Are you my friend ?

Being a missionary is often a lonely calling.  Some of us are fortunate to live in a great community of other missionaries, others work in a place where they are alone.  But to be alone is defined in many ways. I can be alone when I am surrounded by a crowd of people. I can be alone because there is no one like me for 100 miles. I can be alone because I am fighting a spiritual battle and have isolated myself from others.

A missionary is always alone in some way or another because very few have experienced what he/she has experienced.  Whether in their homeland or their “other” home, they are different than most people around them.  But we need friends.

We need support from coworkers, our agency, nationals, and supporters. We need friends that are there for us not just praying but also asking questions, even when they cannot understand the answer.  I ran across a great article from A Life Overseas That One Safe Friend.

I wish I had known this before. I wish I could share this with everyone that comes out here. I wish I had that friend. Since being in the middle of no where, I had friends that Have come and gone. I have some I made while they worked alongside me, but when they left the communications faded. Others have moved into authoritative roles which means I cannot bear my heart out to them like I used to. Others have faded away because life has taken them away from the Lord.

I had friends that used to ask the hard questions, but somehow this role I have has changed that. I am too far away, communication was so little for so long that we lost touch, they don’t like to write (I hate that excuse because it is the only way I can communicate!).  Some think I am a spiritual leader and they are not so they cannot ask me those tough questions. – Hey I’m human!!!

All my friends have now gotten married and I am still single. They have lives with kids and husbands and we have so little in common anymore. It is all excuses.

Anyway, I can go on and on, but I recommend you read the article and find that friend. I will be searching for my “safe friend”.

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Struggling in 2 cultures?

38I struggle in my passport culture, because I’ve lived elsewhere so long. I struggle in my host culture, because I have many customs of my passport culture. I struggle in my family, because I miss them yet don’t see them often. I struggle in my home churches, because I can never just be a “normal” member.  I struggle in my friendships because no one understands my mix of cultures. I struggle in my devotion time because my life has an ever-changing schedule and few norms. I struggle to open up to others, because sooner than later I will say good-bye. I struggle to share the real me, because even I barely know me. I struggle to worship in one language or another.  I am always missing one style or another.  I struggle to fit in where ever I go. I struggle…

That is the heart of someone that lives in many cultures.  We never fit in, but learn to try. We have friends that come and go and yet we always say good-bye. We want to love deeply but are afraid to do so because it will never last over continents and oceans.  Some of us just give up and don’t even try.

The One and Only Constant in my life is My God.  He is immutable, and knows all the cultures that make me who I am. He has never left me and He is the only One to whom I will never say a good-bye. 

When the schedule lulls and the changes of jobs, location, and friendships occur. I find myself lonely and hurting for all those good-byes. But when the schedule is tight and there are people to meet and serve, there is no time for a pity party. Life just goes on and we set aside those ponderings for another time.

I struggle and yet I love the job, the lifestyle, the new cultures, and my friends on both sides. I praise the Lord for the opportunity to serve so uniquely. I thank Him for His stability in my life. I pray for His grace to make it through another struggle, day by day, moment by moment, until we meet face to face.

In the culture

   A huge struggle in third world culture ministry is how much you can get involved in the local culture.  We are so different that we do watch what water we drink, we expect a certain level of cleanliness. We dress a little different. We live in a house with a cement floor rather than dirt. We eat different and usually healthier food. We homeschool our kids, we expect certain behavior from them. And the list could go on and on and on.

  Many of the women in the village have little or no education. They have little or no logic skills. The relationship with their husbands is a lot different. They work hard and often are beaten by their spouses. Others find themselves in polygamous marriages or at least with an unfaithful spouse.  So having intelligent or similar conversations is tough.

  We try to get to know them but often the friendship is one-sided. They will be our friend to “get” something from us.  Even if they are somewhat educated we still have cultural differences and the fact that we cannot talk about our ministry woes with most of them.

  So we struggle how to befriend them. We try not to stay in our missionary bubble, but we need time to visit and converse in our own culture and language sometimes. We need time to share experiences and encourage each other in ministries.

  When a missionary mom is home all day home-schooling her kids, it’s tough for her to get time with nationals as much as her husband who spends all day at the village or the church or the school or the clinic or the building site.  So when she gets the change to teach a Bible study she often doesn’t know the culture or the language well enough to really teach.  (I know the Spirit works even when we don’t know what to say).

   We often live this lonely life without “girlfriends”.  Those that we have at home live such different lives that we have trouble sharing our deepest heart issues with them.  this should drive us closer and closer to God but it can also break us. 

Friendships

one (1)“I don’t really have any friends.”

As she said this, it caught me by surprise. I am a single missionary and often struggle with this saying, but this time I was talking to a veteran missionary who had raised her kids on the mission field.  She had her husband, her children, grandchildren, etc…  As a single woman I often struggle with loneliness and try not to be jealous of co-workers who have their families with whom they can talk and laugh  while I sit home alone and try to entertain myself.

Yet as we visited over tea at a gathering of missionaries, we found ourselves comparing notes.  In so many ways our lives are similar. Yes, she had a spouse who had been around the world with her, but still she was lonely. And yet I sensed she was content in whatever state she was in.

Going “home” is difficult for us both.  Family is spread out throughout the States. Where you came from, your sending church, has changed or closed or split. So where is your home church? I have 15 different churches supporting me, but where do I worship for more than a couple Sundays every few years?   A small group or Sunday school class to call your own—most missionaries don’t have this luxury. Our closest friends are often other missionaries and who knows when we will cross paths again?   We used to work together but have moved to new fields so now we keep in touch via e-mail and prayer letters.  Old friends from college or High School have married and moved around, so you can stop by on your way to a speaking engagement, but it becomes harder and harder to keep in touch.  Only those that truly put an effort into the relationship and care about our work seem to stay friends–friends that we see for a couple days every few years. 

The list could go on and on of things we struggle with. But how comforting to know that missionaries from around the world struggle with many of the same issues that I struggle with.  How encouraging to see them content in their situation, even when they are hurting.  Choosing to serve the Lord with gladness and to trust in Him for our emotional, physical and mental needs.

Friendships

The older I get the less I put into friendships.  I want deeper friendships, but after so many “Hellos” and “Good-byes” it is hard.  It is hard to invest in something temporary.  A huge part of me says, “Don’t even waste your time.”

I have national friends, but that can only get so deep because our customs and backgrounds are so different.  The only single women in this culture are young and still in school, or women with a “reputation”. 

I have friends from my home country, but we see each other so rarely.  When I do get back for furlough, my home base is not where any of my old friends live.  I make a point to visit them each time I’m home but a few days is hard on friendships.  There are a couple who do try. But between visits we are limited to e-mails. I live in such a remote area that even Skype doesn’t work.  They have never been overseas and there is that certain aspect of my life which they cannot understand. 

Where home base is now, I rarely stay. I am on the road so often that I haven’t made many connections.  The nature of my job is to work on Sundays.  I get to take part in church group rarely because I am travelling to speak in other churches when they meet.  Sometimes I fear that they don’t want to get too close either because I will just leave them for Africa. 

I have missionary friends.  Some are not on the field anymore and definitely understand me more than many, but they are always the ones that are too busy to e-mail.  Some of them just aren’t the type to communicate much. When we do see each other we pick up and enjoy great fellowship, but in the meantime I can only find comfort in that fact that they are praying for me.

Those that are on the field are co-workers. I can only get so close. We are like family as well as co-workers. Those relationships come with their own responsibilities.  I greatly respect them all and thank God for them, but they aren’t my close friends.

I have found that God is my greatest comfort.  He always has been. I know that and will never doubt it.  But there are times when I want a real life friendship.  I want to be content and most days I am.  But there are days when I want a friend.  All missionaries struggle with this. I know married women are lonely as well. Personally, I think that single missionaries have it a little worse because they don’t even have their spouse to confide in. 

harmony cross 1When you read books about being single they often talk about involving yourself in small groups, and events for fellowship, your church.  When you are on the mission field all those things are not options. Maybe more so in a third world culture that is so different from my home culture because of varying differences in education.  

It is the LORD who goes before you; he will be with you, he will not fail you or forsake you; do not fear or be dismayed. Deuteronomy 31:8

Several times I have asked friends to be my accountability partners.  Each time they agreed and then after one or two e-mails it ends.  We are still friends, but they don’t have time to keep in touch.  After so many trials and errors, I fear asking yet another person to be a spiritual accountability person.