Today I want to open my heart a bit and share some of my struggles. My prayer is that this post will be read by many. Honestly, not for my own benefit, but for the benefit of missionary ladies all over the world.
God designed within each of us the desire for friendship. The human connection is literally necessary for our survival. There is a reason that solitary confinement is a punishment used on criminals. The lack of human interaction can cause a person to go mentally insane. Now, obviously I'm not trying to imply that I'm suffering from a lack of human interaction here in Cameroon. I'm simply trying to emphasize the importance of friendship.
Over this past year and a half I have struggled with a feeling of loss - the loss of connected friendships. While on furlough I discovered that I wasn't a part anymore. Sure, my friends and I were able to do some things together, but I was an outsider. I wasn't privy to their inside jokes. They had newer and closer friends. Understandably because my life was totally different from theirs now. They were successful and were building families and buying homes. It was difficult to relate to one another. I have tried to put myself in their shoes and I really can understand their point of view. Our lives have gone down two completely different paths.
I shared some of my disappointment with a women's missionary group that I'm a member of on facebook. This group is private and has been a wonderful place to share burdens that other missionary ladies will understand. The ladies in this group are amazing and my post sparked an online conversation on the topic of friendship. Within that conversation I learned that I am not alone in this. Many of these missionary ladies shared their own sorrow over losing close friends. Some are faithfully praying for one female friend that they can have. This isn't something that we go around advertising - our struggle over friendships. It would sound like we are complaining. Let me assure you that the tone of our conversation was always directed back toward Jesus...He is a friend that sticks closer than a brother. However, I felt that it would be beneficial to all these missionary ladies to bring this need of a "bosom friend" (in the words of Anne of Green Gables) to the eyes of the American church.
Don't let your very different lives cause you to distance yourself from your missionary friend. Sure, you both have new friends now. That is the path of life...to meet new people and make new friends. It doesn't have to make your long-distance friend less important, however. Determine to continue to nurture that relationship.
"Be prepared to lose friends."She confided that she thought, "No way! Not OUR friendship!" but in her own words, "Distance can put a strain on the best of friendships."
Another missionary told me,
"The longer you are on the field, the more people will drop out of your life. Life goes on and everyone's life is busy."
And yet another missionary shared,
"I thought I was the only one that felt like this. We've been on the field for 27 months and yes I have been forgotten too."Might I challenge you to make a decision not to let your different choices and your distance put a strain on your friendship at all? Decide right now not to "drop out" of the life of your missionary friend. Marriages, friendships, any relationship at all really, take work. Choose to invest the work necessary to maintain friendships.
Stay in touch when they are on the field. We would be thrilled with a genuine heart-felt note ... even if it is via facebook or email. It doesn't necessarily have to come through the post office.
One of the missionaries with whom I corresponded on this topic said,
"I thought things would be different with technology the way it is. So easy to reach us now, but to no avail..."
"I have literally prayed that friends would remember to write me. I guess what it has taught me is to be more sensitive. I want to be that friend that remembers birthdays and to write and call."
I get it...out of sight, out of mind. It is going to take an effort on your part to stay in touch. One of the missionary ladies in my Facebook group shared her hurt over the lack of communication. She said,
"Yup. It can really hurt. I was surprised by my closest friends not keeping up..."Take the time to remember your missionary friend. Mark your friend's birthdate on your calendar and consciously remember to send a note. Remember to wish them a Merry Christmas and maybe even a Happy Anniversary. Send them a note for no special reason at all....just letting them know you are thinking of them.
We are ordinary people like you. We just have a different address. Some of the missionary ladies said that they'd lost friends because their friends felt guilty. They weren't in full time ministry so they felt uncomfortable being around them. Please let me assure you...we are not on a different plane than you. We have the same battles of the flesh that you do. I fail on a regular basis. I yell at my kids. I get angry and frustrated when the power goes out every night at 6:30 pm. I want to scream sometimes when my internet goes out and I can't talk to my mom. Trust me...we are all made out of the same flesh. We just live in two very different places. Don't let uncomfortable feelings of guilt cause you to distance yourself from your missionary friend. They need you now more than ever!
Go out of your way to include them when they are home in the states. I think being on furlough was probably the biggest struggle for me. I was in the midst of people I knew and loved and I felt so very distant. Please, strive to include a missionary when they are on a visit to the US. They are totally out of the loop. Help them out. Invite them to extra activities. Remember those new friends you've made while they've been gone? Introduce them and give them the opportunity to make new friends as well. It will be a challenge to do this as missionaries often have busy schedules due to travel. Call them, invite them, seek them out and be prepared for a no. They might have a meeting scheduled during your pampered chef party, but ask them anyway. The thought of being remembered is so, so important.
One of the missionary ladies expressed to me that she understood the difficulty of returning stateside,
"The exact same thing happened to me on furlough...I have no real advice just a (HUG). It was one thing that blind sided me when we got to the states..."Patiently invest in your missionary friend knowing that communication can be hard on our end. Here I am asking you to write, email, send a note on facebook, but I have to be honest. We might not be able to respond in a timely manner. Internet connections can go out, power is often unreliable, ministry is busy. Please be patient when waiting for correspondence. What we missionaries want you to know is that we crave your letters and notes. Even if we can't respond right away we are SO grateful to hear from you. I guarantee you, silence on our end is not because of lack of interest. It most likely has to do with an unplanned interruption of some kind.
You might be asking, "Why are you missionaries so needy?" Well, here is a simple explanation. We are surrounded by people of a different culture, and while we do create new friendships on our field of service, they aren't the same as friendships among people of our own culture. There will always be a barrier there that isn't there among Americans. Many of us are also in a position of Pastor's wife and having one close friend is a challenge. We can't show partiality as we seek to minister to all of the ladies equally. Oh how we miss the friendships and fellowship with ladies in our own culture.
As I bared my soul on Facebook the other day my fellow missionary friends were an encouragement to me. They came alongside me with words of understanding and challenge,
"The struggle is real and so is the hurt, but God has often reminded me that it isn't the end of the world. We cry. We whine. We get frustrated, but at the end of the day our God is always the same and is ALWAYS enough. People will often let us down. It's the nature of this life, but when we stop waiting for others and start focusing on waiting ONLY on God, peace flows much more freely."As I mentioned before, missionaries are far from perfect. I know I could have done better to continue to foster friendships with those across the ocean. I'm not absolved of all guilt of failing my own friends. Prayerfully I would like those reading this post to see the struggle of missionary ladies across the world. Many have lost friends, have been praying for a close girlfriend, and desire the fellowship of someone of their own culture. Might you take the challenge? Reach out to your missionary friend. Mark their special event on your calendar and write them. Send an E-card. Set up a Skype call if the internet and time allow it.
My mom's favorite verse, Psalms 62:5, has been an encouragement to me. "My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from Him."
May all of us, on both sides of the ocean, continue to keep our expectations from God as He is the only one that will not disappoint us.