For this edition of Peter’s Wife, I will draw from my own experience and what was sent in this week to help answer the questions I posed last week: What are some ways you maintain friendships back home when you are overseas for extended periods of time? With whom do you build friendships in your host culture? What do you do to maintain those friendships? How important is it to have friendships?
We all agreed that writing letters to keep in touch with friends back home is vital. Email has made it possible to communicate very quickly and makes it possible to be part of current events in our friend’s lives. “Snail mail” is unpredictable as to when it will arrive. Email can reach friends on their birthday, anniversary, or other important events. Have you learned to send e-cards? They are fun and free. There are several good sites that let you put together just the right card for the occasion.
From Nancy, “Proverbs 17:17 says, ‘A friend is always loyal.’ It’s a matter of the heart. We all want to share our victories and challenges with those we care most about. When you are on the field, friends back home love to hear what is happening. Personal stories are especially good as you ‘introduce’ your new friends to your longtime friends. ”
It is possible and healthy to develop friendships with people from a culture very different from our own. Lea Peters had this to say, “It is critical that I know the language that is spoken over here to communicate – so I learned the language so I can speak to people one on one. I spend time talking with them at church, in the market, inviting people over for meals, etc. I maintain interest in those people, I continue to visit them, call them if they have a phone, invite them over, drop by their homes for visits (a common practice in Africa).”
It is also possible to develop friendships with people from our home culture who are also living overseas. But since it is easier, we may need to be careful not to make those our only friendships. Lea said, “I’ve seen many PWs make the mistake of having relationships within the confines of their own community alone – distancing themselves from those they are supposed to be ministering to. It is more difficult to make relationships with the nationals than it is with those of our own culture, but it is a well-spent effort when we do so.”
All of us have learned that friendships with nationals are made the same way friendships are at home, with time together and effort. These friendships are often different from friendships with those of our own culture. We think differently and see things from a different viewpoint, but even so we can develop valuable relationships. It may take more time and mean we have to search for new ways to express our care, but the rewards are great.
Close relationships take time to develop and to maintain. Making special time with a friend shows we value that person and a friendship has the opportunity to deepen. Some friendships bloom quickly, but if the relationship is to broaden and deepen it requires time together. If we don’t invest time in the relationship, it will probably remain no more than an acquaintance.
Spending time together has another benefit. When we spend time together, we learn more about each other. The more we know about our friend’s interests, past experiences, relationships with her husband and children and so on, the broader the base becomes. Long-lasting relationships take into consideration the variety of influences that affect both lives.
In the best relationships there is give and take. It is not lopsided with one always giving and the other always taking. There will be seasons when one must do most of the giving, but the friendship will get hung up if it stays that way all the time. That’s why it’s often hard to develop friendships with people who originally come for counseling. Often they continue to look to you for answers to their problems so you’re always the giver and they’re always the taker. However, when this cycle can be broken, there is a possibility of a good relationship.
Here are a few things I have found helpful in building friendships:
- Be thoughtful. Friendships grow in an atmosphere of thoughtfulness. Being on time shows our friend that we appreciate the time they take from their busy schedules to spend with us.
- Be sensitive to our friend’s family needs and feelings. When our friend’s husband needs her, we can postpone an outing without being hurt and making her feel torn between loyalties.
- Be forgiving. Forgiving and asking forgiveness keeps us from accumulating hurts that poison our relationship with bitterness.
- Be fun. A healthy sense of humor is indispensable. Laughter is good medicine for strong friendships.
Sometimes I’ve held back from developing friendships, fearing that as soon as I had a friend, we would have to move. However, I’ve learned that even brief friendships have never been wasted. Even if the new friend won’t write when we are separated, we are both richer for the friendship that we had. If I hold back, refusing to allow myself to get close, we both lose. On several occasions I waited so long that we only had a few brief weeks to get to know each other when it could have been months. Oh, how I cheated myself!
I never find it easy to say good-bye and I often long for friends who are far away. That’s the price for making friends, but we’re so much richer for paying it. Friendships are an investment, not a waste.
For all of us there are lonely times; times when no one seems close enough to touch our deepest needs. When those times come, there is only one thing to do; we must get real close to our Best Friend and allow Him to fill our deep needs. There have been times I have cried out loud to Him, “I need a human to talk to!” Sometimes no one comes, but in the quietness after my outburst, I have felt the Lord so close and real.
God uses situations like this to teach us contentment and dependence on Him for everything. But usually these times are limited as God knows our need for companionship. He built us that way. Knowing our needs, he doesn’t leave us long in situations where they cannot be met.
There are other times when God arranges for us to be alone as a family. We draw close together and our husband and children become good friends. When there are no others around, we learn to depend on them and to communicate with them. My friendship with my husband has deepened during times like this, and as my children grow older, I enjoy their friendship, too. Besides being my kids, they are interesting people to talk to and to learn from. Their different (sometimes weird) perspectives give me a refreshing view of life.
Friendships: We all want them and we need them. They can and should be a wonderful part of our overseas venture. We must take advantage of these precious opportunities to make good, mutually rewarding friendships! Why not reach out to someone new this week!