I love spending time with other missionaries. We share unique experiences and challenges. Deep bonds often develop because of those shared experiences.
Yesterday I had lunch with a long-time missionary. She and I are different in age and in marriage status. Our nationalities are different and neither of us have been to the other’s country. Yet we sat for hours and talked.
Missionary life is often lonely, we’ve said many goodbyes to people we love. Many of us have discovered that we cannot wait for someone like us to become friends with. There are precious few people like us on the mission field. For example, my husband and I currently have no close Australian friends in Japan. We know almost no one in Japan who have been to Toowoomba and Yeppoon, the towns where we grew up. We have no one nearby with whom we can reminisce with about our growing up years.
So, we have to choose to be friends with those that the Lord brings across our paths. Our missionary friends include people from England, Scotland, Ireland, Germany, Finland, Canada, New Zealand, the US, Brazil, South Africa, Singapore, Korea, and the Philippines. Some are in a similar life stages to us, but others are older or younger, single or childless, have adult children or babies.
For extroverts like me, the transient life of the missionary makes making friends even more urgent. I mentioned in an earlier post in this series that one of the stressors in missionary life is constant change. That includes frequently changing friendships. Most missionaries recognise that you often don’t have much time to build a deep relationship with another. I can find myself in deep conversations with someone I hardly knew six months ago; I have no idea where they grew up, let alone whether they have any siblings, but still we can connect on a deep level.
Working with missionaries from a variety of backgrounds can be challenging. Cultural differences aren’t always obvious but can cause problems. For example, my Aussie humour has been taken wrongly by people from other English-speaking backgrounds. Situations like that can produce misunderstanding very quickly.
Missionaries also tend to be strong and independent. They have a lot of grit. They have to, otherwise they wouldn’t have been able to overcome the many obstacles to becoming and remaining a missionary. Strong personalities and grit are good, but can make working relationships challenging.
I’m thankful that one of OMF’s values is diversity in unity. OMF has missionaries from many ethnicities and denominations. Like most missionary organisations, we also have diversity across generations, personalities, and gifting. The key to maintaining our unity is respecting one another and keeping our eyes on Christ.
But, as I have been reminded many times, if we choose to work together as God wants us to, we can achieve far more than we could apart, despite our differences.
Most Christians in their home countries hang out with other Christians who are of the same theological strain as them. But life on the mission field is different.
I regularly pray with parents at our boys’ school where I encounter a variety of prayer-habits and theologies.
One prayer meeting I had this experience: The man on my left was saying, “Yes, Jesus” and “Amen” every second phrase. The man on my right was praying long-winded sermons, including some weird theology. We had Japanese-speakers in the prayer meeting and they prayed out-loud in Japanese. At the same meeting was a friend whose background is in a liturgical-style church.
It is an interesting, and often exciting environment we function in. But we really do need the prayers of our supporters as we navigate the world of relationships with other missionaries.
By Wendy Marshall
Wendy is an Australian who has been in Japan with OMF since 2000. She’s married to David who teaches maths and science at the Christian Academy in Japan. They have three boys between the ages of 12 and 18. She’s an editor and writer. In this nine-part series she answers searching questions about her experience of life and ministry as a missionary.