As the title suggests, the subject before us is of a negative nature. The Oxford dictionary defines loneliness as “solitary, companionless, isolated; unfrequented.” The American Heritage dictionary adds an even less desirable quality, namely “dejection by awareness of being alone.”
While the word isn’t found in Scripture, the reality of it (and the word it comes from) leaps from the first pages in these words, “It is not good that the man should be alone…” (Gen 2:18). It appears also in the later experiences of men like Joseph, Elijah, David, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Paul and the Lord Jesus. Godliness does not exempt one from such experience: but such experience should develop a rich godliness and Goddependance in us.
Most missionary endeavor in any country began with one or two workers. As He did with Abraham, God may still thus work: “I called him alone…” (Isa 51:2), although he had the happy companionship of quite a household of servants and a relative. The leaving of family (Luke 9:59-60) may take place easily enough or with difficulty, but the long separation can creep into the soul like an icy fog and weigh heavily on some. The advent of fax, E-mail and affordable air travel has greatly reduced the trauma of this aspect of work in distant lands, but some still find the silence of the phone (if you have one) week after week a terrible burden. The writer remembers such a spate of silent weeks in our earlier years, and the sense of having been forgotten.
Being separated for the purpose of communicating (the gospel) to people, one finds the early inability to converse, accentuated by the lack of assembly fellowship, absence of other workers, and uncertainty and perhaps distrust by the native believers, a very formidable mountain range to traverse. Early diligent application to mastering the desired tongue is a must if we are to effectively carry this incomparable message forward. A thin skin or fear of making mistakes must not be part of your make-up. Some previous effort in language study is necessary to spare one the burden and final failure of not being able to handle this vital tool. Translation, while not impossible, is not desirable, especially on a permanent basis (1 Cor 14:11). There is a delight and liberty in presenting Christ in the dialect of the listener, who usually admires an honest, if not always accurate, effort. Great discourses are lovely to listen to, but impossible at the beginning. The simple reading and setting out of the Scriptures has brought forth such remarks as, “You people teach the Scriptures!” The soul can grasp salvation truth from unadorned presentation of the Word . by which faith comes anyway! The path to that goal can be long and rough, but it surely is worth every sweaty, if not tearful, step. You will likely sit alone many a night in an empty room, waiting for the people to arrive, after distributing invitations. You will sing alone and pray with no amens, and even preach without a face but your wife’s or one other person’s in front of you.
There are some dangers in new territories. We are familiar with the problems of the mosquito and the serpent’s bite, the lion’s mauling, earthquake-prone lands, hurricanes, or other natural calamities. Nowadays, national strife, insurrection, and political instability all introduce additional elements of stress. Kidnaping and hostage taking are becoming common, and belligerent governments with no sympathy for your work can with needless and costly requirements make life a continual hassle, but all don’t work in such environments. The wealth of modern nations both economically and in learning, produces a heightened dislike to evangelists, and well-being isolates people so that you can hardly penetrate their indifference. In your growing frustration you may resort to unsound tactical measures, forming unhealthy truth-compromising unions with other groups to gain a ready-made audience. You may resort to the “successful” methods used by others, appealing to the physical senses rather than the spirit. We must never forget we represent, not only the assemblies, but the Lord Jesus. He is the sum and substance of our life and belief, and our conduct and presentation of truth must be consistent, or we have failed Him. It is most uncomfortable to be at odds with the whole community, but soldiers in conflict, and even farmers each have their own unique pitfalls to cope with and rules to follow if they hope to be successful. Absolute confidence in God, love of Christ and ability to listen, adhere to, and apply carefully the Word of God are our basic tools. This must be true if we are to follow Christ in prayer and holiness. “Take time to be holy…” is more than a nice song.
Then there are problems posed by the simple fact of no regular meetings to attend, or for which to prepare, and the help of other brethren’s prayers, exhortation, and teaching is missing. Through carelessness, one can dry up, and other things can take the place of time spent in the Word. A regular regime of personal study with prayer, and family devotions is an oasis of life and a must for the survival of all. Tapes of home conferences and series of ministry meetings, as well as gospel meetings are a refreshing drink as well.
It is most desirable that the wife should always accompany her husband, but sometimes it is necessary for the man to be away, leaving the wife on her own or with the children. If possible, the time should be kept to a minimum. These can be stressful experiences, especially if the wife cannot speak the language fluently, and may lead to harmful depression. The man is often out visiting or arranging meetings. A wife must know if her constitution is equal to such an existence. All wives are not as equally committed to foreign work and reticence under pressure can lead to early breakdown or necessitate both leaving the field.
Visits from home by family members are lovely. And I think commending assemblies should be prepared to send responsible elders to look in on the missionary family from time to time. We have never experienced this, but have been thankful for the visit of two servants of the Lord, serving in other lands, as well as a few younger men who have come to help. Prayers and letters of encouragement from other workers help, but the personal presence of exercised elders is desirable.
An over-riding thought is perhaps in the mind of the reader, as it has been in mine over the years. If God has truly fitted and called one to a field of endeavor, of what value would books on any aspect of the work be? Would a mere reading and understanding further equip one for such a work? Perhaps the answer is found in the other direction: their perusal might help to settle a would-be candidate’s mind who, while desirous, wasn’t fully suited and called, and had not even thought of such a thing as loneliness, having never been in such a situation. At the same time, we wouldn’t want to put the brakes on any one who is honestly considering serving the Lord far from home and is very sensitive to every angle involved in such a serious step. Therefore I haven’t resorted to the repetition of tales from the lives of many whose situations in past years were, to say the least, heartbreaking. The Lord can graciously help all such, even in the face of known deficiencies, as they commit their weaknesses, prayerfully, into His hand.
Happy the worker who can echo Paul’s sentiment, “At my first answer, no man came forward with me…” but he was able to add, “Notwithstanding, the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me, that through me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear” (2 Tim 4:16-17).