“I haven’t had a letter from my friend since you were here last year.”
“Do you have news of my friend? I have not heard from them.”
“Do you have letters for us? I miss reading words from my friend.”
To my chagrin, I was discovering a common theme among my young Russian friends during our visit with them in November. Every year the same beautiful time with our community comes around like clockwork. I count on it. My community that supports our Russian friends counts on it. All our Russian friends count on it.
But over the last year, our community was terrible at writing our friends in Russia and my young Russian friends were very blunt and to the point…it sucked for them.
I found myself apologizing to several young friends, “I am so sorry I only wrote a couple of times. There is not a good excuse for that, and I am sorry. Will you forgive me?”
What else is there to do when you feel like you have epically failed friends that you want with all of your heart to make feel like someone is always there for them?
I could have given them a litany of excuses as to why this year went so fast for me. However, the bottom line is I need to be more, and when we commit to loving friends far away, we collectively need to be more.
It is not always easy.
A decade ago when we began our friendship with this particular group of young friends, we were fresh and excited and expectant of what God would do within our large community spanning cultures, language and distance. But a lot happens over a decade. Some of our friends have moved on to university, others to technical schools and several that have started their own families and are busy being amazing parents to babies.
Sometimes the friend you met when you visited in person leaves and a new friend is assigned to you. Or you have never visited and have no reference point for their personality or characteristics. It is easy to feel that you have nothing in common with them, and you are writing to a brick wall.
But here is the reality…
When our friends receive a letter it is like receiving an extravagantly priced gift. They value words and news of their friends so highly that receiving a letter is a very big deal. It is hard to describe to someone who has not seen a child horde their letter to read in private, so no one reads over their shoulder or sees them get emotional when reading those words, or the times that is the first thing they grab and sit with for many minutes reading and rereading the words gifted to them.
Our friends around the world crave connection, and when we visit only once a year, we are boxed into a structure that relies on words to connect our communities. When those words are absent, our friends feel forgotten. And they need that consistency of encouragement when they struggle in school, with friends, family or a myriad of other things that stem from the abandonment and neglect in their world. We will never understand their perspective wholly or what they have been through, but we can be present when they need a friend.
During our visit this year, I received a letter from an older girl that graduated many years ago, “When I was a child, I looked forward to your every visit as it was a real holiday for me. Now, being an adult, I still look forward to meeting you…it’s difficult to explain how important it is for me to know that in another part of the world, there is a person who is my friend.”
There are many things I am still processing from my time with my friends this year. A decade of friendship builds significant trust and respect that leads to intentional and impactful conversations.
But the most prevalent thought in my head right now is that our community has to be better at writing letters to our friends. It is all about the relationship God has gifted us with. It is about the commitment we have given. It is about our responsibility to speak life, encouragement and gratefulness into our friends. It is about ‘sharing the news’ as my Russian friends put it.
What I know for sure…our friendship is NOT about me and any response I might think I deserve to receive from my friends. I would never want them to feel forced to write or respond. God tossed me into this friendship for them, and the multitude of benefits I receive from knowing and loving my friends is merely a blessed by-product of why I continue to be loyal to my Russian friends.
When it feels like your friends are not reading words you send, know that it is quite the opposite. And if you need someone to tell you the opposite, let me know. You are NOT writing to a brick wall, your letter IS getting to them and every single word counts…every time.
The bonus takeaway for anyone who finds themselves in the midst of Kingdom partnership or sponsorship, GO WRITE A LETTER! Right now. Seriously. Your friend wants to hear from you!