One missionary said, “I am tired of making friendships and then moving all over; to me it is not worth the effort. On furlough I know I am leaving, so why try?”
Another said, “I don’t know how to deal with the changes that surround the arrival and departure of staff members on the field. Especially with short-termers coming and going, it seems like we are always expanding and contracting to include so many different people on our team…. How do we love deeply yet hold lightly?”
Still another said, “I find it hard to have to say goodbye all the time. People I become friends with leave our part of the field, and I have to stay behind. How do I cope with that other than to quit building relationships?”
When you became a missionary, you probably thought about saying goodbye to your family and friends in your passport country and then leaving. However, you may have never considered how difficult other goodbyes would be. Is this a new problem? Is it getting worse? How can you cope with it? Let us consider these issues.
Is this a new problem?
No, this problem has been around as long as missionaries have. A look at Paul and his relationships with the people of Ephesus shows us some of the problems with saying goodbye.
Paul was apparently in Ephesus only a short time near the end of this second term. After speaking in the synagogue, Paul left a couple in Ephesus to continue the work. People asked him to spend more time there, but he declined, saying he could come back if it was God’s will (Acts 18:19-21). He and his co-workers there had to say goodbye.
Near the beginning of his third term, Paul again went to Ephesus. After more than two years of evangelism, discipleship, spiritual warfare, and encouragement Paul again said goodbye and left. He traveled to Macedonia with a multinational team of seven others (Acts 19:1-20:1). Again he and the disciples he left there had to say goodbye.
Near the end of his third term, Paul decided not to stop at Ephesus, even though he was passing close by, because he was in a hurry. However, he did stop a few miles south of Ephesus and sent for the elders of the Ephesian church so that he could meet with them briefly. Then they again had to say goodbye. In this instance we are told more about the nature of the goodbye: They wept, embraced, kissed, grieved, and finally tore themselves away (Acts 20:16-21:1). Saying multiple goodbyes to coworkers is nothing new for missionaries.