A choice of love, not an act of obligationI cannot tell you how many times people have talked with me about friendship in missions. More often than not, I have been told that "you get what you get" essentially. I can recall multiple conversations with varying people who have told me, "If you were state-side, you might not be friends with any of those you are serving with. Still, God has placed you here together, so that's all you have."
I have wrestled with this throughout the past 18 months, and was not sure why. Lately I have been re-thinking that, and trying to determine why that bothered me so much. I came to the realization of two things.
1. Why does serving together mean that you have to be the closest of friends?
It seems that everyone keeps telling me that I have to be best friends with anyone I serve with. The reality is, this was not the case state-side. Why should it be now? While we do not have as many Americans to be-friend here, we can still build deep and meaningful relationships. Additionally, all friendships, regardless of where they are formed, when, or even why - are in varying degrees. My best friends all qualify as such for different reasons. Those that I serve with may not fit this bill. I may find that I connect with people who have grown up in this culture even more-so than those who match my own culture. I am not bound to having American friends out of duty or obligation. Yet, I can connect with my fellow missionaries as friends if I desire to.
2. For varying reasons, sometimes we choose a friend; sometimes they choose us.
I honestly cannot tell you why my friends have chosen me. Many of my closest friends have seen my faults and all the ugliness that is within me, and yet still love me. Why? I guess for the same reason I feel the same way about them. We love each other in the ugliness and beauty, pain and rejoicing, suffering and peace. We CHOOSE to love each other - that is the point! I could give up on my friends when it gets difficult, but I don't. Why? Because I choose to love them - just like God chooses to love me.
So, as I thought through these two things, I came to a conclusion.
I can choose to be a friend to anyone
I serve with.
It all starts with love!
This is where my view started to change. I am not saying that all of those who spoke what they thought was encouragement, or perhaps empathy, were wrong. In fact, they are quite right - maybe we would not have been friends state-side. But why should that matter now? I love that my friends vary in age, life stage, and location. I do not want that to change. So as people try to tell me that I am "just stuck" with those I serve with, I choose to reject that mindset. The reality is, if we approach relationship in that way, it is doomed to fail. Instead, I choose to remember that each of the people God places me here with is a gift. Every person who crosses my path is the potential for me to grow and become more Christ-like. So I choose to be friends with all I serve with - not because we just happen to be in the same place, but because I truly want to love them.