I got away with eating such an unusual supper because my roommates were out. When they returned, they questioned, "Have you eaten? What did you eat? Chocolate spread on bread?" Guilty as charged. I'm living with two local girls who don't understand my choice of chocolate spread as a meal replacement. But they do enjoy eating meals together, whatever the menu.
Interestingly, there was no discussion with my new roommates about whether we would sit down to eat meals together or not. We were virtual strangers before we began sharing an apartment, but it is assumed that if we are home around the same time, we will share a meal. I think I'm OK with that. We're settling into a little routine of suppers together and small talk around the table.
Whether it's having scheduled meals or making neighbours welcome to drop by, I'm coming to the realization that building relationships here will require a significant time commitment. It's hard to schedule events or people in a land where typically things run late and long, and where people are more relationally-oriented than time-oriented. The local culture is not going to change in that regard.
So, I'm realizing that if I am going to live and love in my new environment, I'm going to have to change. I can't keep too many things on my urgent to-do list. Pursuing freelance work has to take a back seat to having time for people. I must be wise as to what degree I communicate with friends back home, ie: how often, how long. I must learn to seize the day here and to not be too perturbed if "the day" gets postponed, elongated or changed.
Building bridges into my roommates' lives is not only different because we are from different cultures, but because we hold vastly different worldviews. In North America, I always sought roommates of the same faith. Here, I didn't really even consider looking for such people. They're few and far between, but also I thought that living with girls from such differing worldviews and backgrounds could be an effective thing on multiple levels. Challenging? Yes. A situation to be entered into pray'erfully? For sure. But a great opportunity to be real, and build relationship.
I'm telling you these facts as they relate to me and Asia, but no matter our physical location or culture, we need to intentionally cultivate meaningful relationships with people of other faiths. As North American believers, we tend toward one of two extremes:
- We have almost no deep relationships with people of other faiths (ie: we spend all our time with fellow believers), or
- We have too many deep relationships with people of other faiths (ie: to the point that our faith is compromised or weakened).
A common misconception is that the most spiritual, committed people are those who are on every chur'ch committee or at every chur'ch meeting. We need to inquire deeper into fellow believers' hearts and motives, because those with the perfect Sunday school attendance records might not be the most effective disciple-makers. And we were called to make disciples more clearly than we were called to attend Sunday school. Often we don't have time for meaningful relationships with anyone outside the Family...and then we wonder why our Communities aren't growing.
Moving to the other side of the world allowed me to reevaluate my schedule and commitments, and reminded me of this: if we're too busy to make disciples, then we're too busy. That's our calling, after all.
This month I read a powerful article about a lady whose life was profoundly changed through the love of a couple who cared enough to challenge her worldview. The challenge began in the form of a gentle, challenging reply to an article she wrote, but developed into a long-term relationship between the two parties. The title and subheading are attention-grabbing: "My Train Wreak Conversion: As a leftist lesbian professor, I despised Chr!stians. Then I somehow became one." Definitely make time to read her transformation account.
When you read it, you read her story in a condensed form. It would be easy to forget the many dinners, hundreds of conversations and thousands of prayers that were groundwork laid before this articulate, intelligent lady "got up from the bed of [her] lesbian lover." Her friends "brought the chur'ch to [her]" through hospitality and relationship until she was so convicted that she took herself to the chur'ch. Her loving Community helped her along the narrow path she chose; it was not without enormous pain and struggle.
Yes, sometimes people come into the light quickly, seemingly easily. But they are the minority. The rest need the chur'ch to come to them, in the form of loving relationships.
It's Saturday evening now, and my roommates and I had a few others over for pizza. I spent hours planning the menu, shopping for ingredients, making homemade dough and homemade tomato sauce, and double-washing the vegetables in our warm kitchen. Tiring? Yes. Valuable? I hope so.
We're doing life together. Life takes time. So as I revisit my schedule to make time for roommate suppers (with or without Nutella), neighbour visits, and chats with coworkers, I'll keep this in mind: if I'm too busy to make disciples, then I'm too busy.