Friendships on the mission field
Friendships can be time consuming and hard work but they repay the effort
Friendships can begin in the most unlikely ways. I first got to know about my five-year-old daughter’s current best friend after a biting incident on the kindergarten bus. Apparently, the little friend had been pulling our daughter’s hair every day on the bus ride home, and one day it all became a bit much and there was biting. Fast forward a year and they eat lunch together almost every day and spend hours reading books and doing craft together. While friendships sometimes start in surprising ways, making lasting, meaningful friendships on the mission field is not easy.
Why it’s so hard to make friends
Time As anyone who has been in Japan for even a short while knows, people here are busy, and that includes missionaries. Hectic schedules and a poor work/life balance (with similar expectations placed on missionaries) mean there is often very little time for friendships. Dictionary.com defines a friend as “a person attached to another by feelings of affection or personal regard”. Without time, it’s difficult for any meaningful attachment to occur.
Transience Missionaries go on home assignments or move to new ministry placements. Children grow up and change schools (and even countries). Some of our Japanese friends get transferred by work every two years, while others return to their hometown to live with ailing elderly parents. Sometimes we meet a person and have a momentary connection, only to not see them again for a year. Seriously committing to friendships can be challenging when change is a constant threat.
As both my husband and I study Japanese full-time and care for our young family, it has been a challenge to connect with people deeply. I’ve met so many great people that I think, Wow! I’m so glad I met them. I really want to be their friend! But then I struggle because of all of the reasons that make it too hard. And yet, we mustn’t give up on friendship.
Finding a friend who “refreshes the soul” (Proverbs 27:9 The Message) is truly a precious gift from God. If we are to have a long-term, fruitful, joy-filled ministry, friends should be a high priority. Having someone to share life’s burdens and joys with, to laugh and cry with, to simply do things together with, is key for durable emotional health, which is essential for longevity on the mission field. (For those of us who are married, our spouses can meet some but not all of these emotional needs.)
How can we cultivate friendship?
Prayer It’s crucial to give our desire to make friends and deepen existing relationships over to the Lord. If we remember he hears and answers our prayers in the best way with perfect timing, we will be reassured and encouraged. Being open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit will greatly help us in our quest for friendship.
Patience Building relationships with Japanese people takes time—often more than those of us from non-Japanese backgrounds are used to. If we are to resist discouragement, we must be patient. When we remember that many of our Japanese friends stay in touch with their kindergarten friends, we can remind ourselves again to be patient. Time is not our enemy in this instance and will yield fruit eventually.
Friends can be found in unlikely places—even on the mission field. Our friends might be Japanese or Sri Lankan, Buddhist or Christian, or anything else in between. But regardless of how we first met and how different we might be, friends do indeed refresh the soul.