At first glance this question may seem to have an obvious answer. “Of course they do! All people need friends.” True as that may be, a genuine friendship for many missionaries is not easy to come by. Nor it is easy to keep. Here are a few reasons why.
First of all, a genuine, open, mutually supportive friendship requires contact: person, real, regular contact. That is exactly what many missionaries do not have. Why? Well first of all, because they live and work in far away lands. And even when they return to their home country (this is true of North American, Canadian and all other national missionaries), they return to a place that no longer looks like nor feels like home. As a result, while a missionary longs to feel “at home again,” circumstances, context and surroundings often work against it.
Secondly, friendships take time to cultivate. Here again, many missionaries are pressed for time. Just to return to their home land is a mad rush of weeks of pressure. This pressure comes from needing to wrap up many details and often, transfer responsibilities, ministries and normal, every day “home life” tasks to others in their respective country of ministry. Once in their home country, the new pressures come to the foreground: reporting to churches, preparing visual and print information, setting up a calendar and meeting family needs. Pressures on both sides of the trip back “home” keep the missionary frazzled, and often unable to unwind or relax.
Thirdly, missionaries often feel like they need a friend when they return, but unfortunately, many people are not expecting their arrival back. Like the time when we arrived back in our home church after being gone for over four years, and were met at the door of the church by well-meaning friends who said, “Hi! What brings you back into town? Just visiting for a while?” However that was one of the very friends to whom we had recently sent an email stating the purpose and length of our travels back to the US. Of course, I am sure that once she read the email, it became abundantly clear that we were returning for a full year of furlough while one of our children attended his first year of college, and that we would be living in the church parsonage, right behind the church!
And fourthly, while missionaries not only need friends and want to build their friendships with new-found and long-time friends, no one really wants to be a friend to someone who is out of touch with reality, or that is not a part of one’s daily routine. A friend is a friend when you know you can count on him or her to be there in times of need. Unfortunately missionaries usually are not in any one place for very long. What does that mean? Those dear people you once thought were your close friend have moved on to other relationships in your absence. And while this is natural and normal, what a missionary may need more than anything is just someone who remembers. To remember old times, previous events, and former events you experienced together. In other words simply making them a part of your daily routine will do wonders to help them pick up where they left off in that friendship.
For that to happen requires something very simple. It requires that there be someone who opens up, who asks the tough questions, and then persists and asking, until he or she feels confident enough to answer those questions. And for that to happen of course, both the missionary and the would-be-friend need to make a time priority to meet, to talk and to listen to each other…until the call moves him on to the next phase of life. Even though he or she will have to move on, a friend still gives the time it takes to renew old relationships and to nurture one another in their new found stage of life.
In answer to the opening question, “Yes!” Missionaries need close friends. They are often secretly longing for personal, intimate and mutually healthy friendships. Honestly, not a few missionaries are looking for that right now as they seek to fulfill God’s calling while also being able to count on a few close friends to help them process and adjust to their new stage of life.
Maybe you could help a missionary find a friend…just by being one.
David L. Rogers, M.A.Min.