Always the Foreigner, Never the Friend

I have feared that no matter how much time we spend in this country, how fluent I become in the language, or how comfortable I become with my surroundings, that I will always be viewed as the foreigner and never truly be “in” and considered a friend to any person outside of the expat community.

I’ll never speak like a native. I’ll never have dark skin. I’ll never look good in traditional dress. I won’t get the inside jokes or know the little songs and stories that children grow up with. Culturally, I am coming from a totally different planet. No matter how much I adapt and adjust, I will never truly belong.

I desire and ask God for a close friend of national ethnicity. I know that I can learn and grow so much in this context if I develop deep and meaningful friendships in the midst of the enigma that is culture and language adaptation.

But will this person ever look at me in the same way I look at them? Will I be their friend…or just a foreigner with new and fun things with which to introduce them…just the person who tries really hard but will never really get where they are coming from?

Can I find common ground with someone whose life resembles mine in so few ways? Is it possible to bridge the gaps between our worlds and create an atmosphere where a budding relationship can thrive?

For this reason, I love what the Word says about friendship.

Friends…

  • are friendly (Prov. 18:24)
  • love at all times (Prov. 17:17)
  • comfort and edify (1 Thess. 5:11)
  • encourage to love and live better (Heb. 10:24-25)
  • live selflessly and sacrificially (John 15:13)

So we don’t have to have the same skin tone and cultural background? Phew! That’s relief! I don’t have to get all their jokes? Well that makes sense because, well, let’s be honest, I don’t always get my husband’s.

And the biggest-and maybe the hardest- thing I am learning is that I can be a friend without being a friend. Someone doesn’t have to welcome me into their inner circle for me to be friendly and to love, comfort, edify and encourage them. I can live selflessly and sacrificially to their benefit without them inviting me into the intimate parts of their life.

Before moving across the world, I had never really felt as though I had to try to make friends because I could always find someone like me, who appreciated me and understood where I was coming from amid the plethora of potential pals I had to choose from.

That will never be my reality here. But that doesn’t mean that the months and years of sowing seeds of friendship won’t eventually pay off. And I hope that when they do, I will have everlasting fruit in the form of new sisters in Christ for the time and heart invested.

It’s certainly not an easy or rewarding task investing in people who don’t want much to do with you or only want what they can get from you…which is basically the reason I don’t like Twitter, but that’s besides the point…really.

So I’ll never be a Nepali… but I can be a friend to many, and maybe a few will be my friends too!

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Endeavor with me to reach out and be a friend today whether you share culture and common interests or not and whether the other party seems particularly interested in returning the favor of friendship. May those we meet see Christ in our extended hand with no strings attached!

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  • 14 thoughts on “Always the Foreigner, Never the Friend

    1. Thank you. This was good for me this morning. Thanks for sharing your heart and writing a helpful article. May God bless you! -Annie, southern Chile

      1. Thanks for stopping by and writing an encouraging note while you were here! So thankful what the Lord has taught me could be a blessing to you and your ministry there in Chile! God bless!

    2. Before we went to Brazil in 1983, I thought I could never have a good Brazilian friend. I am happy to tell you that God gave me several good Brazilian friends throughout the 23 years that we lived there! I pray that He will give you some good friends in Nepal. You have a great attitude about being a friend. I believe He will reward that!

    3. Great post, Amber! Thanks for sharing the difficulties you face as a missionary – it really helps to know how to pray for you. Praying that as you continue to reach out and be a friend, the Lord gives you a lasting friendship with a precious Nepali lady! God bless you, Paul, your children, and your ministry there.

    4. I’m sure you don’t remember me–my name is Kellie. I went to Way of the Cross Baptist in McDonough, GA. I remember the impression you made on me (I also remember you telling my sister-in-law and I you were expecting with Ezra right after you had found out- I think you said even before you told family! You said you just had to tell someone!). I remember you as kind, sincere, real, and… Friendly.
      I know your heart longs for close friends there, but know that you have many “friends” across the U.S. that you may not even know who are praying for you often!

      1. Don’t be so sure, Kellie! I do remember spilling my secret! You are so sweet to write these words to me! You don’t know what an encouragement this is to me! It is a blessing to be reminded of all those holding the ropes back home and being a friend to me from far away! I hadn’t even considered that side of the friendship coin! So many Stateside loving me, praying for me, encouraging and challenging me! Thanks for that precious reminder! It is difficult to share my heart in this way but these moments remind me of why I do. God bless!

      1. Thanks so for stopping by! So thankful I could share my experience with you to shed light on this topic on a new way! God bless!

    5. How did I miss this post! It’s a good one! When we first got on the field, I tried so hard to be “them.” I wanted to identify with them so they would see I loved them and so that they would love me. It was frustrating and miserable! The harder I tried, the worse it was. Then God showed me that He didn’t call me to be “them.” He called me to be “Him!” It brought so much peace in my heart! Yes, I still wear the national dress sometimes and I still work on the language. I try not to be offensive in my manners… but my motive is different. I am allowing Him to just work in and through me to reach out because He loves them. The people know I am a foreigner… I think the red hair gives it away! Haha! They are not expecting me to be them. But it touches them deeply when Christ’s love for them drips through me onto them. He is teaching me to love them and His love has opened up doors of friendship that my pitiful attempts could never open. Yes, I am still the foreigner to some degree… but there is nothing like the stamp of approval and love like one of them saying, “you are one of us.” And it didn’t come from me trying to be them… it came from me being Him.

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