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To Love a Stranger

By July 31, 20082 Comments

Since I’ve been in Southeast Asia I have done a ton of crazy stuff (ever eaten stingray??) and I’ve met some really amazing people. But of all the people I’ve met so far, one stands out among the rest, and for a very obvious reason. He is a student I met at a local university, and he is a male cheerleader.

Now as soon as he informed me of this, I was quite stunned. Given the religious standards of the country, you don’t exactly imagine male cheerleaders hopping around everywhere. But sure enough, here they are! He told me that the girls don’t wear quite as short skirts as American cheerleaders do, but other than that, they’re largely the same. They dance, they tumble, and the LOVE the Bring It On movies. He’s seen all four.

In fact, his team even went to Japan to compete in the Asian Cheerleading Championship. Did you ever even imagine such a thing existed? I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling a Bring It On 5!!

As you can tell, this guy was a total free spirit. He even started a Free Hug Campaign (look it up on youtube if you’re not familiar). It didn’t go over that well given the religious culture, and he was disappointed, but he still tried, and I loved that about him.

Of all the people I have met so far, he has been one of the easiest to love right away. Even though he was a total stranger, he gave out love and kindness unabashedly, which made it easy to love him. I wasn’t afraid of being rejected, and that lack of fear set me free to love him back.

Unfortunately, that isn’t my normal response to strangers. I don’t know about you, but I find it hard to love people I’ve just met. In fact, I think a lot of Christians have this problem. We struggle to love people we don’t know, and it hinders our outreach tremendously. I have seen this in myself a lot this week. When I walk up to people I don’t know, I immediately feel guarded, fearing rejection. I am afraid to make myself look stupid by putting myself out there, so I am cautious and almost defensive. Understandably, people don’t respond well to such an approach. It makes them equally uneasy.

But there is an opposite, equally poor response that Christians have towards strangers, and that is to paint on a smile and be kind as an act of sheer will. We know we’re supposed to be loving, so we fake it. The result is a face that screams something along the lines of “Fake!” or “I’ve been brainwashed!” Our hearts aren’t feeling it, but we think we can fool people. Well we can’t.

The world can see right through us, and that is one of the lessons I have learned this week. There is nothing that can replace sincere, authentic love. We cannot fake it, and we can’t grit our teeth and bear through it. It’s got to be real.But if this kind of love can’t be faked, then how do we come by it? Well there are two ways, and the first and most vital method is through prayer. This week I have quickly realized that I can’t change the way I feel about people I’ve never met. But God can. God can change my heart to see complete strangers as my brothers and sisters, created in His divine image, and worthy of love. That doesn’t mean feeling warm and fuzzy about every person you cross on the street, but it does mean caring about what happens to them in a way that mirrors God’s heart for them.

And given that it is a God-like desire, it can only come to you from God. So you must pray for heart change.But the second step towards loving strangers is surrender. You must be willing to be a fool for Christ.

The thing I loved about my young, cheerleading friend is that he was not afraid to love people, and that set me immediately at ease. If he had acted defensive or guarded, I would have felt defensive and guarded as well. We set the tone for every interaction, determining whether it will be defined by unconditional love, or conditional acceptance. And given that reality, we need to love radically, risking rejection, but knowing that people are much more likely to respond to free love than they are to guarded apprehension.

I’m still working on this. Big time. But it was humbling to learn this lesson from a practicing Buddhist. To be out-loved by a non-Christian was quite a wake-up call. So while I am here, I pray that I would truly learn what it is to love a stranger. Feel free to send some prayers my way, because I sure do need it!


  • Anne says:

    “To be out-loved by a non-Christian”… that statement will stick with me.

  • Ryan says:

    Everything sounds great Sharon and you’re newfound friend sounds like a great person to be around. I’ll keep you in my prayers as you continue in your travels. Take care!

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