Editor’s note: Last year, CT called it the craziest statistic you’ll read about North American missions: One in five non-Christians in the U.S. and Canada do not know a single Christian—with first and second-generation immigrant families (many of them Hindus, Buddhists, and Muslims) the least likely to have Christian friends.

Courtney Humphreys and Nishta Mehra, whose journal-style reflections appear below, are beating those odds. They are a pair of best friends who recognize the real-life differences in their beliefs, but still have learned and grown from a decade-plus of cross-cultural friendship.

Courtney realizes their relationship seems convoluted on paper: “I’m a white, evangelical Christian, married with two young children. She's brown, non-Christian, and raising a two-year-old son with her partner, Jill.” Yet, Courtney sees Nishta as one of one of her truest, most steadfast friends on this earth.

And Nishta, a regular Her.meneutics reader, says their connection, ever since they unexpectedly became friends during Diet Coke-fueled calculus study sessions back in Christian high school, has “forced me to push past every assumption I had made about her, and to realize how much I had done the same with others. It has been, from the start, a humbling and grace-filled friendship.”

Many of our friendships with people of other faiths and lifestyles get by because we ignore or don’t bring up the great diving factor, the belief that for Christians shapes everything else: Christ is Savior of the world. I’m struck by the openness these two friends have about their differing convictions and how God has used them to serve each other.

Those of us who have close friends with different beliefs know how sometimes we will find surprisingly deep connections formed amid deep divides. (And if you have a friend like this in your life, I’d love to hear your experience in the comments!)

Thanks for reading.

- Kate Shellnutt, Her.meneutics editor

Nishta: I was raised in a Hindu family, I attended an Episcopal school, I majored in religious studies, and I now work at a Jewish school; I’m one of those 30-somethings whose beliefs are hard to quantify. Most of my explicit religious practices are anchored in tradition and my family’s roots; I see my whole life as a spiritual experience. I strive to live consistently with my values, to be honorable and generous and loving, which is something that Courtney and I share.

Article continues below

Courtney: Nishta is the kind of person who knows the right thing to do and just when to do it. She sent me a massage gift certificate when I was overcome with post-partum depression; she mails me poems that always seem to say the exact right thing (I keep them all in special places in our house); she is one of the most loving, sacrificial people I have ever known. Her life is vibrant, full of people she loves well and who love her in return. Sometimes, if I’m brutally honest, I struggle to come to terms with the fact that even with all the good in her life, she doesn’t have Jesus, the one good thing I believe matters most.

Nishta: I’m not a Christian. I don’t believe in all the same things Courtney does. While we share deep values, it’s important to be clear about what we don’t share; too many people try to “kumbaya” difference into nothingness. I respect Courtney’s faith way too much to imply, “oh, we basically believe the same thing”—we don’t. She believes that Jesus is the Son of God. I don’t. She believes that the Devil is real. I don’t.

Courtney: As a Christian, God’s word is the defining Truth in my life. I believe the Bible is the authoritative word of God and that he reigns over all of creation. Nishta and I know that our belief systems are vastly different. But the reality is that our friendship strengthens my faith in ways I never could have imagined and forces me to grapple with questions I maybe wouldn’t have asked otherwise

Nishta: To me, Court lives like a true Christian, as close to it as anyone can get. As a scholar of religion, I feel like I have a pretty good understanding of what it means to actually follow the teachings of Jesus, and that, in its essence, is radical love. Never once in our friendship have I felt proselytized to or made wrong for believing differently; never once have I felt like she was waiting for me to change, or that she thought less of me because I see the world differently than her. I know that she respects me, and I figure that, if she’s worried about the salvation of my soul, she’s decided to act on it by loving me instead of badgering me.

Courtney: My friendship with Nishta changes the way I think and talk about homosexuality. I recently read on Jen Hatmaker’s blog, “We don’t get to abandon the theology of love toward people; the end does not justify the means…As a faith community, it is time we relearn what ‘speaking the truth in love’ means…If the beginning and end of love is simply pointing out sin, we are all doomed.” When the theology of love gets abandoned, people get hurt. As Christians, we are missing the point if we are spending time bemoaning the decline of morality, but not also sitting around the dinner table with people who aren’t like us and breaking bread with them, digging deep into life with them despite our differences.

Article continues below

Nishta: It’s funny, of all our friends with kids around the same age as our son (he just turned two), Courtney and her husband McKee are the ones that my partner Jill and I feel most closely aligned with when it comes to parenting. Our philosophies are incredibly similar, despite our lives looking so different. We check in regularly about issues we’re facing, share advice, help hold the context for the values we want to live by and raise our children within.

The power of knowing—really knowing—someone who belongs to a radically different social category than you, whether it’s race or class or religion or sexuality, is that the abstract suddenly becomes very personal. It’s culturally acceptable among so many to mock true believers or imply that you can’t be smart AND believe in God—Courtney is an example that I can hold in my mind and heart and also share with others: a faithful, thoughtful, loving Christian.

Courtney: My friendship with Nishta is unconditional. I love her because she is God’s workmanship, His beautiful creation—and reducing her down to only her identity as a lesbian would be ludicrous. She is a lesbian, and she is a lot of other things: a devoted mother, a steadfastly loyal friend, a gifted writer and teacher, a probing question-asker, a thoughtful listener, a gift-giver. She is beautiful, and being her friend is one of the greatest gifts of my life.

Image: Amanda Raney

Nishta: I can speak to Court about faith and grace and God in ways that I can’t with most other people, regardless of whether they believe like me or not. During the toughest seasons of my life—following my father’s very sudden death, in the midst of Jill’s battle with cancer, as we waited to adopt a child—Courtney has been the first person I turned to for prayer and comfort. Her faithfulness is a blessing to me.

Courtney Humphreys is wife to McKee and mother of two young children, Tucker and Heloise. A graduate of Vanderbilt University, she lives in Memphis, Tennessee and works for the Memphis Teacher Residency.

Nishta J. Mehra is a high school English & humanities teacher, and the author of The Pomegranate King, a collection of essays. She lives in Houston, Texas with her son, Shiv, and partner of twelve years, Jill Carroll.