The 2020 pandemic has been an unprecedented time for us all. . I think it can be easy to read a blog post like this and walk away with a list of things you need to do or walk away feeling like you aren’t doing enough. In times like these, we need to remind ourselves that our value is found in Christ alone and nothing can separate us from His love. The best thing I have done during the pandemic is to share the gospel with myself every day. Resting in the grace of the gospel allows me to connect deeply to Jesus and share the gospel from an overflow of His love. Sharing the gospel out of obligation or to make ourselves feel better is never a good idea. (Ephesians and Romans are great places to spend if you’re looking for good summaries of the gospel message.)
Understanding the gospel as the foundation of all ministry, I want to share some of the creative ways I have been able to connect with my international friends during this P.A.N.D.E.M.I.C.
This is the perfect time to pray for and with your friends. Prayer is one of many ways our friends can start to experience the power of God in their lives. It is also a great time to multiply prayer in your life and to those around you. My church has been praying as a group every day at noon. Each day I decided to faithfully engage and pray for my friends by their initials. After sometime, people began to recognize these initials and write them down in their prayer journals as well. It has been incredible to see a group of strangers begin to pray for my international friends on a daily basis. One of the easiest ways to be a part of what God is doing all over the world is through prayer. Ephesians 1:17-19, Ephesians 3:16-19, Philippians 1:9-11, and Colossians 1:9-12 are great prayers to follow if you’re looking for a good place to start.
Raise your hand if you are sick of video calls…. Yep. That is what I thought. One of the creative ways I have started connecting with my international friends is through having audio conversations. (If you’re new to technology, this is done by holding the microphone button on the right hand side of whatsapp.) A couple weeks ago I was chatting with a friend and we simultaneously sent a message saying how great it was to hear each other’s voice. It was an endearing connection. Another way to use audio is to record yourself praying over your international friends. Many of my friends have commented that it was powerful for them to receive prayer in that moment. From now on rather than telling someone you are praying for them, you can just do it then and there.
Who doesn’t love getting mail, right? One of my trademarks is how much I love to write all of my friends letters and notes. There is something special about receiving a handwritten note that you can keep and frequently look back on.. I write notes to my international friends on special occasions, holidays, birthdays or just because. Sometimes I deliver these by hand, but sometimes I drop them in the mail as a pleasant surprise. If you search hard enough, you can find an occasion for every month of the year!
The group of internationals that I am privileged to walk alongside are some of the most generous and hospitable people that I know. They are constantly looking to serve the community. The Bible tells us that we should seek the welfare of our city (Jeremiah 29:7) and that it is better to give than receive (Acts 20:35). I also believe there is benefit to serving alongside your friends and not just serving your friends. My friends are very reciprocal in nature, meaning if you are only serving and giving they may view you as holding all the “power” in the relationship, and even worse, they may think you have hidden motives. Therefore, I think it is helpful to find ways to serve the city together. Serving others can also be a great way to get outside yourself in times of restlessness and anxiety.
Anytime is a perfect time to learn. If you look at the ages of all the men and women in the Bible who have gone before us, you can see they put great emphasis on learning the culture around them. One of my favorite chapters in the Bible is Philippians 2. Jesus left the luxuries of Heaven to enter into our culture, to speak our language and to walk among us so that we might know Him. This is why He is the high priest who is fully empathetic toward us! We can follow His example by being “incarnational” to those around us. Ask yourself two questions: 1) What are you willing to fast from, give up, or lose for the sake of knowing Christ more and for making Him known? Remember, after Paul lists his many credentials he says that he counts all things as rubbish compared to knowing Christ Jesus (Phil. 3). 2) How can I see the world through the eyes of those around me? I want to challenge you to take question two to the deepest level you can. However, I don’t mean how can you see the world through the eyes of an Indian or a Muslim. I mean how can you see the world through the eyes of each and every one of your individual friends? Sounds impossible, right? Yet, I believe this practice will set you on a trajectory to be a life-long learner. And in doing so our goal is not to educate ourselves in order to be better arguers or to poke holes in other beliefs. Our motivation for learning should always be rooted in love and empathy.
The people I spend my time with come from an oral visual culture. Therefore, media is one of the most productive ways to share the gospel with them. As I write this post, there are so many great media outlets out there. Lumo (on Youtube), The Chosen, and The Bible Project are some of my favorites. There is currently a Chrome extension that allows you to watch Netflix movies with your friends as well. Google Netflix Party and the directions are easy to follow. Keep in mind, not every activity has to be spiritual. During the quarantine days, my friends and I would watch a movie every Friday night together.
A few weeks ago, I was sitting with a group of people from another culture when someone at the table asked what the most loving thing someone can do for them on a regular basis. The answer was, “I feel most loved when someone calls me to ask if I have been eating.” This answer blew me away because that is not even close to how I receive love. This set me on a journey to discover how my friends receive love. As you learn your friends love languages, then you can be more intentional in your communication to them.
My friends live far away from their families so they are used to receiving video calls every day. Therefore, I have begun to call my friends more frequently or sometimes for long hours in the day. This does not always mean you have to stop everything you are doing. Sometimes you can go about your daily household duties while chatting away with a close friend. Try and make your international friends a natural part of your life. Make the time to call them with no agenda and for no reason.
I hope you have found this post helpful as you go out and make connections with your international friends. I ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light” (Colossians 1:9b-12)