Friday, May 6, 2011

Sisters Across Cultures

Last week I wrote about looking at the bright side of cross cultural living rather than grumbling about the challenges. What I enjoy most about living in the Middle East is friendship. Let me tell you about my Turkish sister:

Unlikely friends

“Would this bright, beautiful girl even be interested in spending time with a middle aged American housewife like me?” That was my question when I met Bahar about 7 years ago. She was a believing graduate student from a Muslim background, a social butterfly with a million friends. I was a stay at home mother, unsure about what kind of ministry I could possibly have outside my home since caring for my husband and two kids already overwhelmed me.

I sensed the Lord leading me to encourage younger women like Bahar in our church, but I felt unsure of myself. I began by simply praying for her and calling occasionally to ask how she was.  Even making a phone call to Bahar was intimidating for me.  What if I was bothering her?  What if she really didn’t want to talk to me?  In the beginning I would force myself to dial the numbers, but slowly our relationship grew as I realized how she appreciated someone asking questions about her life and listening to her.

Mentor and Disciple

I wasn’t sure how to disciple a younger woman, so I just tried what came naturally.  I spent time getting to know her and discovered we had several interests in common and shared a passion for God’s word.  We read scripture and prayed together, but I realized that Bahar did not need to be someone’s discipleship project; she needed an older sister to take an interest in her life and enjoy her. 

I also shared with her what God was doing in my own life, trying to be transparent about my struggles in an appropriate way. “You face these issues too?” she would ask. “It’s good to know that I’m not the only one.”

Over several years I watched Bahar grow in love and commitment to Christ. We led a small group and two different short term women’s discipleship groups together. Her gifts of leadership and service bloomed as she became a co-worker and leader.


Bahar became the sister I never had, and my family has grown to love her. We have talked and laughed over many dinners and late night phone calls. We’ve played games and thrown parties together.  We’ve been through hard times and emergencies.  I helped edit her minor doctoral dissertation. She was there to support our family when my husband had a mini-stroke, both at the hospital and at home later. We’ve had cross-cultural conflicts and worked them out. I've grown to appreciate what a special gift our friendship is.

I've learned and received from my faithful Turkish sister much more than I've given, and along the way I’ve discovered some relationship principles. I’m still on the road to learning these, mind you, but I share them nonetheless:

  • Mentoring is about relationship, not making people our projects.
  • Listening to understand is more life giving than trying to fix people.
  • Being transparent and sharing my weaknesses builds bridges.
  • Accepting others instead of judging them is vital.
  • Being willing to give and receive brings health to friendships.

Sometimes I laugh to think that it all started with a phone call I was almost too scared to make!

What about you?  Is there someone you can reach out to with a phone call today?  You never know where it might lead!

Any comments about friendship across cultures?


Karin said...

Encouraging and beautiful. You are a great friend and woman of God. I often thank God for knowing you and for having a friend like you. May God bless you with many more like Bahar.

OliveTree said...

Thanks, Karin. Bahar is a one in 15 million kind of girl, but encouraging younger women is one of my passions, so I'm open to whomever God wants to send my way!

Anonymous said...

You are one of the greatest gifts she has recieved from the Lord, the big sister she always longed for!