Anyone you talk to who has done overseas work will tell you that it is the most intensely lonely work they have ever done. I don’t mean any single person—I mean anyone. Single, married, married with kids, it doesn’t matter what our relationship status is—overseas work is lonely.
Most of us have never lived so far from our family. Most of us have never had to limit our communication with our families to a narrow slot of a few hours a day when we’re both awake. If we’re not careful, this loneliness can bring us to a place of collapse, to a place of devastation.
I have been fortunate in my time as an overseas worker to always be part of a team. This team has always consisted of a mix of singles, married couples, and their children. As I spent more time on the field I came to realize that this team was becoming my family. They would in no way replace my family in the US, but they were a gift from God to me. It was up to me to embrace that. Those of us who are single on the field can feel extremely alone unless we allow ourselves to find family outside the traditional nucleus.
I was fortunate to work with team leaders who saw our team as a family. Their door was always open – quite literally when the weather permitted. They saw us as their family. We were always welcome to join them for family dinners or even on Christmas morning. They saw family through the lens of the gospel.
The gospel changes everything, including who is now in our family. The gospel is a message of radical inclusion—of open doors and extra place settings at tables and enough food for everyone. The gospel is a picture of enough to go around and more where that came from. The gospel is a story of us being welcomed home when we didn’t deserve it, being not only welcomed in, but called sons and daughters.
In 1 Timothy 5, Paul gives instructions to Timothy about his relationships with other believers, saying, “Don’t be harsh or impatient with an older man. Talk to him as you would your own father, and to the younger men as your brothers. Reverently honor an older woman as you would your mother, and the younger women as sisters.” Paul reminds us here of the richness of relationships available to us in the body of Christ—no longer do we have a limited family, but our family expands exponentially. We now have an endless crowd of brothers and sisters, we now have spiritual mothers and fathers. We don’t have to be alone. We don’t have to be lonely anymore.
Single workers, I encourage you to open your heart to the possibility of gaining new family members through this experience. Open your home on Thanksgiving. Say yes to the invitations of your married friends to break bread together. Find friends or a family to share Christmas morning with. Life overseas is hard and lonely. You will be closer to those third culture kids than their family in the US. Own it. Allow yourself to engage deeply in those relationships.
Married workers, I encourage you to open your home to single team members. Let them function as aunties and uncles to your little ones. Help them figure out how to repair stuff. Invite them to your kids’ birthday parties. Let others into your lives abroad. Your lives will be made deeply rich by the relationships you will form.
Who is your ‘family’ overseas? Do you hold yourself back from engaging deeply in relationship with others? How can you begin to foster these relationships?
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