How important are relationships to you? How many close friends do you have? How easily can you build relationships with people who are different than you? These are questions that have challenged and inspired me over the last several years. The longer I’ve come alongside Hindus, the more I continue to learn how important relationships are.
I’ve also learned that my home culture has some weaknesses when it comes to relationships. With the majority of the world being Eastern culture, I am the minority. So the way I build, maintain, and grow relationships may be drastically different than other people, especially Indians. I grew up in a culture that has a smaller capacity for relationships, and lower priority of relationships.
As I reflect over the years I realize I have made lots of mistakes when it comes to relationships with my Indian friends. Some of these incidents occurred because I was completely oblivious to the different cultural context. Other mistakes came from my own cultural bias and preference. Some mistakes even resulted from not being sensitive in spiritual conversations.
Even with Biblical conviction and great intentions, there are many times we may actually push a Hindu farther away from Jesus if we don’t understand relationship dynamics. Not knowing how relationships work in their culture, we can easily do more harm than good. How we prefer to introduce Jesus in our own culture may not be appropriate or helpful in others.
One area I struggle in is prioritizing tasks and agendas over people and relationships. Unfortunately my Hindu friends have seen right through that. They could tell that I was more interested in sharing a religious view rather than getting to know them as a person. Nobody wants to feel like a project.
I’ve also had to deal with motivation from performance expectations. Having goals for numbers has resulted in having many shallow relationships rather than deep authentic relationships. Being “stats” driven prevented me from having the time and margin to prioritize real relationships with people. Without quality relationships, a Hindu will likely not trust you or bother to hear what you have to say to them. They may seem be polite on the surface, but will be skeptical underneath.
Sometimes, because I believed what I had to share was so important, I failed miserably to ask questions and be a learner. Most Indian cultures operate in reciprocal relationships, but I was top-down and one-sided. I’ve learned that we have to be willing to step into their world, ask good questions, listen to their stories, and be a learner before we can expect them to want to learn anything from us.
Issues of communication styles have also created tension in my relationships. At times, what I thought was a direct question or statement came across as blunt and rude to my Hindu friends. With one friend when I was seeking to be clear and asking follow up questions for clarification, I accidentally drew a big line in the sand. To him I came across offensive and pushy which hurt our relationship.
Once, I thought a new Indian friend was responding really positively to a spiritual conversation. We were both excited, and eager to discuss more together. The next week, things changed when he shared he didn’t want anyone to know about what we had been talking about. I learned that he was saying “Yes” to save face and honor our relationship. He didn’t want to say “No” and hurt my feelings even though he wasn’t interested and scared for others to find out.
For any stories that I have of good things coming from my friendship with a Hindu, I have just as many or more stories where I did something really wrong that was more hurtful or helpful. In God’s good grace I have learned from these many mistakes and from the wisdom of others who are also walking alongside Hindus.
At the 2019 Rethinking Forum, I’ll be sharing several stories highlighting these various mistakes. Hopefully we can learn together and discuss ideas to prevent more damage being done. My prayer is that we would strive to be learners on how to better understand and build authentic relationships with our Hindu friends.