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Change That Lasts Through Mutual Transformation

by Amber Díaz Pearson //

At World Relief Durham, we often talk about mutual transformation as a central goal for relationships within our community: among churches, between volunteers and newcomers, between staff and neighbors. But what does it take to build the kind of authentic friendships that would lead to mutual transformation? 

While no two friendships are alike, we’ve seen presence, listening, and openness form relationships that flourish and create true community. 

  1. Presence 

The gift of presence is fundamental for any relationship to move beyond the superficial. Whether that time is spent riding the bus, drinking tea, playing with children at the park, cooking, practicing English, or filling out paperwork, simply being with someone else is a way to show them they are valuable for their own sake. 

[B]eing with is not fundamentally about finding solutions, but about companionship amid struggle and distress. Sometimes the obsession with finding solutions can get in the way of forming profound relationships of mutual understanding, and sometimes those relationships are more significant than solutions.

Samuel Wells and Marcia A. Owen

Being with also means companionship amidst life’s joys – celebrating a high school graduation, rejoicing over the birth of a new baby, or serving the community together. While much can be accomplished in time spent with others, the purpose of presence is oriented towards the other person, not focused on their needs. 

One of the things that [my friendship partner] was interested in was learning English, and I have been learning Spanish, so we’ve been able to teach each other some of our native languages – which has been so cool! And along the way I get to learn a little bit more about her and build a personal connection. It’s been great; I feel like we have built a really genuine friendship over the last few months and I look forward to knowing her for a really long time.

Morgan G., Friendship Partner
  1. Listening 

While being present with others, listening means that we are attentive to another person’s needs, wants, hopes, and struggles. As they describe their life and their experiences in their own terms, listening is the first step towards growing in understanding.    

If we are listening, we are in some kind of mutual relationship. If we are listening, we are building institutions and structures that enable not just the usual voices to be heard, but also the voices of the least, the lost, and the last, valuing them as having something to say. If we are listening, we are not pretending to be in control or trying to determine the outcome before the conversation begins.

Luke Bretherton

We can see things in a new light when we make a habit of listening because we want to know how the other person sees the world and we believe that their perspective is valuable. This respect and attentiveness allows friendship to grow. 

To hear [refugees’] stories is just incredible and profound. Rather than hearing me – their stories … what they’ve gone through, what they’re overcoming, and still having the capacity to be grateful and to love and to want to be part of the community. That’s what people should focus on. Life is about stories compounding with each other as we come together. I’m grateful to be a small part of somebody’s story.

Naoshi Y., Development Team Volunteer
  1. Openness 

By adopting a posture of openness, while listening and practicing presence, we allow ourselves to be truly known by the other person, while simultaneously being willing for ourselves to be changed by knowing them. 

Am I willing to embrace my need for others to teach me, to be vulnerable about the areas where I need to grow, and to do so with love? 
When we are able to get to a place where we embrace strangers rather than simply welcoming them, where we see them as family members (brothers or sisters), the church as a whole and its community become a witness for Christ’s love! We do this by practicing love in such a way that we communicate that “there’s something to be learned from every human being.”

Sandra Maria Van Opstal

We can experience profound opportunities to be known as our true selves when we practice openness, as we share our deepest convictions and our greatest joys with another while inviting them to share of themselves in the same way – because they have learned that it is safe for them to do so.  

My friendship partner was born the same year as me, halfway around the world and into a culture that didn’t value her mind for education. We don’t communicate that effectively in English, but we have held each other and laughed and cried over the last year. She has enriched my life significantly to slow down and just BE with her. We have developed a bond that isn’t grounded in superficial commonalities, but something deeper that is possible with the human heart. I know our relationship to be a gift from God.

Alison L., Friendship Partner

As the apostle Paul encouraged the early church, the body of Christ’s diverse and manifold gifts are what allow us to be a blessing. Together, we can “Contribute to the needs of the saints; pursue hospitality to strangers. … Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be arrogant, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.” (Romans 12:13, 15-16).

Clip from panel discussion at Change the Conversation About Immigration workshop on 9/30/23; comments from Amber Díaz Pearson, World Relief Durham

Walk with us and find out ways you can build friendship, grow community, and pursue mutual transformation together. 

Amber Díaz Pearson, Ph.D., is the Community Engagement Manager for World Relief Durham.

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