Loneliness. Just this week while meeting with several wonderful young missionaries, the troubling word "loneliness" surfaced. Having left her friends and family in the Midwest to live and serve in Africa, she begged the question, "What do I do my loneliness?" Now that is quite a question; isn't it?
Missionary loneliness is listed by many missionaries speaking with me as the number one reason for returning "coming of the field." As one missionary put it, "Truth is, I'm just so lonely I could cry." Hank Williams Sr. hit song came to mind.
What is exactly do missionaries do with this nebulous personal empty feeling of inner remote isolation? I offered a consideration, "What are the benefits of your loneliness?" Facial responses showed puzzlement. "Really," one responded, "Really, benefits?" A wonderful conversation ensued.
Identity with Christ. Once, I asked a lonely young missionary, "Who do you suppose was the loneliest person who ever lived?" Her answer resonated with the entire group, "Well, I suppose Jesus, but that doesn't help me much." We focused on Isaiah 53, "He was despised and rejected--a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care."
In loneliness, comes great identification with Jesus Christ. Identifying with Jesus, is one of God's great goals for each and everyone of us. Perhaps, this is more true for the missionary than anyone else. Paul in the midst of his loneliness, sufferings, travels, and deprivations formed his mission statement. He declared, "That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death." (Phil 3:10)
Loneliness is a great schoolmaster bringing us closer to Christ.
Value for Closer. Another young missionary blurted out, "Well, this loneliness sure reminds me that even though I am lonely, there are people in my life who care for me." His lovely young wife sitting next to him squeezed his hand gazing intently into his eyes. While the couple felt pain of Midwest friendships drifting away due to three years of living in Africa, they valued fewer yet closer relationships.
We are rarely as alone as we think. Perception rarely dwells in the realms of reality when it comes to loneliness. For most missionaries, there exists a host of friendships around the world. I enjoy friendships in Africa, Central America, and the United States. Now, often when I feel lonely, it is not for lack of friends, but rather the absence of close proximity to my friends.
Empathy for Lonelier. Simon & Garfunkel released their smash hit song I Am an Island in 1966. The words at the end of the song offer rational for loneliness, "And a rock feels no pain; and an island never cries." Once while visiting an old dying Zulu man in an African hospital in South Africa I asked, "How can I pray for you?" His reply in Zulu deafened me, "There is no one but me. I lay here on this bed alone by myself."
Before that old dying Zulu man stood a young missionary, me, who entered that 100 bed ward lonely and empty. Five years serving in South Africa drained me. In the midst of ministry and throngs of people, loneliness stalked. Yet, before me lay a hopeless, empty dying old Zulu man reaching out for succor.
Appreciation for Inestimable. "May I sing for you?" I asked the old Zulu man. His cloudy eyes smiled as I began to sing an old Zulu hymn, "Ngingenwe eMoyeni Wam." As I sang, that old man breathed his last breath right there in front of me. I left the hospital those many years ago appreciative for my Kathy, my sons, and my few inestimable friends. Friends I seemed to often overlook. For many, God surrounds us with friends. Often, we just fail to see them in our own busied pursuits.
Thankfulness for Awareness. Those young missionaries missed terribly their families, friends, and loved ones. In their pain, a new awareness sprang up. Surrounding them in that room were loving caring people. Outside that building, others existed in their friendship-realms too. And, now, relationships overseas in a new country among a diversely different people germinated. Blessed . . .
Loneliness produces benefits. It perhaps requires during life's journey that one stops and looks behind their loneliness-rock. A huge obstruction occluding friends in close unseen proximity. Behind that rock often springs forth what was always present; friends.
Just My Thoughts,
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Don was born in North Minneapolis, Minnesota. Having served twenty-two years in South Africa as missionaries with his wife Kathy, and eight years pastoring in the United States, he shares unique perspectives about life, family, relationships, and ministry.