halid dreamed of learning Portuguese, an unusual goal for an Arabic-speaking Middle Easterner. But he wanted to be a tour guide, and a foreign language is a professional asset. That’s how I first met him.

Khalid was excited to sign up for the free Portuguese classes I taught. He was an ambitious student and driven to learn. Khalid liked to stay after class and visit. I assumed he just wanted to sharpen his conversational skills. It didn’t take long, though, for us to become friends.  

Our conversations were long and engaging. Occasionally, we’d go out to eat together. I began praying for a way to talk with Khalid about deeper life issues or even spiritual truths.

That opportunity appeared the day he messaged me, “My sister has been killed tragically.” Khalid learned she was crossing the street after finishing her university classes for the day when she was struck by a car and killed instantly. He and his sister had been close; Khalid was devastated. I reached out to him, but he disconnected. For a while, we had no contact.

I respected the space Khalid needed; I knew how confusing grief can be. Then, after a week, I messaged him. In fact, I began messaging him often. Each time, I told him I was praying for him and his family. Khalid responded briefly at first and then more openly. One day, his message was clear: “I am depressed. I have no more desire to do anything, to go anywhere, even to eat.”

I messaged Khalid back, asking him to meet me somewhere, anywhere, just so we could talk a bit. I was surprised when he suggested a small restaurant nearby.

His younger brother joined us, and the three of us talked easily about life, sports, language learning, and university classes. I was grateful that in this simple setting, we could laugh together a lot, eat a little, and strengthen our growing friendship. It was only when we took a walk after the meal that the two brothers began talking about their sister and the pain of their family’s loss.

Khalid shared how, in his worldview, he wasn’t allowed to grieve. Khalid had grown up believing that feeling depressed was evidence of spiritual weakness. “But I am grieving, I do feel depressed, and I’m supposed to accept this tragic loss as the will of God.” Tears came to him as easily as the guilt that overwhelmed him. The conflict between what he had been taught about life and what he was experiencing in life was hard to watch.

As we walked, I began sharing how I had discovered that God understands me and cares about how I feel. I was able to tell Khalid about God’s love and how He shows it to us freely. I shared with him how grief is a normal emotion that we all experience when we meet loss. I shared what I’d learned in my university training about dealing with overwhelming grief. We talked about how God is in control even when painful things happen. In the end, we stood there along a busy street in the shadow of a highway ramp and prayed.

That walk was the beginning of many more visits together. Khalid invited me to his home, and I began visiting him weekly. That regular time together has given us many opportunities to talk about life. Each week, we usually play a game of soccer, eat a meal, and then have a spiritual discussion. He is dedicated to his religion, and we both openly talk about our views of God, but each week, Khalid respectfully waits for me to pray before our meals in his home. 

As our friendship grows, I sense God has given us a foundation for more spiritual conversations. I thank God for giving me the opportunity to offer Khalid the comfort He has for him and for the privilege of opening to Khalid the blessings that are waiting for him as well.