Today I want to introduce you to a friend that I have got to know since returning to Tanzania. Rachel Morgan works for SIL translating the Bible here in Dodoma, in the Rangi language. (In fact, her offices are right next door to our house!) She is from America, married to an Englishman, they have a gorgeous 3 year old son who is from Taiwan and they all live and work as missionaries in Tanzania. A truly international family! Rachel is a self-proclaimed blog stalker but doesn't write one of her own. Today however I managed to convince her to write a post for me!
The single most challenging thing I face as a missionary is the constant flux of people who come in and out of my life. I have been a missionary in Tanzania for almost 6 years and that is definitely considered a “long term” missionary where we live. I can’t even count the number of close relationships that I have developed in those 6 years. However, sadly, most of those people are no longer living here in Tanzania and some are no longer missionaries. You are probably asking, “why are so many people coming and going.” I think the answer to that is that being a missionary is hard. It is hard being away from family and the culture you are familiar with. It is hard working with people who have a different worldview and language.
There are 3 types of missionaries:
- Short-termers - These are the people who come for 2 weeks - 1 year. I enjoy this group of people as it adds a bit of flavor and social variety to the scene. These people I enjoy because they are so passionate about what they come to do and find it all such an adventure. These people are full of questions and I love showing them the ropes of culture and language. However, lately I find myself wondering whether or not I should invest in those friendships given they are going to leave.
- Planned Career Missionaries - There are people who, for one reason or other aren’t able to stay long-term. This is the most challenging group of people for me. These are the missionaries who say they will stay for many years and then suddenly, they leave. The reasons for leaving are vast: illness, stress, broken relationships, challenges in working with national partners. These are the people that I go deep with fast and then end up feeling a tremendous loss when they leave. These people are committed to the work but circumstances change for them and they have to leave.
- Long Term Missionaries - These are the people who stay for 5+ years. The interesting thing about this group of people is, that it's the people you don’t think will stay for a long time. Often this group of people struggle a lot up on arrival, but end up staying for a long time.
I am a self proclaimed extrovert. I absolutely love being with people and despise being alone. The challenge for me is the pain I feel when people leave. I keep telling myself I won’t get close to people unless they are long term but I never know if they will be.
Fortunately missionary friends are not the only friends I have, I also have a few very close Tanzanian friends. These relationships sustain me in a lot of ways. God provides for us with “family” when we don’t have our families near us.
I think it is important for friends and family back “home” to understand what their missionary friends feel about relationships. We love our friends back home, and yet we feel so far away from them. Cards, packages, and emails mean so much to missionaries.
To brighten their day, send an email of encouragement to your missionary friends. It will cross the distance and encourage them in so many ways!