Picking up from my most recent posts, here are a few words from a missionary I know:
“Loneliness & Isolation. These are the hell from which my idols offer protection. The longer we remain in the states, the more I feel these two realities and catch myself trying to avoid them, without even thinking about it. Despair is not far behind… Will I never feel this way?”
Having ‘been there and done that’ myself, I can relate. Missionaries don’t need to be treated special. In fact, to do so deepens their sense of loneliness–no one can relate to them, so people don’t. Missionaries need a friend who is willing to step past their own myopia with curiosity.
A friend does not have to “get” life overseas but they can relate to feeling isolated, shunned, stupid, and fatigued. Friends can also relate to the joy of a job well done, the elation of finishing a project of many years, or even the drudgery of a project that never seems to end. Friends can relate to uncertainty, political upheaval, and social stigma. Friends can relate to quiet time dry spells and troubling temptations (if they are honest). Friends see beyond the immediate stigma that all christian leaders are somehow above struggle and sin. Like anyone, leaders need someone to listen to their inner battles and struggles without judgement. They need to be heard with compassion.
Friends can provide a tethering to the truth that though apparently absent, God is at work around, within, and through the missionary. Missionaries don’t need to hear ‘truth’ in such a way that ignores the minefield of emotions related to trusting God. Rather, they need someone who is personally familiar with the ups and downs of trust (Rms. 7). NOTE: A great read on this is Brennan Manning’s “Ruthless Trust”.
A good friend is not afraid of strong emotions because they have a vision for and have caught a glimpse of God’s work in their friend’s heart. The missionary may feel that God has abandoned them in the moment but that is not the full story. A friend knows that. A crisis of faith is not a bad thing. It is a doorway into deeper trust and passion for God. The feelings must be entered or their ‘faith’ is only so deep. They’ve not given even their doubt to the care of their Lord.
Good friends are “ok” with the process God is using to make this person (missionary) look more like Jesus.
Loneliness and isolation are a real problem in missionary life. It’s a wonder many more don’t pack up and go home. But then, who wants to go home to probable shame if they somehow can’t hack it as a missionary? But that’s a discussion for another time.
More to come…