Strangers No More, but Friends: Stories of Friendship Evangelism

by Sadiri Joy Tira

Last summer, I posted “Who is the Stranger Next Door? An Honest Answer from A Stranger”. This post is inspired by Mark Overstreet’s “Who is the Stranger Next Door?”

In that particular post, I wrote about my neighbours and neighbourhood in Edmonton (Alberta). At that time, my next door neighbours and I did not know each other. Certainly, I did not know their religious practices. We were all strangers to one another who lived next door.

Today, these neighbours are my friends. So now, I want to continue where I ended.

Scott*, is now working for Starbucks in our neighbourhood. Many times, we meet for coffee and talk about life, about his job serving Starbucks customers. During his 30-minute break, he sits outside to smoke. Several times, I join him while he smokes.

One day, he asked, “Are you bothered by my smoking?” My answer was, “No I am not bothered… actually I have more problems with liars and gossipers because they destroy friendship and break up relationships.” Then, I told him, “But if you only stop smoking, you would have more food in your fridge!”

We laughed. Laughing together is a mark of friendship. We are now friends. Every time we have met since last summer, I have prayed for him. I always end my prayer with: “Lord Jesus, you are our best friend. Amen!” He usually replies, “Yes, Lord Jesus, you are our friend. Amen!”

My other neighbour is a handyman and an amateur hockey player. His name is Jim.* He has a 3-year-old boy named, Luc*. Last month, I asked Jim to help me haul some furniture for my basement suite. I paid him $100, but then he took me out for coffee at his favourite Canadian Tim Horton’s Cafe.

Friends reciprocate each other’s kind gestures.

While at Tim Horton’s he talked about his holidays in the Philippines, about his Filipino in-laws, about his “hybrid” mestizo son, Luc. Then, I asked, “Do you go to Catholic Church with your Catholic wife?” His reply was, “No, I believe in many gods and all religions are the same. I am not a Hindu, but see my tattoo in my arms?”

I looked at him and looked at his eyes: “Jim, I believe Adam, the first man, had NO tattoo like that, but he was speaking with The Serpent!” We both laughed.

But laughing can be a sign of mockery! I was actually mocking the Devil, but also silently praying for my friend’s deliverance and my own protection from the Enemy of our soul! Now that Jim has opened up about his spiritual need and belief, I pray for him every day. By God’s power, Jim will find the Way, The Truth, and The Life — Jesus Christ. May Jim become a friend of Jesus even though he has an ugly tattoo. Jesus is changing human hearts.

Now, let me talk about my builder-neighbour Steve*, who fixed our leaking house basement. Very early, at 0730 hours on Canadian Thanksgiving Day, he knocked at the front door: “Joy (and Lulu), my family, including my 85-year-old dad are coming for our Thanksgiving turkey dinner. We want to invite you tonight.”

So, we gladly joined their party. Before dinner, Steve called everyone; there were 13 of us around the table. He announced: “We always have our traditional family Thanksgiving dinner. But I don’t recall praying for the needy and thanking God for his blessings. Tonight, our new friends, Joy and Lulu, are with us for the first time. I asked Joy to lead us into a Thanksgiving prayer.”

WOW! I was humbled. True friends pray for each other! Prayer ‘glues’ friends together.

Now, Rick*, the African landscaper. One Sunday, he invited me and my wife to come to their Mennonite Brethren church service. His pastor was on leave. So, the elders took turns to preach. Rick preached about the exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt. He reminded some 75 African immigrants of how God took care of each one of them when they fled from war-torn and poverty-stricken Africa. I noted and counted only 25 Caucasians in the congregation.

The entire worship service was led by Africans. Praise God for the New Canadians, immigrants, and international students who have infused life and vitality into this old Mennonite Brethren congregation. Diaspora believers are on the rise and they are leading many of their friends to Christ.

So, my neighbourhood is fast becoming a community of friends. It is my earnest prayer that these friends become my brothers and sisters in God’s family.

Friendship evangelism is intentional and highly relational! It requires long hours of listening, emphatic understanding, and slowly entering the world of the other person. The world may be discouraging, gloomy, and dark, even Satanic, but Christ descended into hell to preach!

So, friendship evangelism is not ‘mathematical evangelism.’ However, it is more than coffee and doughnuts, and requires tightly moored theology and apologetics. Ultimately, friendship evangelism is intentionally (guided by the Holy Spirit) inviting the ‘other”’, the ‘strangers’, and gently leading them into the circle of the Redeemed.

*Actual names have been replaced with pseudonyms to protect privacy of individuals.

Sadiri Joy Tira is senior associate for diasporas with Lausanne and diaspora missiology specialist with the Jaffray Centre for Global Initiativesat Ambrose University and Seminary (Calgary, AB, Canada).