How do you cope when you feel homesick and lonely on the mission field? You can’t just go home at the end of a long, difficult day as a missionary! When I lived in Africa — I taught missionaries’ and expats’ kids at Rosslyn Academy, an international school in Nairobi, Kenya. I was the loneliest, most homesick “missionary” I knew! I actually didn’t consider myself a missionary at the time, but I do now. And I was definitely struggling with a bad case of homesickness.
Now I see that I was a missionary. According to the dictionary a missionary is a “member of a religious group sent into an area to promote their faith or perform ministries of service, such as education, literacy, social justice, health care, and economic development.” As a teacher of missionaries’ kids, my ministry of service was education.
I wasn’t just feeling homesick on the mission field. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was also dealing with issues from my past. I grew up in and out of foster homes and thought that would make me a great candidate for the mission field. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way because I never learned how to say good-bye or let go of people I love. I couldn’t connect to my fellow missionaries in Africa and struggled with homesickness (which was actually a deep longing for connection). I was lonely and didn’t know how to have good relationships with others.
A missionary’s past isn’t the only thing that feeds homesickness in the mission field; personality also plays a huge role. In What Introverts Need to Know About Going On Mission Trips I describe how missionaries with introverted personality traits can adapt to a living with a group of people.
If you’re on a solo mission trip — not living with a group of missionaries — you may find How to Stop Feeling Homesick When You’re Traveling Alone helpful. It’s written for women travelers but has tips for anyone struggling with homesickness overseas.
When You Feel Homesick on the Mission Field
As part of my She Blossoms Through the Bible project, I’m writing an article for every chapter in each book of the Bible. Today is Leviticus 21: The Holiness of the Priests. Moses wasn’t talking to missionaries; it was just the opposite, in fact! Moses was telling the Israelite priests how to live holy lives, consecrated and set apart to do the Lord’s work.
As a missionary, you are living a holy life. God has consecrated and set you apart to do His work. You are Jesus Christ’s hands and feet, empowered by the Holy Spirit and deeply loved by your Father in Heaven.
1. Be sincerely, deeply thankful for this mission trip
While reading and reflecting on Leviticus 21, I wondered if the priests felt thankful or grateful about being set apart by the Lord. God gave Moses lots of instructions on how the priests were to live, work, and be amongst the Israelites. The priests were to bring honor — not shame or disgrace — to God. The Israelite priests were to be holy, even more set apart from their people and the pagan neighbors. The priests were called to serve God’s people, to live an undefiled, unblemished, spotless, clean life. All the rules the Lord gave Moses were observable, easily recognized by the Israelites. But what about their hearts? A priest — or a missionary on the field overseas — can live what looks like a perfectly holy life…and be hard-hearted, cold, judgmental, critical or empty inside.
When you feel homesick on the mission field, remember who sent you…and be grateful. I know how lonely and painful it is to be a missionary homesick for family, friends, pets, safety, the routine and comforts of home. It’s hard, and it hurts to feel alone and lonely when you’re serving God on the mission field. I spent three years longing to move back home to Canada, feeling too scared to venture into Nairobi, curling myself into a tight little ball of homesickness and loneliness. Looking back I wish I would’ve been more grateful and thankful to God for the experience — because Africa really was the deepest, richest, most rewarding time of my life. I was just too scared to enjoy or fully live it.
2. Walk or sit under the stars every night
In Leviticus 21:16-20 the Lord spoke to Moses: “Tell Aaron: None of your descendants throughout your generations who has a physical defect is to come near to present the food of his God. No man who has any defect is to come near: no man who is blind, lame, facially disfigured, or deformed; no man who has a broken foot or hand, or who is a hunchback or a dwarf, or who has an eye defect, a festering rash, scabs, or a crushed testicle.” The Israelite priests represented the image of God and had to be physically able-bodied, healthy and whole. One Jewish commentary said this was to prevent the Israelites from being distracted by the priests’ appearance during sacrifices and worship. The priests weren’t sinless or perfect — they too had to offer guilt sacrifices for atonement — but they were to reflect the image of God.
When you feel homesick on the mission field, look up and meet the gaze of God. You aren’t perfect, flawless or sinless. Yet, God is using you as a missionary overseas! Your feelings of homesickness are part of the honor and gift He is giving you. Your loneliness is an emptiness waiting to be filled by Holy Spirit. Your homesickness is a void that Jesus can step into and heal. One of the best ways I coped with feeling homesick as a missionary teacher in Africa was walking on the school’s track every night. The sky was dark because the sun went down at 6 pm — and that made the stars shine brightly all night long. Walking around the track every night filled me with joy, peace and comfort. How are you making space for the Holy Spirit to meet your needs on the mission field?
3. Look back and around at your brothers and sisters
While reading Leviticus 21 I wondered who ministered to the priests. They served the Israelites, they learned from Moses, and they had so many laws to uphold. The priests were called to be holy and live perfectly clean lives. The priests were to marry within strict guidelines, grieve the way the Lord dictated, wear sacred garments, and live as men set apart from the Israelite community. Don’t you think that would be hard? Talk about feeling lonely — and perhaps even homesick for Egypt. Most of the Israelite community, after all, wanted to return “home” to Egypt. That was the land, culture and routine they knew. They knew what to expect and how to live. The Israelites were on their way to the Promised Land but they were homesick for their old life. At least the Israelite community had each other, Moses and the priests to complain to…but who did the priests talk to?
When you feel homesick on the mission field, remember the Israelites, the priests, and your fellow missionaries. The Israelites were struggling with loneliness and homesickness for their old way of life; the priests were the leaders who had to live perfectly holy lives. Life with God is easy for nobody. Not you, not me, not even Jesus who was dearly loved by our Father. Gain strength from believers who have gone before you, who struggled with worse then homesickness. Absorb hope and faith from your fellow missionaries, who are walking beside you. Thank the Holy Spirit for bringing you here, for loving and caring for you more deeply than you’ll ever know.
Your thoughts — big or little — are welcome below! Where in the world are you? How are you coping with homesickness on the mission field? Writing through your feelings and thoughts can be heart lifting and healing.
If you’re supporting a homesick missionary or saying goodbye to a family member leaving for the mission field, read 15 Useful Travel Gifts for Christian Missionaries.
With His love,
P.S. Are you preparing for a mission trip to Kenya or another African country? Read 10 Things You Need to Know About Moving to Africa.