January 31, 2013


Loneliness is a real part of the missionary life.

If you look at us from afar, one would think not.  After all, a missionary is surrounded by people 24/7.  But this means that every part of the day is more or less an open book to neighbors, fellow church members, those we minister to directly, and pretty much every person we come into contact with.

**photo by surely
It's obvious that we're "not from around here," so inevitably we're asked a trillion times per day why we're here.  Once we throw out the reason, we're automatically put in that famous fishbowl, where our every move is monitored and evaluated and judged.  It's the nature of the beast.

Couple that fishbowl with the lack of the normal support system--family, long-time friends, co-workers, church mates--and you've got a recipe for a special breed of loneliness.

Sure, missionaries do make friends with nationals.  While these friendships can be fulfilling to a certain extent, they also require a certain amount of energy that friendships with the folks back home don't call for.

The language barrier, differences in how to tell a joke, cultural implications of body language and habits, household and family customs--all these things make simple friendships a lot of work at times.  So that thing that would build you up, can, over time, wear you down instead.  

How does one cope with the loneliness and make sure he's got enough in his own tank to flow out to others?    Of course, spending solid time with God is very important--vital--to survival.  Many Christians' relationship with God is based on the time they spend in church services, and when that's all of a sudden removed or drastically changed, it can be devastating.  So personal time with God becomes more important than ever.

Also, time with people from your home culture can help bridge the gap left by family and faraway friends.  This is tricky, because you don't want to bond so much with other ex-pats that you end up in the missionary bubble, so to speak, and don't make relationships with the nationals.  I've seen it, and it's not pretty.  

We've found ourselves making friends with people who probably wouldn't be in our close circle in South Carolina, but the shared status of "foreigner in a strange new land" means we have things in common that facilitate a bond.  And if these fellow foreigners turn out to be missionaries as well, that's an added bonus.  

I'll share more about that in my next post....


  1. I just happened to see your blog on the www.missionary-blogs.com feed. It is pretty cool that you show up there. You are right that it can be lonely being a missionary. I was lonely in Paraguay when I was there mostly due to the language cultural barrier. It was a really hard time for me. It took me two years to feel that I am recovered from that time but now I am ready to get back into it again.

    1. For me, it was one of those things I didn't expect, because on short-term trips, loneliness was the LAST thing I felt. And I based so much of what I expected on what I'd experienced on those short trips. Glad you're getting back into the swing of things, David! Thanks for coming by. :)

  2. There is not so much the language barrier here as we live in South Africa and go in to Mozambique. The loneliness still comes in waves though.

    1. Yeah, I guess it's unavoidable, but I figure the first step in dealing with it is recognizing it for what it is. Glad you stopped by and commented, Debbie.


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