Proverbs 18:24 A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly: And there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.
I often suggest to missionaries that they should read the Bible and especially the Proverbs with the idea of looking for truths that will strengthen their ministries. If you think of the different proverbs in light of our work on the mission field you will be able to make some great applications to your life and ministry. For example this proverb or verse says that you must show yourself friendly. Often times missionaries and missionary families complain about their friendships on the mission field. Some will say that their children have no real friends on the mission field. Using this verse as a basis to answer this problem let me make a few suggestions:
1. Learn the language! First, every missionary should learn the language and really be able to communicate with the people. No real friendship can be developed without personal, intimate, heartfelt conversation.
2. Eat their food! Real friends usually fellowship around the table. As a missionary you should develop a real taste for their food. The senior missionary in Arequipa, Peru told me when I arrived in Peru that if you reject the food you reject the culture. If you reject the culture then you reject the people. That would obviously not be friendly nor win you any national friendships.
3. Visit them in their homes & have them visit in your home. Many missionaries lose out on real friendships due to their fears or insecurities. Many new missionaries will nearly lock themselves out of society and a relationship with the people. They want to maintain their home like a “little America.” They think that they can divide their ministry from their lives but in America you would realize that you would need to spend time with the people. You would want to know them personally, to visit each other in your homes. Be careful not to fall into these traps. You do not have to be afraid of them. You can develop a relationship with them like you could folks from your home town if you will just be willing to invest your life, love and time in others.
4. Share with them. Real friends give and take. That means that you will have to drop the idea of superiority. You are not better than they are nor worse than they are. Be careful not to eat and drink in front of them without offering them some. Be sure to understand how to offer without offending and being culturally correct. For example, in Peru, you would need to offer them whatever at least 3 times. It is understood in Peru that the person you are offering something should refuse it at least two times out of courtesy. If you were to offer only two times it would mean that you really didn’t have it to give, etc. Also be careful to understand how to accept what they offer you. If you refuse what they offer you then that means that you are too good for them and their gifts. Learn to measure gifts from their perspective and not your own.
5. Be personally interested in them. People can tell if you have a professional or personal interest in them. Learn their names. Learn about their family. Latin Americans are very kind and will show genuine interest in your family. You must do the same.
6. Talk to them. Listen to them. Learn about them and their family, their culture, and their needs. By talking to them I mean really converse with them. Tell them about yourself and your family. Tell them about your interests and desires. Ask them about their family and listen. Learn to ask questions. One of the greatest tools we all have is the ability to ask questions and learn about the folks. Good conversations really are based on getting the other person to talk about himself. As a missionary your job is to learn all about the people where you are serving, learn about their culture, the way they think, why they do things the way they do them. Talk to them about their families, what is important to them. Understand that people in other countries and other cultures do not think like you. They see other priorities, other possibilities, another way of thinking. The only way you can really learn that is by asking questions and really listening.
7. Tell them you love them. Be expressive. Be transparent. People need to know we love them. We need to be careful to express that to them. Do not allow them to doubt how you feel about them. Remember you reap what you sow, so sow some real heartfelt love and concern.
8. Be there when they need you. Real friends spend time with each other but more than that they will be there when their friend need them. Everyone has acquaintances but few have friends who really care. Show your love by being there for them.
9. Be loyal. Be a friend in good times and bad times. Don’t use people.
10. Play with them, learn to understand their humor. Learn their sports and activities. You are the visitor or stranger to their country. You need to learn how they do things. Their jokes are different than our jokes but when you really understand the language and culture you will find that their jokes make sense and are really funny. If their jokes aren’t funny it might really mean that you do not know them, understand them, and love them like you think you do. Many missionaries have hurt their ministry over something as simple as “not showing themselves friendly” and that is our missionary proverb for today.