Clarence Shuler vividly remembers the day he met Gary Chapman.
It was in the late 1960s in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, a city plagued by racial unrest and Klan activity, when Shuler was invited to play basketball at a church gymnasium. The problem was that the church was a white church – and Shuler’s parents, concerned about his safety, didn’t want him to go.
But Shuler begged and eventually her parents gave in. As Shuler was on the basketball court — where he was just one of two black kids — a young white pastor walked up to him, shook his hand, and introduced himself.
“Gary came over and introduced himself and was really friendly, and I felt safe with him; I felt like I was going to be okay,” Shuler recalled in an interview with The Christian Post.
“When Gary came to the basketball court to greet me, he put me at ease. He was very intentional about it. He came up to me, introduced himself, said who he was and m shook hands, two or three things that were really important to me, and maybe he felt it.
That simple introduction sparked what has been a decades-long friendship between the two men. And it was at a church retreat several years later that Chapman preached a sermon where Shuler dedicated his life to Christ.
“Clarence and I weren’t going to say, ‘Let’s build a friendship for life,'” Chapman said. “We started by treating each other with dignity and respect and treating them like they were friends. And eventually we became friends.
After many years of friendship, Chapman, author of the best-selling, The five languages of love, and Shuler, a consultant, speaker, and author, know a thing or two about cross-cultural friendships. Now they’re sharing what they’ve learned over the years in their upcoming book,Life-Changing Cross-Cultural Friendships: How You Can Help Heal Racial Divides, One Relationship at a Time.
The pair, who also co-wrote the 2019 book Choose Greatness: 11 Wise Decisions Made by Brave Young Mensaid they were forced to write the book after witnessing the racial unrest that has surfaced in recent years.
“We’re almost back to where we were all those years ago,” Chapman said. “I know we’re not exactly; a lot of things have changed for the better. But there’s also a lot of animosity and mistrust and that sort of thing.
The duo wrote the book primarily for a Christian audience, a demographic that Chapman said has felt, in recent years, helpless and discouraged in the face of racial tensions. Breaking down racial barriers, he said, starts with simply stepping out of your comfort zone and engaging in conversation.
“Here’s something a person can do: they can keep trying to strike up a conversation, and then later a friendship if they turn into that, where you can really get to know a person from another race or culture. “, learn from each other and let the other person explain to you what’s going on in their culture and in their head, and do the same with you. If enough people did it, it would change the country.”
Shuler noted that Jesus himself is the ultimate example of how to engage in cross-cultural relationships. Reaching out to someone from another culture can be “risky,” he said, as there is always the possibility of being rejected or misunderstood.
“But like Jesus with the Samaritan woman, he had endurance. So when she first rejected him, he kind of hung around and kept talking, asking her questions, and eventually connecting with her and her connecting with him,” he said. he declares.
Christians, Chapman agreed, must have the spirit of evangelism and discipleship when engaging with others.
“I think if Christians can understand that we’re all children of God if we’ve accepted Christ, we’re going to spend eternity in heaven,” Chapman pointed out. “So let’s get to know people, Christians and non-Christians, because sometimes by starting a friendship and a conversation with someone who is not a Christian, if they see that you respect them and are interested in them, they can be interested in your God.”
“As Christians, we are always thinking about evangelism and discipleship, with anyone we meet. But that doesn’t mean that if they don’t accept Christ, they have nothing to do with them. No no. We will stay with them as long as they stay with us.
The importance of language
In their book, Chapman and Shuler discuss the importance of words, showing empathy and listening when it comes to forming a friendship with someone from another culture. And they’re candid about their own missteps: The two shared how, shortly after meeting, Chapman used the word “boy” to refer to Shuler and his friend, James, unaware of how offensive the term was to them .
“I pulled up to Clarence’s house, and he and James, his friend, were sitting on the porch,” Chapman recalled. “And I got out of my car and I was walking on the sidewalk towards the house. And I said, ‘Are you ready to go?’ And his friend James said, “I’m not a boy.” And I stopped and said, ‘OK, James, I think we need to talk.’
Shuler recalled how Chapman sat down with him and James, trying to figure out why his words were so offensive: “In our culture, the rule was don’t let any white people call you a boy, even if you’re a boy, because it’s degrading,” he said. “Gary didn’t know or understand that.”
“So we sat down, he shared his point of view, which we understood, then we shared ours, and then and he never called us boy again, even though after that he could have and we would have understood,” he continued.
People are often well-meaning when they use the wrong terms, such as “colorblind,” said Shuler, who offers secular and non-secular diversity training to organizations.
“For people of color… when people say, ‘We’re all the same, [I’m] colorblind, we tend to interpret it as you don’t see me or like me, which isn’t really their intention, but that’s how it comes across,” he said. he declares.
“And one question is, if you’re colorblind, then are we all the same?” And we really are not. … I think we need to learn to celebrate differences because God does in 1 Corinthians 12 when He talks about spiritual gifts. The differences are really a plus for the body. But with these differences, if you want to have biblical unity, you also have interdependence; I need Gary, he needs me, we learn from each other.
Have the attitude of Christ
The word “love” is also one of the most misunderstood words in the English language, Chapman said, pointing out that for Christians, love doesn’t start with a feeling but with an attitude.
“This is the attitude Christ had when he left heaven, came to earth, stood on flat ground with us, and then humbled himself unto death on a cross,” he said. he said. “He said, ‘You love others as I love you.’ And He loved us when we didn’t love each other. We wasn’t looking for Him; He reached out to get us. So in the Bible, love is an attitude that, I want to enrich the lives of the people I meet regularly in my life. “
“Falling in love starts with a feeling, but not this kind of love,” Chapman added. “It starts with an attitude and then appropriate behavior. And yes, there will be emotions there, that’s for sure, but it doesn’t start with an emotion.
Chapman defined friendship as “an attitude and commitment to the well-being of the other person,” adding, “We can disagree about a lot of things and still have a friendship, where we share life together. with each other and do all we can to help us become what we believe and they believe God wants them to become.
Although there has been growing pressure for multicultural churches in some evangelical circles, Shuler stressed that this is not necessarily the answer when it comes to breaking down cultural barriers and building friendships.
“I think the most important thing is that we are in a church where we are nurtured, and then how we live our lives outside in the rest of the world will impact the color of our church,” said- he declared.
Chapman agreed, “You can be in a church that has multiple cultures, but still no friendships. They get together for an hour or two of worship, and that’s wonderful, but they’re not at each other’s house and they don’t do anything together. … I’m all for multicultural churches, but … we need to go beyond that. We have to think in terms of relationships, individual relationships.
Through their book, Shuler and Chapman hope that readers, with God’s help and direction, will seek out cross-cultural friendships — and change their worldview.
“We really think this will help improve race relations in America,” Shuler said. “Part of the frustration we have is that usually one group of people didn’t understand another group of people. But once we start building relationships…often we find that it eases the frustration. …when we understand, it can often bring us to agreement.
Shuler argued that it’s easy to dehumanize others when there’s no relationship — but when there is a relationship, and we fully understand that others are created precious and created in the image of God. , it is possible to move forward.
“I would like to see a million people who don’t have cross-cultural friendships develop cross-cultural friendships, and [that would] improve the quality of life in America and lessen some of the racial tension,” he said.
It’s possible for anyone to reach out and begin the process of building a friendship with someone from a different background, Chapman added.
“It’s our hope that this will start to happen, one person at a time, one relationship at a time, and when…more people develop an understanding, it will change the climate of the culture. “
Leah M. Klett is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be contacted at: email@example.com