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?