Friendship on the Field

REPOST(TOP 10 POST OF YEAR) #10

For missionaries, there is a common cliché “the only constant is change.” This statement could even be restated as “the only constant is difficulty,” as this reality often rings true on the mission field, at times on a daily basis!

Preparations and debriefings alike seek to help missionaries—new and seasoned veterans—deal with all the various issues of the missionary task and lifestyle. Missionaries strive to accomplish a God-oriented strategy, which involves learning and living within different and often difficult elements of culture, language, people, circumstances, and other issues beyond control or even expectation. For the sake of the good news about Jesus, those who are sent out need critical support in the face of numerous obstacles against them and the mission.

Reality of the Mission Field: Difficulties

Balancing personal and public time and space: other cultures do not always operate with the concepts of private and communal space or time in the same ways as the home culture of the missionary

Balancing marriage, family, ministry, work, play, and other necessities of life: the missionary life mirrors the doctors’ “on call” dynamic, as someone always needing to respond to developments in strategy, the unexpected demands of the Holy Spirit working in someone’s life, the need to care for people’s needs, emergencies, or other things that cannot be put on a weekly schedule!

Newness: the newness of talking and acting like a baby in a new language and context is only one part, but the newness seems unending as day-by-day missionaries encounter new and unexpected aspects of life in ministry amplified by unknown contexts

Sorrow, suffering, sickness, & sin: evil pervades all societies leading to immense amounts of sadness, tears shed in mourning and often confusion or frustration, suffering flows from the reality of living in a broken world among sinful people, and missionaries face these pervasive elements of life head on

For those unfamiliar with what I’ve just listed about life on the mission field, this list likely does not carry with it the same stories and emotions that a missionary fills-in between the lines. In eleven years on the mission field, this list includes for me and my wife deaths [plural!] of friends and family, births, riots and government insurrections, bombs, terrorist attacks, earthquakes, landslides, floods, adventure, fun, football [not “American football”], brothers and sisters not blood relatives but just as close or closer, opening and operating businesses, sharing the gospel in numerous languages, spiritual oppression, demonic activity, friendships and enemies, broken bones and relationships, church plants and church splits, pain that is physical and emotional, the first believers among a people group ever known in all history! This long list of the reality of the mission field has one recurring aspect of support as I think through each instance: friends.

Nationals

Some of my best friends in life are men I met and lived life with for the past eleven years. We have helped each other through the above list of challenges, and I know they will continue to help me. God’s special love and grace is shown to me in the friends he has given me in these men.

Teammates & Colleagues

Your teammates are not necessarily your best friends, but if friendship on some level between teammates remains absent, the relationship will often be strained as the team faces difficulties and duties together. Team leaders and members should be challenged to relate to each other friends, to strive for friendship, which requires a very different teaming dynamic than usually seen in a supervisor-supervisee or organization structure. Yes, authority exists in leadership positions, experience, and seasons of life differences, but authority does not deny the possibility of friendship. The deepest friendships within the mission field may never be within your team but still between missionary colleagues, whether within your same organization or some other.

My wife, kids, teammates, and I have all been enormously blessed by friendships with “fellow workers,” as Paul says of his partners in the mission Epaphroditus and Timothy (Philippians 2:25; 1 Thessalonians 3:2). These dear fellow soldiers facing the challenges and seeking to push back the darkness with the light of the good news of Jesus’ love and grace have been from our own organization as well as from several others. The diversity is a blessing and comfort in that different traditions, perspectives, emphases, and callings come together to build each other up in the grace of God. We have so many “Epaphroditus” and “Timothy” type people in our life!

Marriage

The pairing dynamic may be seen in marriage as well. I’m married to my best friend, and that is a wonderful and unique gift from God, especially as we encounter the realities of life. (For more in-depth study of marriage-as-friendship see Tim Keller writes in The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God, “Friendship is a deep oneness that develops when two people, speaking the truth in love to one another, journey together to the same horizon” (117)).

Kids

To the parent: your children need friendship! As a parent I am eager for the day when my children are my genuine friends in the Lord, and as a child I am grateful for my friendship with my parents also in Christ! Psalm 127 speaks of the dynamic between parent and child in the context of engaging the enemy, which in the context of the mission means fellow soldiers bringing the gospel to world God loves. I parent to disciple my son and daughter in the gospel mission. This dynamic leads us toward a friendship, where we are both being disciple, growing and living as God’s children for the sake of his glory!

Also, our children need other friends: nationals, teammates, other children.

My children’s best friends are spread across the globe, which is not as wonderful as it may sound to those who have not experienced this firsthand. A mission field child has a very difficult reality when friendship is not always immediate, whether in good times or difficult ones. Years may go by between these deep interactions between mission field children peers. Friendships between our children and other children experiencing the same strange reality of Third Culture Childhood has proven essential to dealing with life as a mission field kid. Only by experiencing firsthand can someone truly understand your challenges, and this seems multiplied for mission field kids. Our sweet teammates have been needed uncles, aunts, and cousins to our children. And other mission field children have been the necessary unique ones to dialogue and play through times of celebration and suffering that they mutually experienced with our kids. As we’ve seen this dynamic occur, we have continued to seek it out for our children!

Church

After years on the field we learned that a deep longing for support was only met when we had strong friends within our home church, our sending church. For several years after being on the field our sending church underwent numerous changes, which led to most of our previous church friendships weakening as these people moved elsewhere themselves. Only after visiting between times on the field did we regain the deep support and love we now know through these wonderful friends. I strongly recommend all missionaries and churches making friendship a first-things priority. Friends provide the much needed healthful perspective, listening ear of compassion, and loving comfort that fill up and energize missionaries. Read 1 Thessalonians 5 in its entirety with a thought on how friendship helps support each other for the sake of fulfilling the mission of God’s gospel being brought to the peoples of the world:

“Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing.” (5:11)

CGCS Administrator
Center for Great Commission Studies

The Great Commission Studies (CGCS) is the hub of Southeastern’s Great Commission efforts, helping develop students and faculty members who are Great Commission servants of their local churches. The CGCS serves the Southeastern community in four major areas: academics, research, mobilization, and convention relationships.

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