Nik Ripken wrote an excellent article a few weeks ago about how foreigners need to be better at being needy, how we need to grow in dependence on the people around us. The specific example he used of a man doing this well was about money.
I appreciated the article but one thought lingered: Why is it always about money? I feel like our conversations about how to engage well abroad are often myopically based on money. We talk a lot about it. I’ve written a lot about it. Poverty. Beggars. Giving. Wealth. Vast differences. How to live wisely and give wisely…But living abroad well and growing in dependence on local friends has to be based on more than economics.
I came home last week from a terrible day at work. A local friend lives with us on weekends and she was at the house. She watched me cry, listened while I debriefed, and then gave me a big hug. She said, “I don’t know what else to do but I feel like I should hug you.”
In that moment, I was needy. I was revealing my brokenness, my exhaustion, my frustration and disappointment. I didn’t need money. I was the one providing her with a place to stay on weekends. I didn’t need help with school fees or to beg for food to put on the table for my family. But I needed her to listen and to share my emotion.
Being needy can’t only mean needing money or being financially interdependent and I have to wonder if the man Ripken references in his article was married, a father, or a single man. Because honestly? If I had to scrape together school fees from coins proffered by neighbors and implore local people to help me feed my kids, I might not choose to live here. Call me faithless, but you can also call me honest. And feel free to pray for me to have more faith!
Ripken’s point is excellent: we need to be needy. But there are more ways to rely on each other than financially. What are those ways and how do we foster an attitude of interdependence?
Emotionally. We need to be vulnerable and honest about our joys and our struggles. It is easy for language or cultural barriers to hinder this kind of sharing. And, it is easy to imagine that showing our true selves, especially on a bad day, reveals weakness. Guess what? That’s true. It does show our weakness. Guess what else? We’re all weak and in our weaknesses, God is revealed as strong. So we need to get over our pride and be willing to be broken in front of and with our local friends. As if we were in authentic two-way relationships with them. Go figure!
Culturally. Anyone who is outside their home culture is clueless. Clue.Less. This lasts much longer than we would like, for some of us it lasts the entire time we live abroad. We will never learn everything there is to know about our host culture and we need to constantly be ready to reveal our ignorance and ask for help, wisdom, direction. I’ve been here thirteen years and still have to call a friend for advice on what to wear to certain events.
Spiritually. I love when my friends pray for me. Christian or Muslim, when they take the time and the empathy to bring me before the throne of God, it is a gift. I have so much to learn about faith, submission, service, hospitality, conviction, and more from my Muslim friends. I depend on them to challenge me in fasting and giving, in commitment to spiritual disciplines.
Community. We need community. We can find it in the expatriate world and there is nothing wrong with that. But if we really want to learn about and engage in our host culture, we need to build authentic community with local friends. This happens by simply doing things together. Volleyball, picnics, going to cafés, birthday parties, painting, boating…obviously the possibilities are endless. Find someone you love, find someone who loves the same thing, and do it together.
Emergency help. We’ve been robbed, we’ve had car accidents, medical emergencies, extreme loneliness, marital stress, death threats, harassment…Local friends have stepped in on our behalf more times than I can count. We don’t know how to handle the thief or who to ask about getting the internet turned back on, or which doctor is reliable, or how to respond to the threats. I am forever grateful to the people who have shepherded us through incredibly stressful situations, who have stood in the gap, able to act and make wise decisions while we can only cry or scream or sit.
There are so many more ways that we can be dependent on our local communities. They don’t have to involve money. But they do have to involve humility, authenticity, knowing our needs, and asking for help.
How do you build interdependent relationships in your community?
*image via Flickr