According to the Miriam-Webster Dictionary, the word homesickness was first used in the year 1748, but the concept dates back to the Old Testament. Psalm 137:1, “By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion”. Homesickness means “longing for home and family while absent from them”. There is a couple of modern sayings about home. One is “home is where your heart is” and the other is “home is where your stuff is”. The second one is a try at humor, and although it might make us feel better that we can make anywhere we are, home, based on the fact that is where we live, and it’s where our “stuff” is, it doesn’t completely help when our heart is left elsewhere, or with someone else.
Homesickness may come in many different forms. It might be a longing for people that you left behind, such as family or friends. It could be missing something you used to have or enjoy, when you had to purge, or maybe a tradition or activity, or an actual thing that you can’t buy where you have moved. It could also be a certain food that you no longer can get, or it might be a culture, a familiar way of doing things, that now is so different in your new environment.
As missionaries or ministers in a church, you may feel homesick often. It may not be due to leaving and going to a foreign country, although that is a major cause for homesickness. But it could also be strictly ministry. Christianity is about relationship. So, in order to be successful in ministry it is important to develop relationships. Not only are relationships a very important aspect of bringing others to Christ, but we were made to be in relationship with others. So, when a minister or missionary is serving Christ in a particular area, one of the main goals is to make relationships with the people there. You will naturally grow very close to many people, and they will feel like family, which is what the Bible teaches, that our church is family! But, when it is time to leave that ministry and serve God somewhere else, then you can really miss the people that you used to commune with. It can be a difficult transition, one where you feel you have to start all over developing friendships, but also having to let go, in part, of the relationships that you had elsewhere. It’s a time of needing the energy to start again, but also being guarded in starting these relationships because of the pain and hurt you are feeling when you are not with those you love and have left. During these transitions you may have to learn a whole new culture and way of doing things. Some ministers may experience what is called “culture shock”- “the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone who is suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes”. This can occur from city to town, from one city to another, state to state, or going abroad. On top of trying to mourn the loss of relationships, developing new friendships, adjusting to a new culture and way of life, you are also doing ministry, and don’t want that to suffer. This can be a lot to take on at once, and be the source of homesickness.
The Apostle Paul was also a missionary. There are several places in scripture where he talks about missing people close to him. Philippians 1:8, and 4:1 says “God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.” “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!” Also, II Timothy 1:4 “Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy.”And, Romans 1:11-14: “I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles.”
Paul knew what it was like to be close to people but then have to leave them. He knew the heartbreak of being away from his loved ones, and that being in ministry meant that he couldn’t be in two places at once.
Sometimes a person can get so caught up living in the past or trying to maintain former friendships and family relationships that it prevents them from doing ministry and making new relationships. If you are in ministry, are a minister, or head over missions at your church. Here are some things to consider:
1.) It’s okay to be homesick. It means that you made close relationships with others, which is what you were called to do.
2.) Grieve your loss. It’s okay to take the time to recognize what you are missing out on, who and what you miss, even if it’s something that seems small and trivial.
3.) Continue those relationships from afar. We now have technology that allows us to video, or instantly message those that live far away, even in a foreign country. But, we also have the good old pen, paper and mail carrier to send letters and pictures.
4.) Make new friends and new memories. Even while you are still in touch with those that you left behind, and are grieving their loss, take time making new memories, with new friends.
5.) Join a support group. Many ministries and missions groups offer support groups for people who are transitioning from one place to the next. Take advantage of this opportunity, or start your own group, if necessary.
6.) Try to separate work from life. Even though your life calling is ministry, try to take time with friends where you don’t talk “shop” but instead make it about having fun, or talking about other subjects rather than just ministry.
7.) Support those that are in ministry whether in the states or abroad. Send them letters, call them, or send them messages via e-mail or social media letting them know you are thinking about them, praying for them and that they are still a part of your life, even though they are far.
Another reminder, is thinking about Jesus and how he felt while on earth. We know that through is life and ministry, Jesus had very close friends. Not only was he close to his 12 disciples but he was also close to Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. In fact when Lazarus died, Jesus was not there, and Scripture reports that Jesus wept. We also see how he spent most of his time with Peter, James and John. And, at the last supper he was reclining at the table with his 12 disciples, which paints a picture of how close he was to them. Jesus left his home and Father in heaven, to come to this earth for a short period of time. He knows what it’s like to leave someone behind, and he knows what it’s like to be in ministry developing close relationships and having to leave them as well. He went from place to place here on earth, but he was also only here for a little while.
Many people in ministry find comfort in knowing that they are in the will of God. They know that they have a purpose and meaning to why they are in ministry. Continue to seek after God, continue to make lasting relationships, continue to take care of yourself, and consider these wise words from Winnie the Pooh:
“How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard”