Misunderstandings: Loneliness

Jul 28, 2015 | Missionary Care, Relational Issues, Suffering, Thriving

The only time most people have ever been around a missionary is when one spoke at their church. They see missionaries in public settings and draw conclusions based on short presentations. Perhaps they sign up to receive prayer letters. Their understanding of missionary life is slightly expanded, but it is still fairly limited. The sanitized reports that missionaries send rarely give the whole picture.

So many people would be surprised to hear that loneliness can be a major problem for a lot of global message bearers. Sure, there is the sense of isolation that often accompanies living in a foreign culture or a remote location. We get that. But there is another form of loneliness that we need to understand if we are to truly care for our ministry partners.

Many missionaries I spoke to felt like there was no one who understood them.*

There are two main ways in which missionaries can feel alone: relationally and vocationally. To be an effective missionary advocate you must understand these and how to deal with them. We will unpack both of those in coming posts.

*Adam Mosley, Missions Unmasked, p. 11


  1. Traveller

    Hmmm…maybe missionaries need to stop giving such ‘sanitized’ reports. If we were all a little more “real” about what goes on, deliberately telling all sides of the story, the whole picture, it might alleviate some of this problem. You think? I do. :o)

    This is said by someone who deliberately tries to be real—in email updates and public presentations, and often gets comments about how that surprises them. I have lost nothing from sharing my struggle, weakness, failure. More often I’ve gained—friendship, deeper sharing that comes back to me, and many ‘safe places’ (people) with whom I can be real. Of course it doesn’t completely eliminate the “loneliness” problem, as I still live far away from some of my closest friends, but…it does keep them deep and close.

  2. Wendy

    Not every missionary’s experience with trying to “be real” has met with empathy. If it were, I am sure more people would be less hesitant to share their true struggles and problems. I remember sharing my fears about going to the mission field in a Sunday School class and later having someone from that class reprimand me for not looking happy enough and that maybe I shouldn’t be going to the mission field at all. Another friend shared their struggles with language learning and their main supporting church almost dropped their support. The list goes on and on. There is a reason many missionaries are reluctant to disclose their struggles.

    I think, though, that if and when we find a group of people that we sense will be empathetic, it is a wonderful release to be transparent with those things we struggle with. I have found groups like that, and I have definitely sensed when such disclosure would be frowned upon.

    This loneliness is very real and sometimes quite painful.

  3. Dave

    Wendy – you and Traveller are both right. Though my own experience and what I hear from the majority of missionaries that we host is that transparency is tricky at best. It helps if that openness begins before the m’ ever leaves for the field. We must resist the tendency to put m’s on a pedestal; it hurts too much when they fall.