For those that would prefer it there is an audio track of this blog post. Just carry on reading below if you prefer – the text is the same.

Have you got some “hello friends”?

You know – the people you maybe meet often, you recognise their faces and say hello to them, but it never gets any further? Maybe you don’t even know their name.

I had lots of friends like that in Mongolia.

In the Mongolian church there were very few people with whom we managed more than being ‘hello friends’.

I CAN say hello in Mongolian or something approximating to it anyway, and I was usually understood when I said it. But beyond that – well to be honest I could not manage very much, even after living there for 8 years.

It went like this – I arrived at church – Mongolian church that is.  I was greeted at the door

сайн байцгаана уу?  Эзний өдрийн мэнд   
(sain baitsgaana uu?  Eznii ödriin mend)

So far so good – I can understand that. It means
“Are you good?  Happy Lord’s Day”
The “Are you good?” is the equivalent of our ‘hello’ (almost) and the rest was a typical Sunday greeting in the church.

As I walked into church the same greeting, with handshakes and hugs, was repeated numerous times with everyone I met. (do you remember those days of handshaking and hugs at the church door? Seems ages ago doesn’t it? – but I digress again)

You know, thinking about it I really miss that Mongolian greeting.  In translation it comes across as formal to us maybe, but it wasn’t used like that. It was a loving recognition that we were brothers and sisters in Christ. It maybe somehow helped the kind of friendship I am talking about. It made an “hello friend” something just a little bit more – a shared family relationship in Christ, It must have been a “God thing” because that increase in friendship didn’t come out of any extended conversation.

That was almost as far as our friendships went with the Mongolian brothers and sisters at church. We saw them each week for 5 years without having the ability to converse with them much more.
They remained “Hello friends” – although in this case it was a relationship that went a little bit deeper because of our mutual friendship with Jesus.

“Hello Friends” in the church

I have quite a few ‘hello friends’ here in England too but these friendships are usually even more superficial than what we had with those Mongolian brothers and sisters.

I have convinced myself that lockdown is the reason I have not really got to know my new neighbours here but sadly I have ‘hello friends’ like this in the church too – folk I didn’t manage to do any more than share ‘hellos’ with before lockdown happened.

That was a mistake.

If I had known what was coming would I have made more effort? I don’t know – maybe.

It would certainly have been easier to extend the “hello” and make further conversation when we met on a Sunday than it is to bridge the gap with digital communication now.

But – truth be told – I have never made friends easily, or even found it easy to say ‘hello’ and get to know people. Oh I can make all sorts of excuses, but if I look at it, this was a problem from way before lockdown – a life long problem that I only ever tackled in fits and starts.

Is this just a problem unique to me? 

It is easy to think that way. We always do think that way with our own problems don’t we? We think “it is only me who has a problem with this”. Even Elijah thought like that – check out 1 Kings 19:10.

But actually, I don’t believe it is just me – because if it was, it wouldn’t be a problem any more because everyone else would have already talked with me.

We do need to consider that there are different levels of relationships. We cannot get to know everyone at a deep level BUT I am sure each of us has people, ‘hello friends’, who would benefit if we took a baby step or two to get closer.

There are good reasons to get closer – checkout Matt’s preach on ‘doing good to one another’. He clearly explains that we cannot know whether to help or encourage people if we don’t know them well enough.

So, in the hope that my musing will help others, I am going to ponder this week on some possible baby steps – what are the ways we have available right now to extend our ‘hello friendships’ to something more? First in the church, and then in the community around us.

I personally am going to begin with those in the Church. We are not a large church so I think it should be possible for me to get to know most people at a little bit more than the ‘hello friend’ level, even with Covid restrictions. Digital media can be a pretty good tool when we find a way to utilise it. (you should check out last weeks post if it is a tool you have difficulty using)

Some suggested baby steps:  

I am thinking of taking a number of these steps this week – will you choose some of them, or just one of them, that YOU can take and join with me?

  • Try making a list of everyone you can think of in the church and work out how much you know them. This may seem mechanical but looking at the church as a ‘body’, we need to discover which parts we don’t know so that we can do something about strengthening the links. It will be much easier to decide what you can do when you see clearly where the gaps are.
  • Begin to pray for those on your list. Matt encouraged us this week to “Pray for one another because when we do, amazing things happen”
  • Make sure you know everyone’s name, and face. This one is a struggle for me as I don’t recognise faces easily. I may know everyone in a church setting but if I met them in town or somewhere it is very unlikely I would know them. Time for me to really dig in and learn the faces as well as the names. What about you? Zoom helps here of course – everyone is there each week with their name underneath their picture 🙂
  • Ask to be put in a Zoom breakout room with someone you don’t know – just message me personally, or message me in the zoom chat at the beginning of the meeting – you can do that direct to me so everyone doesn’t need to see.
  • A simple ‘hello’ message by any means (Facebook or WhatsApp for example) would be a beginning for someone you have not spoken to before. A baby step at using a digital media tool maybe, but the ball is in their court then.
  • For someone you have spoken to a little before, maybe you just tell them about this blog post and saying you were prompted to ask how they were doing, is a possible place to begin?
  • For someone you used to know well but have fallen out of contact with, a message admitting that, and suggesting a call at a mutually convenient time to catch up?
  • For someone who you are in contact with – maybe you could deepen that friendship by asking what you could pray for them?
  • What about arranging something fun to do with others. Try a game evening over ZOOM – find a game that doesn’t have cards or pieces that need to be kept out of view of other players. If you choose well, and then put a camera pointed at boards etc there are a number of games that will work. If you find a game that works well then do share it with others.

These are just a few suggestions to get you thinking –

Do Something!

It doesn’t matter WHAT you do, just that you do SOMETHING.

While we are talking about doing SOMETHING – How did you get on with baby steps last week?

Did you make progress? Do share – we can encourage each other.

I found myself having small message exchanges with a couple of people who I haven’t very often talked with. We have also had a couple of ZOOM meals with folk and I am now facilitating a weekly zoom Knit & Natter to make more connection with people we used to Knit & Natter with weekly.

Lots of small baby steps – and it worked out much easier than I expected. Looking back on the week I am surprised how much I achieved.

Oh – I have also produced a short video and used it to help one person who had been avoiding using ZOOM. She has now got it installed on her laptop. Hopefully, by the time you are reading this, she will have been in her first ZOOM gathering. I had to get on ZOOM to help her so I faced a challenge in the process too – but we did it! together! (let me know if you would like help in this way)

I was so encouraged this week to have a couple of my Mongolian friends be able to join us for our Sunday meeting. These were ladies I did get to know well as they worked for us and they spoke good English.
They were not part of the Mongolian church we went to and I have prayed so often that they manage to get to some church and become involved with believers who can encourage and strengthen them. Now it has happened – they were able to join with us. They were encouraged and I was encouraged. Thank you Jesus!

Let’s all continue to take these baby steps together. It will draw us closer together and strengthen us as a church to be the body of believers that God would have us be.

If you didn’t make it happen last week then you have a whole new week coming up – why not begin TODAY to take baby steps of your own.