Can We Be Friends?

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After practicing law for fourteen years in Grand Rapids, Michigan, I moved to Nicaragua in 1996 to work as a leadership developer with Christian Reformed World Missions.

In my second year in Nicaragua I was joined by Darryl Mortensen. Darryl was in his last assignment before retirement with Christian Reformed World Relief Committee, having gained a lifetime of experience in community development in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

This was the deal. Darryl and I had our offices in adjacent rooms of the same small house in the hottest part of Managua. We seemed to get along. He had his work and I had mine. I was working with churches. He had a variety of partner agencies with which he was working.

Then one day Darryl knocked on my door with a question. The question was really quite simple, “Can we be friends?” My first unspoken instinct was the somewhat sarcastic rejoinder that in my opinion we were already friends. But I bit my tongue and instead asked Darryl what he meant by his question.

And so Darryl invited me to a great adventure. He asked whether he could seek my counsel and prayer if he and his wife had an argument before he left for work. And he invited me to share my personal struggles with him.

But then Darryl took the matter into deeper and more dangerous waters. Darryl, the veteran, asked me, the rookie, whether he could seek my advice and counsel on his work with his partner agencies. And he offered to be my coach in my work with churches.

Neither Darryl’s work nor my work was ever the same from that point forward. I did my work with churches differently because of what I learned from Darryl and Darryl did his community development work differently because of what he learned from me. But more than that, it seemed like our friendship was contagious.

The circle of friends influencing each other’s work and developing a shared vision kept growing, coming to include both missionaries from other agencies and denominations as well as local Nicaraguan leaders. With time the result was a transformation community which we called the Nehemiah Center.

Why is it often so hard for us as Christians to work together? How important was Darryl’s question: Can we be friends?

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Having had the opportunity to visit the Nehemiah centre a few years ago and witness the powerful way in which cooperation between ministires multiplies affectiveness I thank God for this one question that bridged the gap and made such a crucial beginning.  I am also thankful to hear that this model is now being replicated in other places and having the same powerful affect.  We need far fewer walls and far more bridges of freindship and cooperation.

Was going to comment, but I can't say it any better than George did. Amazing that one question was the catalyst for such an amazing movement! 

Community Builder

Too often I think I can go it alone in many aspects of life, including my specifically church-related work.  And I think that to my own detriment, as I suspect many others do, too!  Thanks for these inspiring reflections.  ~Stan 

Participant

 I have been collecting questions for the past 15 years, because I have a tendency to talk more than listen.  Asking questions helps me to listen better.  However, any old question will not suffice; the art of asking simple but profound questions focuses everyone on thinking about what really matters. 

And the top 10 questions are . . . ??  Please share.  Thank you.  

Participant

It is hard to pick the top ten, so I'll list fifteen, but this is not a prioritized list and not necessarily the top questions (I have a list of about 400 questions):

1.  Considering the opportunities God presents to you and the way he has shaped you, in what ways can you add the most kingdom value to the lives of others?

2. How do you keep from becoming a "consumer" rather than a "worshipper"?

3. Eldon Ladd calls our present age the "already but not yet" kingdom.  What is the evidence that we are living in the "already"?   How can you allow God to use you to increase the "already" aspect of the kingdom in your spheres of influence?

4. What is the question that, if you had the answer, would give you greater freedom or transformation?

5. What are the rough or crooked places in your life that keep Christ from more fully using you in the arenas where you have oversight or influence?

6. What one change would you like to make in your life?  What keeps you from making the change you desire?

7. What are you doing to constantly grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ and to avoid attitudinal or behavioral ruts?

8. Is God having his way with you?  How might you be getting in his way?

9. What is the biggest obstacle you face to growth in Christ-likeness... from within?  From without?

10. What burdens has God been putting on your heart to see happen?

11. Who benefits from your success?

12. What are you risking for the sake of the Gospel?

13. What percentage of your God-given potential are you using?  What would it take to increase that percentage?

14. Do you have a prayer life, or a life of prayer?  What is the difference?

15. Why are you doing what you are doing?

 

I hope these questions also help you to listen more than talk and that they open up for you and others deep and important issues in your faith journey. 

Peace, Joel

Wow.  These questions are incredibly thought provoking.

I would love to see a lot more.  Joel, if you are on facebook you could easily post a question every couple days for people to ponder.  One good question that causes even one person to reflect just a little more is better than some long winded devotional.  Spiritual guides have used good questions for centuries.  I believe Jesus was good at asking the right questions as well.  Now, may we have the sense to slow down and ponder how we might answer.

God bless!

Joel,

Thanks much for the list of questions. In my three-decades-old small group, we often ask a leading question as a conversation starter. I plan to put these to good use.

Great to get this perspective on the start of a friendship that I was privileged to see up-close... Two men, egos aside, allowing God to do HIS thing through them... The fruit of that friendship has been nothing short of amazing!

To gkynast: Yes the fruit of that labor is amazing--and that amazing story is being told in the book On Mended Wings, to be released in November.  It has been a humbling privilege for me to gather the information and tell that tale..

That story is really touching, as is indicated by many of the comments. 

I have served 3 churches now.  In the first two, I was blest to be part of ministerials which helped most of the chuches to work together very well and accomplish some great things they would have not been able to do by themselves.  That is a taste of the shalom of God's kingdom.  My experience in South Denver has not been the same.  I tried to set up a ministerial.  But that was not even given a try by over half of the churches in the area.  And that ministerial has struggled to continue or to do much with each other.