

    “I’ve realized that, of course, I need to pray for God to open someone’s heart toward Him and the gospel,” Aicel says. “But He calls me to love, appreciate and value the whole person and not just see them as a mission or project for salvation.”

    Spiritual conversations are important. But don’t forget to talk about the other things, too – your kids, jobs, hobbies and relationships.

Developing friendships with people from other cultures isn’t always easy, but you’ll be so glad you did.

A more holistic view of God and His love for all people. A heart that looks more like Christ as you depend on Him. Lifelong friendships you would’ve never had otherwise. These are just a few of the blessings that become ours when we choose to move beyond our comfort zones.

My husband has a lot of Afghan friends and a few years ago, he invited me to meet them.

These people – whom I would’ve never intentionally crossed paths with – blew me away with their warmth, humor and hospitality. I’ll never forget bouncing my feet and shaking my wrists, draped in a traditional scarf and dancing to Afghan music in a large circle with my new friends. These people are now some of the dearest in my life.

That’s the awesome thing about Christ’s commands – He has so much joy stored up for us in our obedience. He doesn’t just want us to move across cultures for our own sanctification, or even just to see the gospel reach every tribe, tongue and nation.

He wants to give us joy.

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