It was the last day of a great Bible translation conference. Over three-hundred leaders from home country and field organizations had praised God for the victories, and been driven to prayer by the defeats shared by speakers from all over the world.
A fellow mission leader from Brazil and I sat near the back that afternoon and were paying close attention to the current presenter, a vivacious woman in her mid-thirties, slim, fit, and good looking, who put smiles on our faces as she told stories of the happy results in her country’s programs. She was all over the platform during her highly animated and enthusiastic presentation. It was a pleasure to listen to her report and . . . to watch her perform.
Well over half the conference delegates were men, and with board meetings, seminars and workshops tacked onto the conference, nearly all of us had been away from home for six weeks. We were weary. I missed my wife, and I wondered if others missed their spouses too.
Suddenly my colleague turned to me and whispered, “What if there was a hologram above each one of our heads showing exactly what we are thinking right now?
Yikes! It was all I could do to keep from glancing up to see if my thoughts were publicly visible above my head!
I glanced at my friend, and grinned ruefully. At the same time, I also felt a strong bond with him. It was so good to know I was not the only one whose thoughts were far more focused on the lovely presenter than on her report. Here is another man like me, I thought, someone who understands me.
I thought of that incident many years later when I participated in the Billy Graham, Amsterdam 2000 Conference of Evangelists. I listened enraptured as Cliff Barrows talked about the importance of men forming deep level friendships with other trusted Christian men. He described how he and Billy Graham, Beverly Shea, Grady Wilson and Tedd Smith had not only traveled and ministered together for over fifty years, but lived near one another and were one another’s closest friends. As he spoke about these men praying together, holding one another accountable, and being honest, open and transparent towards one another, my heart broke. I put my face in my hands, leaned forward in my seat in that international audience of 10,000 men and cried my heart out with longing.
Who are my close male friends? I asked myself in the months that followed. What is a “close friend” anyway? Have I ever had one? Some of the people who consulted with me on linguistic and translation problems had been men. Another man taught me a lot about operating a computer. During several workshops on the centre a couple of guys and I played tennis. For another few months, two other men and I got together for Bible studies and prayer. But these were all short term, relatively shallow relationships. Why? I wondered. I thought of several reasons.
I was pretty close to one man, but our travels kept us apart. One year he was on furlough, another year I was. I would be working in the Canela village for three or four months, when I returned, as often as not he had just left for a month’s trip.
And the Canela men in the village? I was learning language and culture from them. They were learning Bible and general knowledge from me. Our relationships were either student-teacher or teacher-student. I simply had no peers.
Our family lived in different cities each furlough. We went to a different church nearly every Sunday during furlough to speak about missions and Bible translation and raise some more financial and prayer support.
On the missions centre, in the village, or on furlough, I had no man around to consistently connect with on a deep level. On the centre only two men were willing to invest the time to build a deep relationship with each other. (Women did seem to have better relationships with one another.) I, and the rest of us men, sought to meet our emotional needs through our ministry work. I wish now that I had tried harder to develop deeper friendships.
We who are cross-cultural missionaries are prepared to make sacrifices. We know we won’t get the job done otherwise. But I never realized that my isolated work conditions, my frequent travel, and shattered lifestyle would make deep level friendships so difficult to develop. Yet we need them, and even now some of us long for them.
Hey, you that are thinking of becoming cross-cultural missionaries . . . are you ready to learn from my mistakes?