December 28, 2016 | Melissa Weissenberger
This time of year is always difficult as social media is full of pictures of friends and families gathering to celebrate the holidays, having feasts full of foods I wish I could taste again. There are a few phenomenon that happened this year which surprised me:
- I’m shocked at how painful it was to watch so many Christians intentionally post about the military personnel serving overseas away from home, but to see no one mention the missionaries. I did not expect those posts to dig up pain that I didn’t know existed.
- I’m surprised how much life can be given through a gift that traveled 3,000 miles. My brother visited in November and brought a bunch of gifts from our family to be opened on Christmas morning, and though their collective worth is minimal–the fact that they touched these items and I now touch them literally brings tears to my eyes.
- The Christmas story has changed meaning for me, as I consider Joseph and Mary leaving their homes to birth a child in a town practically foreign to them. Something about listening to that story this Christmas Eve, thousands of miles away from my own home, made me almost want to cry for hours.
When you move overseas as a missionary, you create a new family. It’s not that you reject your actual family–you actually make great efforts to keep in contact with them and maintain a sense of identity, but in order to maintain your sanity you create new bonds with the people around you so that you don’t feel ridiculously alone.
This is my family (minus a few people who couldn’t attend our Christmas celebration). They’re a bunch of goofballs like me and we’re from all over the place, but here we are–intentionally living in the same city, loving the same people because God said “go”. There’s something about leaving it all behind and clinging to the promise of God’s call that bonds you to these people in a way that I cannot express.
Despite all of that goodness–there are times when you’re alone and it all feels like a ruse.
The process of cultural transition and living away from “home” automatically means that there are those rock bottom moments where all you want is to hop on the next plane back to where you came from, just to hug that person one more time, or see your mother one more moment, or see it snow one more time (the list goes on and on and on)…
And despite what nice pictures we post on social media…
Every day is a choice to say “I surrender my luxuries, I surrender my family, I surrender my desires for the comforts of home; I choose this life, I choose this city, I choose this life”. Some days that choice is easy and it comes with joy. Others, like today, it comes with tears and a lot of “what if” thoughts that are more harmful than helpful.
We gather around holidays in large groups to help scare the loneliness away because I know that deep down, we all just want to hug our siblings. We post photos on social media of the tiny semblances we have of home (Chris and I brought our childhood Christmas stockings with us to Bolivia and having those two little sacks with presents in it on Sunday was beyond cathartic) because it’s the biggest piece of joy we have at the moment.
If you want to know how to pray for your missionaries at this time of the year–we need peace. We need a deep, unwavering sense of purpose and hope to push through and push past the pain of being so far away from the people we love.
Next week, Jan 1st-5th we will be gone at a conference with all of our missionaries here in Bolivia. We intentionally gather as a field each year to spend time in prayer and reflection before beginning another year of ministry. This year we are focusing on the topic of “new beginnings” as our field in a state of turn-over. The majority of missionaries who are on the field this year for our conference will not be here next year (either because their term of service is ending or because they will be away on a furlough). We have a new missionary family that just arrived today, and two other arrivals coming up in the next few months.
Please pray for our field: we need to encourage each other despite being in a consistent state of transition. We need cohesion and community that surpasses any struggles of loneliness and any isolation caused by the natures of our ministries.
We will send an update from our conference after we return; I have great hope that God is going to use this time as a specific encouragement and rejuvenation to us.
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