I was always a shy kid. I hated meeting new people, and the thought of speaking to strangers was so hard! But right after I surrendered to Jesus, I had lots of amazing conversations with friends and total strangers about the radical change that had just taken place in my life. Whether outside of a class, boarding a plane, or standing in a checkout line, I couldn’t wait to meet them and start our conversation. I didn’t think of this as an obligation. Nobody told me to do this; I just couldn’t contain my joy and amazement at what God had done in my life. I wanted to share Jesus with everyone.
My wonder at God’s manifest mercy in my life has never cooled. I am as grateful today as I ever was. But as I became more involved in church and small groups, finding more Christian friends, entering a Christian marriage, starting a Christian family, working in a Christian school, I found fewer and fewer opportunities to talk with people who didn’t share my experience of God’s amazing love.
Then one day, I realized I didn’t have any friends who weren’t believers. And that seemed normal. Except … there was that little verse in Matthew 28 about going to the ends of the earth and making disciples. The Great Commission. There was that.
Praying for relationships with nonbelievers
Convicted about my isolation from the ‘world,’ I began to pray for the people living around me. Conveniently, at that time, we had a dog who needed to go out for a walk after the kids were in bed, so I would walk up and down the street, praying for our neighbors. The people living in the houses on our block were all strangers to me. That made them scary, intimidating.
But in answer to those prayers, God began to highlight opportunities to share my life with the women on my block. Births or deaths, holidays or hospitalizations, I found ways to participate in the lives that were being lived all around me. And I decided just to be myself. I talked with them the same way I talked with my Christian friends.
Discovering the power of weakness
I talked about the Lord in a matter-of-fact way. I felt that I needed to be about one controversial issue only: the gospel. I didn’t try to talk them into my views on abortion, women’s liberation, or gay rights. I was all about Jesus. If evangelism was fishing, then this was fly-fishing. What are they biting today? Just gentle words dropped here and there into the pool of our conversation.
I thought that God would use my strength to meet them in their weakness, but to my amazement, it was my weakness that really solidified our relationships. I was sent to bed for five months during my last pregnancy, and these women started bringing meals, ferrying my kids around, walking my dog. What?? I was supposed to serve THEM!
I was learning to love these wonderful women. And they loved me. We shared our yards, our coffee, our tears, … our lives. They were no longer strangers. They had become friends. And one by one, my friends started coming into relationship with Jesus. What a joy!
Do I have to witness to everyone?
I had finally broken out of the ‘Christian Bubble’ and made friends with my neighbors. They were no longer strangers but had become really dear friends. And my new friends were coming to know Jesus! But I still felt a vague sense of failure as a ‘witness.’
I felt a kind of uncomfortable compulsion or obligation to share my experience with every stranger I ran across, but most of the time, when I had an opportunity to talk to someone, I was too tired, too shy, or just somehow couldn’t figure out how to open the topic of God or faith. This was demoralizing. I felt that I wasn’t a very good Christian if I couldn’t share Christ with every stranger I met. It seemed like my husband could start up a spiritual conversation with anyone, anywhere. But I just didn’t have that kind of talent.
Recognizing significant opportunities
Slowly I began to recognize a pattern in those times when I was able to have significant conversations with strangers. Inexplicably, in those situations, it would start with a kind of affection welling up in me, a recognition of someone dear but not yet known to me, like the Japanese woman I sat next to on a flight from Los Angeles to San Francisco.
She sat down next to me in the window seat. Her impeccable suit was complemented by perfectly matched shoes and purse, and her make-up and hair were equally stylish. Looking down at my wrinkled blue jeans and comfy shoes, I was instantly convinced that this woman and I had nothing in common. Out of common courtesy, I greeted her in a friendly way.
As soon as she turned to me, I recognized her. I had never seen her before, but I somehow cared deeply about her. I wanted to get to know her. I hesitated but then asked a couple of questions, and before I knew it, she was reaching into her perfect purse for a handkerchief, weeping as I told her about my relationship with Jesus. Before we landed in San Francisco, we had prayed together, and she was telling me how terribly important, how needful this encounter had been for her.
Jesus was moved by compassion
The Gospels record many times that Jesus was “moved by compassion” for someone and then taught them, challenged them, healed them, or set them free. I am so grateful to realize that I have also experienced the mysterious moving of the Holy Spirit that is described in those passages.
I just sometimes inexplicably love strangers. The 17-year-old exchange student on a transatlantic flight from Spain, the young Latin American couple on another long flight, the elderly woman in the line at the grocery store, the young mother at a doctor’s office. It doesn’t matter where I meet them; what matters is that God wants to love them through me. And once His love stirs in my heart, ‘witnessing’ is no longer a task; I am simply sharing God’s love and good news with dear ones. Once I recognize them, they don’t feel like strangers at all. They feel like future friends.
Jesus said in John 10:27, “my sheep listen to my voice and I know them and they follow me.” I don’t ‘own’ God. I don’t ‘bring’ Him to anyone. God is at work all around me in the people I know and the people I don’t know. It is my privilege to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit and share His love with people all around me. Sometimes a word here or there turns into a life-changing encounter. Sometimes it’s just a seed sown. But I am no longer intimidated by strangers. I don’t see strangers around me. I see future friends.
It isn’t hard anymore! It’s an adventure!
As you ponder what steps you can take to be more vocal with your faith, take a look at these 15 Bible verses about friendship, and consider the ways you can make more friends with those around you.