The Power of Friendship
By Doug Gehman
I recently returned from a trip to Hawaii and Southern California. For nearly two weeks I hung out with old friends. Lifelong friends. Men I have known since I was in my twenties and with whom I have shared many life experiences – profound adventures in global ministry, personal heartaches and tragedy, and a lot of in between time where we just did life together and sometimes laughed until our stomachs hurt.
I flew first to Honolulu to meet Pastor Sam. Sam has been a mentor in my life for nearly forty years. Since the 1960s Sam and his family pastored a large church in Honolulu, and provided oversight to a church network on the islands. I met Sam in 1982 when he visited the team with whom we were serving in India. We became friends immediately. Today Sam coaches emerging leaders all over the world. A few years ago, he called me with a challenge: “Doug, why don’t you come to Hawaii this December and walk the Honolulu Marathon with me?” I’ve always been active – walking, running, cycling, surfing – but a marathon? Sam had already done six marathons… and he was eleven years older than me! But, how do I say no? A marathon in Hawaii with a friend! So, I trained for five months and then flew to Honolulu. That was four years ago. I’ve now done three marathons in Honolulu. I plan to do them until I can’t anymore. Not because of Hawaii, but because my friend is there doing it too.
Sam’s influence in my life has been huge. It has given me a gift: A framework to live by. I got that from my parents and grandparents too. And from God’s Word. But I’m grateful for a friend and mentor like Sam, who has consistently lived Jesus in front of me – as a Christian leader and a friend who walked with me. When I try to thank Sam, he always thanks me right back, insisting I have done as much for him. I can’t outdo Sam in expressing appreciation. Another great example – of humility and gratitude.
After Hawaii I flew to San Diego to meet two other friends. Randy lives in Southern California. John had to drive in from Arizona. A third friend, Bill, from North Carolina, was invited but couldn’t make it this time. When I planned this stop for ministry connections, I invited the guys to join me for the weekend. We got an Airbnb on the Pacific Coast and just spent time hanging out together: hiking, visiting local sites, and eating delicious Mexican and Indian cuisine. We went to church on Sunday… and took turns preaching! The people loved it.Randy, John, Bill and I met in India nearly forty years ago. We were young men serving on an evangelistic team in Asia. I was married with children; they were single. But we established friendships that have lasted a lifetime. John and Bill later joined my mission team. The three of us worked together for almost a decade. SoCal was the first “Brothers Incorporated” reunion.
Today, we are all family men with solid marriages and grown children. We all have battle scars from life. And stories… with heartache, difficulty, worries over family and children, and a lot of normal living. We all survived. We’re happy. And successful… following Jesus and leading our families to follow Him too.
I attribute most of my success to friendships like these. I am a survivor because of people like Sam and Randy and John and Bill. Friends make me WANT to be a better person. They make me WANT to live up to the faith that I preach. They make me want to be a man of God. When I seek God’s face, He looks a little like my friends. We still kid each other about “your ugly mug” but to my eyes these guys look a lot like Jesus.
In this Christmas season, when we remember the birth of Christ, we also remember what the Incarnation means: Immanuel. God came close and lived among us. Thirty-three years after Jesus’ birth, just before He went to Calvary, He said this to His disciples: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends … No longer do I call you servants… but I have called you friends…” (John 15:13-15 ESV).Think about it. The gospel only makes sense in the context of friendship. God came close to us in the Person of Christ. Christ demonstrated his love for us by a very personal act: He laid down his life for us. Someone, usually a friend, shared this story with us. We now grow in our faith because of friends. We overcame sin because a friend tells us the truth. We learn how to live because of a friend’s example. A friend’s influence motivates us to live faithfully and honor God in all we do.
Jesus leads. We follow. Our followership of Jesus always happens with friends who are on the journey too. I’ve been on this journey for a lifetime… and my friends always make it a little easier.