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Journeying with Your Friends

Many of us have been taught that ‘friendship evangelism’ is a waste of time, especially if someone doesn’t appear interested in the gospel.

What are we missing? Our good intentions don’t seem to be bridging the culture gap with our immigrant neighbors.

I have had a few conversations with friends who have expanded my view of international ministry. I am realizing that friendship is actually vital in our efforts to teach about the kingdom of God.

The first, a South Asian believer, who worked for years with American teams. My friend, Sim, shared that she had grown weary of Americans. We are deeply invested until our “mission” is complete. After the mission was seemingly completed, the people she thought were brothers/sisters in Christ seemed to disappear, off to the next mission. As a result, she had no desire to befriend Americans, especially believers. She felt we were insincere.

The second, a Hindu grad student. After just a few weeks in the US, my friend shared that Americans gave the appearance of openness but “friendships” were scheduled to hour blocks. Her observations led to the conclusion that Americans were busy but lonely and again, never sincere.

Just like people, cultures have strengths and weaknesses. Western cultures tend to be highly resourced, highly efficient, and highly motivated.

But many Asian, African, and Middle Eastern cultures outshine us in hospitality, community, and perseverance. In the process of appreciating the strengths of our neighbors’ cultures, we are also learning how to best care for them. As Paul said, to the Greek, I became Greek. To reach the many, scripture encourages us to know about the cultures around us, we must come with humility to learn, sincerity, and also patience for the process.


In order to share about Jesus with his neighbors, Paul acknowledged he was an outsider to his Greek neighbors. This humility allowed him to come with an attitude of learning and not pressuring.

If you’re wondering how well you are loving your neighbors, you can ask yourself a few questions. Have I learned about my friends’ culture, food, religion, holidays? Do I know about their family? Do I know areas that may make them uncomfortable? Examples can be the clothing I wear or even food that I eat. It would not show the love of Christ to invite our Hindu friends for hamburgers. Cows are considered sacred and would never be eaten in their culture. Our muslim friends may be offended by our clothing if it reveals too much skin, especially in mixed company. If we have made mistakes like this, don’t worry, Apologize.

We must recognize that there are barriers that keep our neighbors from hearing the gospel despite our best efforts. It takes time and trust to hear about these barriers.

Listen humbly so you can learn. When we show grace to our friends, they will often be more gracious to us.
My friend Ambi was warned by her mother about Christians before coming to study in the US.I enjoyed spending time with her and learning about her family and beliefs. After months of friendship, her mom told her. “Spend time with Abby, she dresses modestly and respects the sacred.” Over Christmas break Ambi shared with her family all that she learned about Jesus. They listened because the person that told her was a friend.

The first point of not pressuring our international friends was to be humble learners. When we do that we are invited into a deeper world of understanding. As we hear their hearts, our understanding of God and our love for all the beautiful cultures he has created expands, along with our worship.

Secondly, scripture challenges us to come with sincerity.

Paul also stated in a letter to Corinth, For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned in the sight of God we speak in Christ. -2 Cor 2:17-18

Both of my friends Sim and Ambi told me the fear they had of Americans. We have the appearance of being busy and insincere.

I have made it a goal to try to need my friends too. It’s hard to be a foreigner. It means you are literally outside of the host culture. You’re always trying to figure out what’s happening. Our international friends do really need us. I have spent countless hours reading mail for my neighbors or on hold, trying to help sort out billing issues or school issues, etc. It’s amazing to love our friends by helping with physical needs but sincere friendship is never one way. So, in our house, we seek to need our neighbors too. My neighbor told me the Burmese handymen are affordable and honest.She can call them for me. Yes! I need her. When I need to know what is culturally appropriate, I ask and she guides me.Yes! I need her. When I’m lonely at home and the kids are draining, I go to her home and our kids play and we talk. Yes! I need her too. It’s sincere!

In Mark 12:28-34 a young man comes to Jesus asking what are the most important commands. His response was incredibly simple. Love the Lord God the most and secondly, love your neighbor as yourself.

The most important commandments! I am guilty of seeing these friendships as something I have earned with my jokes, or wisdom but rather friendships are gifts from God. Furthermore, we are commanded to love our neighbors as ourselves! It’s a gift and a command.

One way to know if we are building genuine friendships is to ask yourself: , “does my friend initiate conversations/spending time together or is it always me?”
“Are my convos questions or statements?” “Was my love sincere?”


I have a friend, Steve, who has been ministering to South Asians for years. He shared with me to go deep and not far. We tend to think of ministry in terms of how many people we can share with, how many seeds we can throw BUT when ministering cross culturally this strategy can seem insincere and furthermore, because of language and cultural barriers, may just miss the mark all together. If we invest deeply in the lives of our friends, pouring out the message of Christ as we share our lives, we may not meet as many people but if just one of those people comes to sincere and lasting faith they can effectively minister to their culture to lengths we could never imagine.

The process of building trust will not always seem efficient. I went to do a reading lesson with a Burmese neighbor. I spent the entire day in her home. It didn’t seem efficient and it was at times frustrating. We watched a movie which had no spiritual connections, had lunch and snacks. There were no deep conversations.

Months later, My neighbor took me with her to a Henna wedding ceremony. I was the only American invited to this Rohingya event. It was awkward not knowing what was being said (probably how many of our international friends feel often). I was an outsider peering into this world, but I was invited in because I am “My neighbor’s best friend”. And my sweet friend showed me her community. The next day my family came with me to the wedding. The bride, who I had met the night before, grinned to see me and spoke kindly to our daughters.

This was a really fun story of God using one friendship to give me a glimpse at an entire community but We don’t simply “love” our friends to expand our ministry. We love our friends because this is the message of the kingdom. Jesus gave us the ministry of reconciliation. He gave us His Holy Spirit who we can show the deep and everlasting love of God. As we seek to love God, we depend on Him to love our neighbors as ourselves with humility and sincerity and all the while sharing about the kingdom of heaven.

Now what do you do if you have spent time with your international friends. You asked questions and learned. You were aware of your clothes, and food. You loved them sincerely so much so that your heart breaks that in all this time, their interest in the good news of Jesus doesn’t seem to have grown, any? How do you continue to love and invest in your friends when they don’t want to become a Christian or get stuck in one place?

I spent a number of years in South Asia and even more time in relationships with South Asians. I know quite a bit about South Asian culture but this didn’t happen overnight. To be honest the first idea of South Asia was a spiritual moment. I was praying for countries around the world and as I prayed God put a thought in my mind about an area of the world I knew little about. What I did not do, was immediately move to South Asia. Rather, like many of you would have done, I started to investigate. How would I know this was from God. I prayed but I also started researching, reading, watching things on the culture/faith etc. I talked to people from South Asia. It started as a nudge from the Holy Spirit and it led to a journey of learning and dependence. Though it was a process, it was no less spiritual.

The Engle scale is a model of evangelism where we see our friends on journeys of faith. Yes, we depend on the spirit and yes we can still believe God for miracles but we allow a process from that first spark of openness all the way to true faith and repentance and all the steps in between. When the goal of evangelism is showing more of Jesus we are free from the pressure of trying to save others.

This is the role of Jesus and our role is pointing our friends to Him. When we read through the 4 gospels we see an overview of the life and transformation of the disciples. When the disciples began to journey with Jesus, they did not know (or understand) who He was. They may have believed Him to be a good teacher and they witnessed miracles but the understanding was a process as they walked with the Messiah and as He taught about the kingdom of God.

Later, Jesus sent out these same disciples in groups of two and instructed them to seek out “people of peace” and share the kingdom of God wherever they are invited in.

As I said earlier, for many of our international friends, friendship has a deeper meaning. It means family, and comes with the expectation of a long-term commitment. We had the joy of having a friend, Izzie for several years. Izzie even lived in our home with us for over 6 months. Inside our home, we prayed, we studied the Bible and talked openly about Jesus. Izzie loved all of it, often saying, “we are just the same; Jains and Christians are so similar”. It’s frustrating that despite all of our conversations Izzie still doesn’t realize that Jesus is Lord.

We will never have said enough about Jesus. We will never have prayed enough for our friends. We will never sacrifice too much! Jesus stated that we take up our cross daily. Loving our international neighbors is at times messy. We make mistakes. We have to give up our time and our comforts and often feel pointless, but it always matters. Izzie has not placed her faith in Jesus but her conversations have changed through our friendship. Her values have changed. It’s slow and frustrating but it’s not my work but God’s in us to make us more like Him.

And we can find hope in the promise that one day “the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever.” Revelation 11:15

We are a part of this transformation one conversation at a time with each gift of Friendship God gives us.

Journeying with Your Friends


How do you journey with someone as they learn more about Christ without pressuring them? How do you continue to love and invest in your friends when they don’t want to become a Christian? Abby answers these questions through stories of how God can work through friendships.

diagram of the Engle Scale

How do you journey with someone as they learn more about Christ without pressuring them? How do you continue to love and invest in your friends when they don’t want to become a Christian? Abby answers these questions through stories of how God can work through friendships.