I can remember it like it was yesterday: the sweet aromas of Ghormeh sabzi swirling through the hall, and the freshly-made Tah Dig, golden and glistening, welcoming us as we arrived. My husband joined the men in the backyard as they slowly spun and roasted kabobs on a traditional spit, while I wandered to the kitchen and joined the women, where we talked for hours and drank tea, long before the meal was ever ready to eat.
That memory has always been a beautiful picture of my friendship with some dear Persian brothers and sisters in the Lord. Though we don’t get to see each other as often as we used to when we were neighbors many years ago, when I think of our friendship, my mental images always remember the same things: our homes, our food, and lots of time together.
The concepts of home, food, and time are not exclusive to Persians by any means. I myself am a woman of East Indian descent, my husband is Latino, and these three values are highly prioritized in our families too. In fact, this is true for most ethnic cultures. On our current street alone, our neighbors come from all over – Columbia and Venezuela, Burma, and Hong Kong to name a few places – and all of them share these values.
Certainly, we are all different in many ways – we speak different languages, have different traditions, come from different socio-economic backgrounds, and more. But it is these three things that bring us together and cause our friendships to grow. (Here I am simply talking about cultural markers, for undoubtedly the gospel is the primary means of uniting all peoples in Christ).
Is it sometimes hard going to other peoples’ homes? Absolutely.
It’s never a given whether our toddler son is going to behave nicely or have a complete meltdown. There are also the different smells to contend with, like incense, and the issue of cat hair. (I am extremely allergic to both, although I have come to believe that it was for situations like this that God invented Claritin!)
Do I sometimes have places to be and feel rushed while visiting a friend? Sure, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t try to clear my schedule and be open to other peoples’ rhythms and times. Eastern cultures have an open-door policy. You are welcome to their home at any hour of the day, and they may also drop by unannounced. It’s also not uncommon to spend four hours one evening at someone’s home and then come right back over the next night too.
Does this mean I always like the foods I’m eating? Most of the time, yes, but sometimes not. I have an Indian palette and certain flavors like fish sauce make my stomach a bit queasy. Now, barring health reasons (and mere preferences for gluten-free foods doesn’t count), I eat it anyways both for the sake of the gospel and my friendship.
You see, when it comes to inter-cultural friendships, I’m reminded of Paul’s declaration:
To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law…that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law…that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. (1 Corinthians 9:20–22)
Certainly, the Apostle Paul had a missional approach to his inter-cultural friendships – and that should be our first priority too. But, his statement also means that he got out of his comfort zone, laid down his preferences, and stayed in the moment, and in doing so he presented Christ to the people he was with.
If we, as Christian women today, can stretch, expand, and even transform our views of home, food and time, we will get closer to the heart of Paul’s message and, undoubtedly, grow deeper and more intimate in our friendships across cultures too.