Ffriend has become a spongy concept in my entire life. Allegedly, I will make a donation a "friend" of the public service broadcasting, the library or the shelter. When you "make friends" with me on social media, you gain access to a carefully curated (and therefore mostly false) account of my life that serves as a potential target for my next book presentation or multi-level marketing efforts. My children are encouraged to refer to every other student in the school as their "friend," including those who never meet them.
But I never thought that "friend" could refer to a co-conspirator in a subversive act of faith that defies racial, cultural and political forces to testify to the kingdom of God. At least not until I read Dana Roberts Loyal friendships: diversity in the Christian community,
Robert, an expert on global Christianity, claims a more moderate claim. "Christians," she argues, "have a responsibility to find friends across divisions that can separate us." She insists that cultivating these friendships is "an ethical and spiritual imperative." These high-risk "loyal friendships" are mustard seeds of hope that can have generation-related, regional and even global implications. But whether they change the world or not is irrelevant. The point is that cross-border friendships are part of the Christian vocation. "When followers of Jesus Christ withdraw from their personal responsibility to create diverse and loving communities, they betray the gospel of Jesus Christ."
Robert begins by showing how Jesus in the Gospel of John "is friends with those who follow him". Jesus invited his disciples to friendship and sent them into the world to befriend others. Jesus modeled faithful friendship in his life and death, and his resurrection empowered his disciples to do the same. "As the disciples remained fixated on the risen Jesus, their Lord and Savior, their faithfulness deepened," writes Roberts.
Most of the book tells stories from the annals of world missions of the twentieth century that illustrate various aspects of faithful friendship in practice. For example, we learn about the Indian Savarirayan Jesudason and the Scottish missionary Ernest Forrester-Paton, who together built a Christian community that served the poor because they "saw their intercultural, transnational friendship as a conscious Christian witness against colonialism and racism the multinational heritage of friendship between American and Chinese Christians during the Cold War, which illustrates how faithful friendship extends the importance of the family to a comprehensive vision of the multiethnic family of Christ, joined in life, death and life beyond death. "And we encounter stories of friendships between people who should be political enemies in Zimbabwe, North Korea and the Philippines – examples of how" (e) specifically in cross-cultural relationships, as Christian friends reciprocally living, means to open to be misunderstood and criticized by both sides. "
In all of these stories, Robert shows how Christians instinctively made friends with people who do not differ from them because they "want to remain faithful to Jesus' message of love." This has always been true in history and in a variety of cultural and political contexts. In other words, building costly intercultural relationships is more than a Christian imperative. It is a unique Christian reflex.
Readers interested in missions, intercultural studies and racial reconciliation can find many subtle lessons as they read between the lines. For example, Robert's reports question the accepted narrative that Christian missions were always and everywhere a tool of cultural imperialism. They also illustrate how Christians with social and racial privileges can connect their wealth with those on the fringes.
By design, Loyal friendships offers few practical takeaway dishes. Robert reminds us that friendship is not a strategy or a program. It is a Christian practice, not a means to an end.
A friend of mine who portrays "faithful friendship" in her personal life and ministry recently said, "We need more courage to take more risks of outrageous love for the sake of the Gospel." This is not going to be easy in a time of urgency to divide us politically, geographically, ethnically and otherwise. But Loyal friendshipsWith its many helpful examples and admonitions, it provides a clear vision for bold, kontrakulturelle relations.
Brandon J. O'Brien is Director of Content Development and Distribution for Redeemer City to City, Manhattan. His next book is Not from here: what connects us, what separates us and how we can move forward (Moody).
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