How to Win Friends and Influence People — Nairobi Edition

Goodbye, Cape Town

For me, the hardest thing about leaving Cape Town and moving to Nairobi was saying goodbye to my friends in one country and trying to make new ones in another. It’s been harder than I expected to develop a strong community here.

I admit I’ve had it easy in my two previous moves of my adult life. First, I moved from San Antonio, Texas, to Norman, Oklahoma, to start university. As a freshman, I was surrounded by thousands of other freshmen all looking desperately to make friends. It was incredibly easy to attend the Baptist Student Union and quickly surround myself with a large group of friends that mostly looked, acted, and thought like I did.

Seven years later, I moved to Cape Town with Brandon. We immediately started a five-month training program with All Nations that was filled with 50 other students, almost all of whom came from another city or country and were also desperately looking for friends. It was so easy to make friends in this move too. This time, my friends were from other cultures and different walks of life, but they still mostly thought like me — all believers passionate about seeing God’s kingdom come to earth. In my four years in Cape Town, I developed deep, lasting relationships that I will treasure always. It made it incredibly hard to leave!

Our amazing All Nations community in Cape Town sent us out so wonderfully in March. Here, some of our community prays over us at our farewell picnic.

But this time when I moved to a new place, I didn’t have an automatic group of friends also looking for friends. I think I got used to that, actually, and have been struggling not to feel lonely over the past few months. I still don’t have nearly as many friends here as I did after five months in Cape Town. And I think there are a few reasons for that: it’s harder to make friends in the real world, and I don’t my friends to all be like me. Let me explain.

Starting university and starting a big missions training school are pretty unique circumstances. I’ve talked with others who have made post-college moves to new cities in America, and they all tell me the same things: it’s a lot harder to make friends as an adult. People are busy, if you live in a big city (like Nairobi) it’s hard to get across town to connect with someone, etc. Also, I think people usually aren’t used to going deep with people, and so it takes time and intentionality to move a relationship from surface level to a real friendship. And let’s be honest, this is also my first move with a child, and Mikayla’s early bedtime severely limits our social opportunities!

The second reason I don’t have very many friends yet, is that I intentionally wanted this move to be different from my other ones. In Oklahoma and Cape Town, I quickly surrounded myself with others like me, specifically Christians. But that’s not what Jesus did — he hung out with tax collectors and sinners. I don’t think my sheltered Christian upbringing in Texas really prepared me to make friends easily with those who didn’t also grow up in the church. And that’s something I’ve realized over time, and want to remedy.

One of the big things I learned in Cape Town was that God likes to bring transformation in people’s lives through the context of authentic relationships. Programs and projects are great, but helping people move toward Jesus in the long-term requires walking with them in a relationship that touches all spheres of life. That’s what we call discipleship. You can’t do that if you can’t make friends with people who are different than you.

I also read a great book last year on community, Unexpected Gifts: Discovering the Way of Community, by Christopher L. Heuertz. It made me stop and evaluate my relationships, and I realized they’re not as diverse as I would like. I don’t want diverse friends for the sake of diversity, but because I want to learn about life from all kinds of people. Isn’t that what the kingdom of God is supposed to look like?

Mikayla hasn't had any difficulty making friends. Here she hangs out with her new best friend, our neighbor from Uganda.

So instead of joining the mostly-foreign church here I’ve heard such great things about, Brandon and I have tried to meet other sorts of people. There’s nothing wrong with having friends like us — we need a safe place to talk about the 4th of July with other Americans — but we didn’t want those to be ALL of our friends. And we’ve had mixed results. Things seem to move slower if you’re not part of a church with someone. So yeah, June was pretty lonely (after our team of other Americans all left for furlough). But in July we got to know a handful of great people. And here in August things are picking up even more. I’m hopeful we’ll develop even deeper relationships with more people the longer we’re here.

Have you had a similar experience moving to a new place? How did you reach out to others and form deep relationships? I’d love any ideas you can offer!