Beta’s eyes glistened with tears as her face crumpled with disappointment. “He got married”, she told me. Her son had married a girl she disapproved of and Beta had only just heard the news. She didn’t even know where her son was living. We sat together, cradling cups of tea, as she expressed despair over their broken relationship, having lost hope that it could ever be mended. I asked her if I could pray for her and her family and she nodded. I thanked God for this woman whom I admire, asking for reconciliation in her family and that she would know His peace.
Beta said she likes to talk with me because I am a safe space away from her gossiping neighbours. “I often see you praying and reading your holy book”, she said. “I wish my daughter had your spirit.”
I met my new friend Iska for lunch at a local noodle restaurant. We were just getting to know each other, so we shared stories about our families and past experiences. We laughed over her funny anecdotes from teaching foreigners the local language. She nodded her head as I explained why I pray to God: to know Him better and become more like Him. Then, with a too bright smile, Iska revealed her heartache of losing a baby at 20 weeks and her nine-year struggle to bear a child. She described the stigma she experiences in her home village as the barren woman. I could feel her grief as she conveyed her longing for a child.
As we made plans to meet again, Iska told me she enjoys chatting with a person like me as it is refreshing to hear my different stories of life and faith.
Over coffee and fried cassava chips, Dewi had many a tale to tell about her interesting but unconventional life. She recalled her father’s unfaithfulness and how she was able to whisper, “I forgive you” into his ear before he died. She described with dramatic and heartbreaking detail her broken engagement. She questioned me about cultural norms in the West. Thankfully, I was able to dispel many of her false assumptions about Western norms with the truth that, no, not everyone lives like that.
On the way home, Dewi confided that she appreciates I don’t judge her, unlike her local friends. She struggles to find her place in the world and is searching for meaning in her life. I silently asked God for the words to express the Gospel to her in a way she could understand.
Each of my friends has a story to tell. A rich tapestry of experiences, relationships, culture and faith woven together with tales of love and loss. Tales that allow me a glimpse into the longings of their hearts and the brokenness that can lie underneath.
In many ways, I am different to these women. Our cultures, beliefs, identity and opportunities in life do not always easily intersect. But we find connection as women. Over cups of tea or a meal, we can converse for hours. Sharing about our lives, our joys and our disappointments. We laugh and mourn together, both of which can reduce us to tears. But that’s okay. There is understanding in such emotional outpourings.
In our conversations, I learn that there is an art to active listening. There is grace in reserving judgment. There is love in showing concern, acceptance and care. And in each of these friendships there is room for me to reciprocally share about my life. My struggles. My hope. My faith.
“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” Colossians 4:6
Kathryn has spent two years On Track in South East Asia.
All names have been changed.