How do singles deal with loneliness and isolation overseas?

“Enjoy time alone with God and intentionally build same-sex friendships.”

Loneliness comes in many forms. The answer is to look to the Lord who promises to be everything we need. It’s so good when we can rejoice in seasons of time alone with our Father. But he surely created us to also be in community at times; so, being intentional about building relationships is critical. 

In a new place, it’s an easy trap to think that you are the only one who doesn’t fit in, that everyone else is already set in a group, and that there is no room for you. Those are lies. God has gone before you to provide people to love you and to care for you as you care for others. Continue seeking his face first, and then look for those women (if you are female) who may be used of God to care for you. 

I strongly recommend against finding men for this role, even “father-figure” type men. A more seasoned missionary once cautioned me, “No matter what the man calls you, sister, daughter, or friend, he still sees you as a woman.” 

Answer from Catherine, who has served with SEND for two years in Alaska.

“Be intentional about building family-type relationships.”

The most important thing I’ve learned about being single is that I still need family. It takes time and effort to build close-knit relationships with others to the point where you really feel part of a family. You have to prioritize time to spend with those who are becoming your family, just as married couples have to prioritize time together and with their children.

Sacrifices will need to be made, but the intimacy of being known and belonging will have life-saving benefits. 

The challenge of building such deep relationships with other missionaries or nationals is that, at some point, your paths will part… and the separation will be painful. But again, the pain of losing close relationships is worth the joy and security you will have experienced while you were together.

As for isolation, if you are the type of person who needs close relationships and regular social interaction, do not chose to go to a place where you will live isolated from people with whom you can build friendships. It takes a special type of personality to thrive and remain healthy in a lonesome environment. 

Answer from Lisa, who has served with International Teams for more than twenty years in Austria, Romania, and Canada.

“Pray for friends.”

This is a tough one. I’m just now started to wrestle with in. I’m currently in Brazil and I don’t speak Portuguese yet, so I get lonely at times. What I’ve done is to ask the Lord to send me friends. Last week there was another American girl here and I was able to spend time with her.

A few times now one of the Brazilians who speaks English has invited me somewhere on the weekend. And one day, while standing in line for dinner and talking to the Lord about my loneliness, a girl came up and started talking to me in Spanish, which I understand a lot better than Portuguese. Ask for Lord for help in this area. He is faithful to answer and meet your needs.

Answer from Monica, in Brazil who has served two years with YWAM.

“Become an “auntie” to a family.”

After serving in Asia thirteen years as a married couple with children, I would say some of the greatest blessings we had were the single missionaries who were a part of our lives. 

Not every couple is looking to expand their family, but if you can be available and flexible, there will be families who love having another adult to talk to. The single gains a home to drop in with and someone to confide in, but also needs to be willing to pitch in and help make the family work like any other family member.

Maybe rather than confidantes over a cup of tea you will bond in prayer and conversation while shopping, cooking, or doing laundry together. 

Our children loved having “aunties” to replace far-away extended family members. Three of my five closest missionary girlfriends overseas were singles. A single can consider same gender friendships with members of married families as one coping mechanism that’s a win-win solution.

Answer from Karen, who has served with Christian Veterinary Mission in Nepal and the US for nineteen years.

“Your relationship with God is paramount.”

This is essentially the same as in your home country. Find contentment in God. I am often very alone on the mission field. I was raised in a church of over 1,000 people and only know 27 Christians in the city in which I live.

Loneliness can be very hard, but your relationship with God will be what sustains you. I pray frequently to develop friendship relationships and that God would bless me with a wife and children. But my rest is in him.

One thing I would suggest is that you don’t separate nationals and fellow expatriates. If you go to work among locals and then, whenever you need refreshment, go back to fellow foreigners, you will not be able to bond with the nationals. I believe it will be a hindrance on your ministry long term. Seek friendship from the local believers.

Answer from Ken in Japan.

Recommended articles:

See also How do missionaries living in remote areas or who have few team members deal with loneliness and isolation?

OMF has a great article as well about loneliness on the mission field!

Single Missionary Issues: Loneliness, by Ronald Koteskey (Missionary Care). Part of a collection of articles about issues singles in missions often face.

Must Singles Be Lonely? Advice for the Mission Field, by Nairy Ohanian (Urbana). Truths about loneliness and strategies for navigating it when living single on the field.

Recommendations from the AskaMissionary staff.

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