I once shared the gospel with a group of burly Arab camel tour guides whose camel bit me on the leg. (It’s okay. You can laugh.)
I also shared with my next-door neighbor over bitter mint tea and semolina cake.
But I’ve been finding it increasingly challenging to share with certain people over the years, and that bothers me. I’ve been asking the Lord to reveal my heart to me. Why is this so hard?
Of course, it’s partially hard because, in the countries where I’ve served as a missionary, people could face serious consequences for following Jesus. But I have sensed there is something else going on.
Finally, I think I know what it is:
I have believed that in order to share my faith with someone, I have to be either a stranger or a best friend. And while most of the world is a stranger to me, there are many people in that awkward area between acquaintance and best friend. That gray area is where my trouble lies.
But it is also the place of the most potential.
My family has a VHS tape of me receiving gifts on my seventh birthday. Everyone is chuckling in the background as I screech with equal enthusiasm over the Barbie dolls and the new socks. But I remember being very concerned that each individual person felt that their gift was loved.
I still kinda feel that way, except it’s not about Barbies and socks anymore. Now it’s about friendship. How can I make sure everyone feels equally loved and cherished and special?
The truth is, I can’t, because I’m not infinite.
I have a best friend I only get to talk to every few months. Maybe you have one, too. Life gets busy, but you always know you can pick up where you left off. And each time, it feels like just yesterday since you got together.
But for many of the women I’ve been privileged to know in other countries, people who talk every few months are hardly friends. This is a cultural expectation that has been difficult for me to manage.
I have friends on the field who wonder why, when we talk like best friends about the deepest issues of our hearts, I am not in their kitchen every other afternoon, not sending WhatsApp messages every morning with identical inquiries about family and health.
Not only do I feel sad to disappoint people, I also really, really don’t want someone to feel like I’ve pulled a bait-and-switch on them. Like I only come over every few weeks, peddle some religion, and leave, without really seeing and appreciating them.
So I visit as much as I can, waiting for the time when I’ve built up this relationship enough to have the right to share Jesus. When I’ve finally “earned the right to be heard.” I’m ever waiting to become BFFs, while simultaneously feeling exhausted because I know I’m unable to meet the requirements.
This has always been an issue, but it’s only affected my gospel sharing in the last two years. Why is that?
A little over two years ago, a close friend of mine met a nice lady at a park. The lady told my friend, “I’d really love to mentor you. We could get together for coffee once a week, and I could help you work through what’s most important to you.” Although this is unusual for an American conversation, my friend is gifted in building community and investing in other humans, so she assumed she had met a kindred spirit. She jumped at this opportunity.
After two meetings, she got a pitch for an investment scheme. When she declined, the “mentorship” ended.
I think my friend’s experience may have traumatized me more than her. It rattles around my mind some nights. I never want someone I’m sharing the gospel with to feel like they’ve just spent time with a used car salesman or a multi-level marketer or anything else that doesn’t feel real.
Maybe that’s a good thing. But in my quest to be genuine, I have slipped into black-and-white thinking: I must either be a stranger or a best friend to have the right to share my faith.
But what if I’m overly focused on relationship building? What if, sometimes, it’s enough to build rapport?
Rapport or Relationship?
“Rapport is defined as a friendly, harmonious relationship. There’s mutual agreement, understanding, and empathy that makes the communication flow well. Once you have built good rapport, there is an implicit assumption of positive intent between both people that makes your interactions easier.” So says Betterup.
In my observation, rapport is built through things like sincerely listening, showing genuine empathy, and cultivating a positive, adaptable attitude.
Thinking about rapport makes me wonder if I’m doing things backward. What if I’m trying to develop relationships with people and rapport with Jesus? Is it possible that I’m spending all this time trying to juggle relationships I don’t have time to nurture while I maintain a cordial acquaintance with Christ?
And what would happen if I switched that around? What if I focused on building my relationship with Jesus and my rapport with people?
Jesus, when He chose to be temporarily limited during His time on this earth, had a very close mentoring relationship with three people (Peter, James, and John) who went with him almost everywhere. Then He had 12 people he mentored on a daily basis. There were 70 others He worked with for a season. And then there were the crowds which He taught and healed.
But the one He stayed up all night to talk to was His Father. And the whole point of His ministry, among the three, the 12, the 70, and the crowds, was to make His Father known.
I may not have what it takes to be everyone’s best friend or to rescue the world from loneliness. But I know Someone infinite, someone who does have what it takes. He is a far better friend than I. Like springs of living water, He is never exhausted.
And I know how to introduce friends who haven’t met each other yet.
A version of this article first appeared on Whatsoever Thoughts.