Friendship culture

Nicole James | Brazil

“We have a stereotype of being so friendly. I haven’t met someone who doesn’t like Latino people, or even samba or salsa,” began Livia*. Just over a year into her time serving in North Africa, she listed ways Brazilian culture complemented her host country: “If you really enjoy spending time with people, if you really enjoy learning new things, if you really enjoy sharing your life, this is the right place to come!”

Loud parties, spontaneous visits, physical touch, ever-changing plans and, above all, a food-centred culture—the descriptions work as well in Brazil as they do in North Africa, according to Livia. And, unlike others from reserved, time-oriented cultures who have to adjust to such cultural differences, those aspects of life don’t phase her a bit.

Making friendships in the Muslim world has not been difficult in Livia’s experience. “It’s been really amazing, especially to see how our Father brings each one of them into my life,” she said.

Western Asia

Caroline* spent three and a half years in Western Asia. When she first moved to her host country, she encountered bits of her childhood in the culture. “My parents were very strict about clothes, so for me, it was not so hard [to adjust],” she shared. She had to get used to wrapping a headscarf, hijab, around her face before going out in public, but other behaviours—children obeying their parents, families fostering close relationships—reminded her of home.

“We are a very warm people. We like to hug and talk, so it’s easier to make relationships, to make friends with people,” she described. “Brazilians, like Western Asians, [value] family, being together, eating together, talking… Ladies can hug ladies; they like this very much.”

In the host country, Caroline met one of her closest friends, Shima*, at language class. Half German, Shima had grown up in Europe but moved to Western Asia after marrying her husband. As the two ladies chatted before and after class, they discovered Shima’s husband worked near Caroline’s bus stop. Shima’s husband had been dropping her off and picking her up every day, but after meeting with Caroline, he agreed to let his wife ride the bus with her new friend.

One of the first times Shima ventured onto the bus with Caroline, she suddenly felt sick between stops and needed to get off. “At the time, I didn’t know exactly where we were because I didn’t know the city, but I said, ‘Ok, I will be with you,’ and then I stayed with her until she felt good.”

They called Shima’s husband, who picked them up. For Shima, Caroline’s presence that day was proof of friendship. When Shima later stopped going to language school, Caroline began visiting her at home.

Eventually, Shima went to Germany for two months to visit her family. When she returned, she met up with Caroline and said, “Please talk to me about Jesus. I had Christian friends when I lived in Germany, but I never cared about Jesus. Now, after I met you, because you really cared about me, I want to know about Jesus.”

In fact, Shima had purchased a Bible in the local language while in Europe. Her husband’s family were religious Muslims. Even though her husband did not practice his faith, as the oldest son, he refused to contradict his father’s beliefs. Still, he allowed Shima to meet with Caroline, and he even helped his wife read the Bible when she asked him for help translating.

After reading the Bible and studying with Caroline, Shima believed in Jesus. Her decision was dangerous in light of the country she lived in and her husband’s family, but Shima persisted. “Next time I go to Germany, I will be baptised,” she told Caroline.

Middle East

Sophia* lived in the Near East for two and a half years. “When I was living there, I didn’t feel like it was my culture. We have a lot of freedom here [in Brazil] as women: we can do whatever we want, and we can wear whatever we want,” she said quickly. After pausing for a few minutes, though, she modified her opinion, offering some similarities between her home and host countries. “Maybe in hospitality, maybe the way that we talk. In the Near East, we spend a lot of time together talking and eating and drinking coffee. Maybe these things are like our culture,” she mused.

In fact, Sophia spent a lot of time with local women, visiting them, talking to them, drinking coffee and sharing her faith. “My role was to be with them, to try to make friends and, through our friendship, share faith,” she described.

Sophia met one of her good friends, Hala*, on the street. She asked Hala for directions and discovered that she spoke English. Sophia invited Hala to an English-speaking meeting not far from where they were, but Hala declined. “I cannot say what I think,” she said.

“You can say whatever you want,” Sophia reassured her. “We can just talk.”

“I feel like I can trust you,” Hala replied.

“You can,” Sophia said.

“I pray to Jesus.”

Sophia hugged Hala and said, “You are my sister.” They exchanged phone numbers and started meeting once a week to study the Bible.

“We spent a lot of time talking about Jesus, about faith, about her life,” Sophia shared. “Actually, she’s not a believer… She doesn’t understand Jesus as Saviour, but I can see that God is working in her life, and she’s open to the study the Bible and talk about it.”

Hanan*, another local friend, told Sophia about the many challenges in her life. “I have this feeling in my heart that I want to be different. I want to be born again,” Hanan shared.

“What?” Sophia asked.

“I have this feeling I want to be born again,” Hanan repeated. “What do you think about that?”

Sophia told Hanan how she could be born again through Jesus. Hanan listened to everything and met with Sophia multiple times. “I also believe God is working in her life. I believe she’s open,” Sophia said.

Before she left the Near East, Sophia met with a third Arab friend. “I really wanted to give her a Bible, but I didn’t know what she would think about that,” Sophia remembered.

So she invited her friend to a party and presented her gift. “You are really special to me,” Sophia said, “and because you are very special, I want to give you the best I have in my life.”

Her friend took the Bible and responded, “I know now that you love me because I know this is special to you.”

Not the same but similar

With the new global vision of creating vibrant communities of Jesus followers among the least reached, OM Brazil wants to mobilise Brazilians to go to the Muslim world. “It’s not the same, Arabic culture and Brazilian culture,” Sophia said, “But we have some similarities.”

“We like to spend time together; we like to talk; we are relational people. It takes some time for us to understand and adjust to this new culture, but the things we have in common help us to learn some aspects of this new culture, [which] also helps us to adjust and share our faith,” she continued. “Most of the Brazilians are not afraid to share… They are open. It’s easier for them approach people and talk to them.”

“It’s not easy to learn another language,” Sophia admitted. But “to share with people and to be with them, this is very easy because we do that all the time. We are always together.”

Pray for many Brazilians to be mobilised into missions amongst Muslims. Pray for those living in least-reached parts of the world to have open hearts, establish deep friendships and have opportunity to share their faith in Jesus.

*Name changed for security

Nicole James is an international writer for OM, passionate about publishing stories of God’s work among the nations and telling people about the wonderful things He is doing around the world.

Published: Tuesday, 25 July 2017
Credit: Nicole James
© 2017 OM International This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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