by Valita Jill Patterson
I, along with hundreds of others, was standing at the Bucharest airport at Arrivals. While waiting, I saw many come out from behind the automated doors. As one lady exited, she scanned the crowd. She walked back and forth looking everywhere. She then stopped in front of me and as people jostled her right and left, she pulled out her cell phone and made a call. On reaching the number, she said with desperation, “Where are you? I’m here all alone!”
A missionary meeting was taking place in Prague, Czech Republic. A stateside minister had come to speak to us during our meetings. Those of you who know Paul Mooney know that he is a large, confident and well-respected man. However, as he spoke to us, he confessed that when he got on the plane to travel to Eastern Europe that he felt so–alone. Even though he left a staff and church family and even though he arrived to a missionary group, he couldn’t shake that “alone feeling.”
There is something about travel that exposes our vulnerabilities. Confidence is lowered, familiarities lessen, loneliness creeps in… How do we navigate this? I have found that a needed ingredient for a successful and worthwhile overseas lifestyle and ministry is to be good at being “alone”.
We work with missionary helpers who sometimes are making their first overseas trip or their first residence in a foreign country. Many times, they have come from close family ties and are from structured and busy church settings. Then they are here–alone.
Number one, it is needful that a person can be happy and be able to function in regards to their daily needs without help. My husband taught me early in our ministry that I shouldn’t depend on others for my happiness or contentment. I, myself, am in best control of my personal fulfillment. Accomplishing personal contentment could include any range of hobbies or volunteer work, etc.
Number two, it is needful that a person can confidently fulfill ministry on their own. A person should be able to personally reflect and come up with a ministry that they can do by themselves. For example, I have prayer strategies, which I accomplish by public transportation throughout the city. I tell my husband that I will be back in three hours and I go ministering in my way. Everyone can share in the reports or results, but I did it on my own.
If these two needs are not satisfied, then there are negative results. In your personal life, there will be personal dissatisfaction in your new home. The hole might be filled with adverse activities such as always thinking of what you left or constantly meeting with other expats to try to regain what you left. In your ministry, you could become more of a problem than a help. For example, to be responsible for a children’s program but to need help to find construction paper, make invitations, have a translator, etc. lessens your productivity and value.
As a successful missionary, there will be fulfillment and productivity even in times of loneliness. And, then, when you look around, you’ll find that you’re really not alone. There are people everywhere! And, that is what missions is all about.
Missionary Valita Jill Patterson has served on the mission field, along with her husband, for over 25 years. The Pattersons served on AIM for 3 years in Germany and now they are fully appointed missionaries to Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania. Sis. Patterson plays the piano, sings in 3 languages, teaches Sunday School, and leads ladies ministries. She, also, serves the Europe & Middle East region through children’s ministry and prayer ministry.