Blog 365 · Traveling Feet

Why We Need International Friends

Last night I had the privilege of making two new friends from Saudi Arabia. As we sat and talked for nearly an hour, we discussed the differences in our cultures and the difference in the perceptions of each other’s cultures. We talked about the stereotypes that Americans have of Arabic people and the stereotypes that Arabic people have of Americans. And we talked about our beliefs, our dreams, and our plans for the future.

When I came away from that conversation, I was struck with a profound sense of having my worldview broadened once again – the first time being when I went to Bible school in England, and the second time being when I went to Russia for two weeks. I felt a deeper appreciation for a culture that I’d never visited, but which had been brought to my own country. And it made me realize that it’s not just “nice” to have international friends – no, we need to have international friends to remind us of the beauty of all cultures, not just the one in which we grew up.

It greatly saddened my heart to hear my new friend tell me that he’s had people come up to him and his friends and ask, “Are you related to Osama bin Laden? Are you a terrorist?”

Really, Americans? You have the audacity to come up to someone you don’t even know and ask them such offensive questions? As if the entirety of a culture is represented by the one group that makes the most headlines? As if there aren’t thousands of human souls in each of those countries with hopes and dreams and ideas and intelligence and humor that are the same as our own, merely separated from us by language and skin color and oceans?

There has been so much hatred and violence stirred up in our world lately by a lot of people who narrow-mindedly cling to one perspective – their own – and fail to consider the other people as those with souls who want to be understood. Perhaps the best way to start dissolving prejudices is in the making of friendships with people different than us.

I think of my very dear international friends – in Ireland, England, Russia, Canada (ha! 😉 – and I think of how we take delight in learning about each other’s differences. We laugh about them, we get surprised by them, we love experiencing them for ourselves, because we care about each other as human beings. When we lose sight of one another’s humanity, that’s when differences lead people to violence, intolerance, and anger.

I’m not saying that there is an easy solution to our problems. I’m not saying that the hurt doesn’t run deep or that I can fully understand what some people have experienced at the hands of other’s hate.

But I am saying that I want to try to understand. I want to listen to your stories and empathize with your pain and extend my love to you and say – “Maybe with just one friendship, we can start to dissolve the hate and replace it with the love of Christ. Maybe you can share your culture with me, and I can share mine with you, and we can weave a bond across the world of appreciation for our differences.”

I sometimes feel so insignificant to help or change the deep issues that are going on in the world currently. But last night, sitting late at Zips with an Arabic friend who told me of his hopes and dreams for his life, I came to see that we can have small impacts in our corners of the world. We can listen to one another. We can laugh with one another. We can look into each other’s eyes and say, “You are important. Your culture is important. You have something beautiful to offer the world.”

And when we do that, we start to crumble the walls of hatred that have been built up by people who refuse to understand other people. We start to show the heart of Christ – because that’s exactly what He did when He was here on earth. He stopped and listened to people’s stories, no matter if they were Jew or Gentile, Samaritan or leper, tax collector or fisherman, prostitute or Pharisee. He saw who they were and cared about them.

So let’s start breaking down our stereotypes and prejudices and invite other cultures and other people into our homes and churches. Let’s go to other cultures and truly learn about them instead of trying to just bring them America. Let’s embrace things that might be different from us instead of awkwardly shying away from them, and let’s never, ever allow ourselves to feel superior to one another. If God delights in creating diversity, then we’d better believe it’s our job to also delight in experiencing diversity.

You just might discover worlds of beauty you never even knew were there.

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