05 December, 2013

Missionaries are often lonely

Every now and then I am surprised when something I wrote a while back makes a reappearance and is used again. It encourages me to keep writing, especially when something I've written helps people back home to understand missionaries better. 

Today I've read over an article that stemmed from a blog post I wrote back in 2009. It is going to be used to help people who support OMF missionaries understand how lonely it can be as a missionary, even when we're "home". 

So, even though the article is much better (and longer) than the blog post, I'm reposting the original blog post below.

"Missionaries are people who are often lonely, they will appreciate genuine interest."
Someone was surprised by this statement in my last blog post. Let's take a quick tour through a typical missionary's life:

This was in the first couple of years in
Japan. We're smiling, but deep down
we were lonely.
First he/she has to say goodbye to all their friends and family and move to a country that is foreign and where probably they don't speak the language. Intense loneliness. This is pretty obvious.

It can take years to feel comfortable in the newly 'adopted' country. Possibly never. Even if good friends are made with the locals, there can be a sense of not ever being able to truly share your heart. Much like a pastor can not be good friends with most of his parishioners.

Through the years, though, things generally settle and the missionary feels more and more comfortable. Small and large changes in the way the missionary thinks and behaves make this possible.

Then, it is time to return home for a period, short or long. They face saying goodbyes again, this time to colleagues with whom they've shared much and local friends too, many of whom will not understand why the missionary must come and go.

When they get "home" the missionary then realises how much they themselves have changed. Additionally, the people back home haven't remained static. They've married, divorced, had kids, changed jobs, houses, moved, and certainly the spot that the missionary once held in their lives is no longer vacant. The missionary finds it difficult to find a place to belong in their lives. People find it difficult to relate to this person they once knew, but now don't know as well because of lack of shared experiences and the changes which have taken place within the missionary. Loneliness!

Additionally while missionaries are 'home', they tour around different churches and groups. Their lifestyle is quite unsettled and their time is often spread across many different situations and relationships. Loneliness!

Missionaries can look like they know lots of people, but again many relationships are not deep ones where their true worries and concerns can be shared. Usually they feel the pressure to tell success stories and to keep the personal stories and the failure stories to themselves. Not many stop long enough to hear beyond the surface details. Loneliness! 

Enough. I think you get the picture! 

Of course there are special friends who remain faithful throughout life. And for them we are truly grateful.


Anonymous said...

The last sentence is the best.


Anonymous said...

Twelve years on the field as tentmaker missionaries, teaching school to fund a house church, and we're tired. Parents are getting older, and now grandchildren are growing up without us. We've given up much, yet received so much more. Our life is hectic but blessed. We are daily reminded of how the Lord is able to touch lives, ours' included!

Wendy said...

Thanks for dropping in Anon. Yes, working on the mission field makes you very tired. But you are right, there are many blessings that come that helps. Looking forward to our eternal reward helps too!

Sarah said...

Thanks for sharing that, Wendy. You've reminded me to pray and keep in contact with missionaries more. I know I've felt lonely when I've moved away from friends, only to return and feel like I'm on the outer because so much has happened in their lives since I saw them last. Even if I've kept in touch via Facebook, it's still weird and different sometimes. It must be so much more difficult for missionaries so far from their friends and family.

Wendy said...

Hi Sarah. Yes, it can be very difficult, but there are many blessings too. I'm glad you can identify with this struggle and that I've prompted you to pray.