Love can break down the strongest walls, love can bridge the widest gaps, love can melt the coldest hearts. I have had the privilege of witnessing the power of love in action in the life of a close friend of mine, which has been a great lesson and encouragement to me. Here is her story:

After receiving her diploma, Barbara started working on a cruise ship. That is where she met her husband, and after they got married, she moved to her husband’s country. She came as a foreigner, not speaking the local language, not knowing the culture. She was very eager to learn, and she started making great progress.

However, there was a much bigger obstacle to hurdle: her in-laws. For some reason, they didn’t like her from the start, and they let her know. They were not only unwilling to help her during her first years of adjusting to a new country and culture, they were rude and unkind to her. They didn’t live in the same household, but close enough that they met each other quite often. They wouldn’t greet her; they ignored her, as if she didn’t exist. They talked about her behind her back.

The most difficult times were the months when her husband was away for work on the cruise ship. She had no friends, no family, no acquaintances. She was alone in a foreign country with unfriendly in-laws.

It was during one of those times when we met her. Through her tears she explained her whole situation to us. We were happy to be her friends and all along we kept encouraging her to not pay her in-laws back by treating them the same way they were treating her, but rather to keep showing them love, keep giving even when it hurts, keep greeting them with a smile even though they turn their heads away in non-response, keep doing small deeds of kindness. And she did.

She was a good baker, so she would bake them a cake for their birthdays and on other special occasions. She would do special activities with her little nephew. She would help out in little ways whenever she could. But there was no visible change, no gratitude, no response.

She knew that only love could change the situation, but when nothing changed after two years, she started to despair. Her belief in God and love helped her to not give up, even though it was tough. By then her loving and kind character had won her many friends, so at least she wasn’t alone when her husband was gone. She had also learned the language and local customs, so her life got easier in that way. Yet she was still missing a relationship with her in-laws.

Then one day she called us with a smile in her voice. A breakthrough! Her sister-in-law had actually greeted her! It was a casual, half-mumbled “hi,” but in Barbara’s eyes it was the best thing that had happened to her in a long time. It was a glimmer of hope, the first sign of light at the end of the tunnel. And sure enough, since that first “hi” things snowballed quickly, and in a few months she was warmly accepted by her in-laws as a part of the family!

Sometimes, when I am in a tough spot where I feel unloved and unaccepted by someone, and my first attempts at showing kindness are ignored or laughed at, my ego tells me to stop making a fool of myself and save my dignity. But God’s Word clearly says to love not just our friends, but even our enemies and those who might not just dislike us, but actually persecute us (Matthew 5:43–44). As I remind myself of what Jesus said, I also remind myself of Barbara’s story. I let that encourage me to keep showing love, because sooner or later love can make a way, love can overcome the obstacles, and love can change the hardest of hearts. “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends” (1 Corinthians 13:7–8).