The other day, my husband and I were talking about what we should be praying towards as we look at moving back to Africa this summer. As we discussed our past experiences overseas, one thing stood out to me - one factor that has made the difference for me between just living in Africa and actually loving Africa. I spent time in a country in West Africa, about evenly divided between the north part of the country and the south. And in both those areas, I had a Friend-with-a-capital-F.

I had a Friend in the north. It just sort of happened - I was helping her with her English and we often ended up laying on the floor in her room talking. We'd go to her farm and laugh and talk the day away. We'd chat about what we were thinking. We went places together, biking and talking. I loved it!

After a couple years, I moved south. This was going to be a new experience for me - a new tribe, a new language, a different culture. I distinctly remember praying about this and asking God to give me another Friend. Not until months later did I realize that He had answered my prayer far beyond my expectations. "Z" and I got so close. She was incredibly patient with my babytalk in her language, and it wasn't long till we could chat for hours (ok, disregarding grammar rules, but hey!) We were pregnant together. Moaned through morning sickness together. Discussed our religions (she was Muslim). Laughed our heads off. Brought each other meals. I'd hold her colicky baby while she got a quick bath. Now that we're living in the States, she calls regularly. She, single-handedly, made the difference for me. I loved living there.

Of course, we had more friends than that. Lots of people I could go hang out with, visit, or have a meal with - there's nothing like African hospitality. Lots of people I related with daily, and loved. But the gift of a Friend-with-a-capital-F... that's on a different level. Someone who will voluntarily open up and share. About anything, everything. Someone that will initiate in the friendship. That will tell me if I'm blundering culturally in some way. That will actually tell me how I am perceived in the village. Someone that treats me like a Friend, not like the foreigner that I am. That is huge!

I am not talking about an official "language helper" here. At the same time, I believe having friendships like this is an ideal way to learn more about the language and culture. Also, I believe it is a powerful antidote for culture shock and loneliness. It means that instead of always turning to your fellow expats or your social media to fill those friendship needs in your life, you can start being blessed by relating within your host culture, too. As wives and mothers, it is easy for us to get stuck in our house, relating to our family only. Don't let it happen to you. I believe God wants you to love your new culture, too; and some genuine friendships are a huge help with that.

Of course, besides prayer, there's some work to this, too.

To begin with, you have to build as many relationships as you can. Make friends everywhere. Keep your eyes open for a potential Friend. Don't expect someone to just walk in the door someday. In both instances I told you about, it took months. You do have to do something - get out of your house, get out of your comfort zone, and get into people's lives. My Friend in the north was actually hiding inside of someone I had known for quite a while, and she didn't pop out until I started spending time with her on a regular basis.

Here are a couple ideas to get started. For example, incorporate a daily stroll with your children into your routine. Maybe there's someone that's always in the same place each afternoon, such as a shop keeper? She might be bored waiting for customers and happy to hang out for a little bit. Maybe there's someone sick or disabled who has all the time in the world? Maybe there's a neighbor lady who would love to help you learn to cook local food, or someone who has children the ages of yours, and you can sit with her while the little ones play.... My experiences are in rural Africa, but with a little creative thinking, these suggestions probably work in other places, too.

Sure, it takes a lot of time, and it is not easy. Sometimes, all you want to do is stay home - the last thing you feel like doing is venturing out, again, to bug people, again. To make a fool of yourself, again, because you don't speak the language well and you don't know the culture well. Sometimes, someone you thought was going to be an awesome Friend, turns out to just be someone who thinks they can get some sort of material benefit from your relationship. It's happened to me, and it's hard. But don't give up! When you do find a Friend, the hard work will pay off.

And when you found her? Go on and find another one :-D

Have fun!

How about you? Have you had a Friend-with-a-capital-F in your location? Any more tips on how to find those Friends or nurture those friendships?

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