We were in our boat, pushing away from the bank of the river in a new Indian village. The Indians were waving good-bye to us, wondering if we would ever return and visit with them. I was waving good-bye because I was more than happy to leave, hoping not to return to their village.
While we were visiting with the Indians, I had tried several times to make conversation with some of the women and teen girls. Each time I asked a question, they would hang their heads and laugh. I did not enjoy being laughed at. At least I was trying to be friendly! As we left one village, I was so lonely and discouraged. The women spoke English—did they not understand me? No, they did not, and they laughed because they were so simple; they were embarrassed and nervous. I spoke too many words to them, too quickly.
As far as me hoping not to return to these villages, the Lord had something else in mind. My husband started a new church there, and we went every week. I knew God had called my husband into this ministry, but I was struggling with a heavy load of being isolated in so many areas of my life. I was isolated in physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual ways.
I enjoy people, whether I know them or not! Moving to a remote jungle was a shock to me, and it was difficult for me to adapt. There was not much to do. The only place to go walking seemed too difficult for me. I was in my home 24/6. Sundays were the only day I was able to get out, and even then, our time was rushed because we had to make sure we were home before dark. Traveling the river at night is dangerous in many ways.
The nationals we live among live such hard lives; they are not very emotional people. Nothing seems to trigger their emotions, not even death. Death to them is just a way of life, and they go on as if it never happened. Many times I was desperate to have someone that I could cry to and share my loneliness and fears about living here. I often felt as if everyone in my home country had forgotten about me.
I live with my husband and three boys, and there is no way they are going to be able to understand all my needs and emotions. I became too caught up with myself to consider anyone else. I began to develop unrealistic expectations—of my husband, children, family, friends, and even the nationals.
The villages in which we were starting churches were so dark and void of understanding of spiritual things. Many, even if they were saved, still clung to their superstitions. I got very bored listening to my husband preach from the book of Genesis over and over! I hungered for the deep preaching offered at my home church. I was thirsty to hear one more hymn sung. I was lonely for my women’s Sunday school classes. I even got jealous once when a friend shared with me about the women’s get-together they had.
Dealing with Physical Isolation
In dealing with my physical isolation, I determined that, no matter how difficult it was, I had to get out of my home at least one time a week in addition to Sunday. I discussed how I felt with my husband, and he agreed to play with our boys while I walked to the market. The walk was good for me. It helped me to clear my mind and pray—and I even lost some weight! I turned it into a ‘treasure’ hunt. I would search each shop, looking for some little something to take home. A new bar of soap or dishtowel for me. Chewing gum for my boys. Imagine my husband’s reaction the first time I brought home a Snickers candy bar for him!
I do understand that many global worker women might not be able to just take a walk where they live. Can you hire a taxi to take you to a local hotel where you can sit in the lobby and read a good book? Be creative, and see where and how you can get some ‘alone’ time for yourself each week.
Recently I have become even more isolated. My family moved five miles away from the village to the banks of the Kaituma River! I cannot walk anywhere. The river is 20 feet from my front door and the thick jungle is 20 feet away from my back door! I can drive our boat up to the local village market, but at $5.00 per gallon for gas, we generally go only when we have to. I am now back in my home almost 24/6! In such a remote location, the Internet has become a blessing to me. I am able to get online and watch live church services where my husband and I went to college. My husband purchased a desk where I can have my own ‘special’ place to read, pray, and study. He makes it a priority to swim a few times a week with our three boys so I can have ‘alone’ time. I am so refreshed when they come up from swimming, and so are they!
Solutions for Emotional Isolation
As women, we all know that we are emotional beings. It is a fact of our life. Living in another culture, plus living in another climate, plus living in another language can all add up to a lot of stress in our lives. More stress equals more emotions. I even began keeping a calendar of my monthly cycles (a time of increased emotions) so that I could let my husband know ahead of time that I might be particularly moody. He would encourage me that much more, and he would also know that he had not done anything in particular to upset me. He understood when I would need a little more time in the mornings to rest. Even though I have had a hysterectomy, I still have my ‘moments.’ Run to the God of all comfort when you feel emotionally down. I have done a great Bible study entitled Managing Your Moods by Women of Faith; each lesson dug deep into my heart. Another emotional lift for me is to wear my make-up and fix my hair. Even though the jungle heat makes it start to melt off, at least I have done my best to look nice, and my husband appreciates the effort too.
Relieving Relational Isolation
I had some work to do on my relationship skills! Lysa Terkuerst says it perfectly in her book, Capture His Heart: “even a great husband makes a poor god.” I leaned so heavily on my husband to fulfill so many of my needs that it started to strain our marriage in a terrible way. My husband was gone many nights and many weekends, which, over time, helped me to discover the truth in Terkuerst’s words. When my husband was gone, I had to stay focused and in charge. I could not collapse. I have learned that when I do put GOD first in my day and in my life, it makes things right between me and my husband, and he is more willing to communicate with me. When I constantly nagged at him and whined to him about me, me, me, he started to withdraw. I was pushing him away.
I let go of expectations of my boys also. I stopped pushing them to be the little spiritual saints that they weren’t. I allowed them to be the boys God created them to be. They will grow up in the Lord if I lead them and do not force them. I have accepted them as my ministry for this time, because they are so young. I allow them to help me in my daily chores of cleaning and cooking. At 11, 8, and 6, they can cook a mighty fine meal! They enjoy responsibility.
Instead of feeling slighted by family and friends whom I knew loved me and supported me but did not stay in close contact, I took them on as my challenge. I would encourage THEM! I would write them letters and let them know what was going on in my life—with snail mail letters, which are so much more personal (although I do enjoy emails!).
I had expected the national women to appreciate the fact that I was there, and I thought they should show it as well. After all, I felt that I had given up much by leaving America to live in this jungle. I remember saying that they would never understand all I gave up. I had to realize that I really had not given up much at all, when I considered what Jesus had done for me. He was the real reason we were there, right? I also know that we are not in the jungle ‘for’ these Indians. We are in the jungle on assignment from God, and He will get the glory from the souls saved.
Little did I know, the women really did want my friendship. They had never had an outsider live among them, eat meals in their humble huts, and teach them about women in the Bible. They really were thankful for my family being here, but they did not quite trust us yet. After three years, they have finally truly opened up to us. The women love to teach me how to cook something from their culture’s menu, and we enjoy a good laugh together when I make a mistake. They appreciate the fact that I do not try to Americanize them. I have never given these women anything to be their friend, only myself. No, they cannot fully relate to my life as an American, because they are South American Indians. Neither can I fully relate to their lives as Indians. The one person that bonds us in common is Jesus!
Strengthened by Spiritual Isolation
Spiritual isolation can either weaken or strengthen you. Let me explain how spiritual isolation weakened me. When my husband preached from the book of Genesis for one year, I got very bored, for I had heard these same stories since I was two. I also had to let go of my attitude toward the nationals. I seemed to view them as sinners in desperate need of Jesus AS IF I was not a sinner, in desperate need of Jesus. I had started allowing my personal time alone with God to slip away by getting caught up with housework and caring for three small boys. When I did try to pray or read my Bible, one of my kids would call for me, needing help with something, or a visitor would drop by. My personal time was hit or miss—and most of the time, it was a miss. I soon became overwhelmed with my whole situation. I became angry, and that led to depression.
I needed spiritual strength. I have a friend in this country. Although we are many miles apart, we email; when I do go to the city, I stay in her home. Many times over the past 6 years I have emptied my heart out to her. She has been a great source of encouragement and strength to me. I have watched her live her life, desiring what she had. For me, she spiritually strengthens me as my role model/mentor global worker. (Thanks, Karen!)
When my husband preached from the book of Genesis for so long, I had to purpose in my heart that I was going to learn something from the message. I had never heard him preach these stories. I asked for God’s help, and it worked. I even kept notes.
I started setting aside a specific time each day to spend alone with my Bible and pen and paper. At first, this did not work so well. I would read a few verses, and then I would start making a grocery list, or a to-do list for that day. I have now added Bible studies specifically for women to my quiet time; I am currently studying the book Cultivating Contentment from Women of Faith.*
Contemplating My Isolation
These scripture verses in Job really gave me a ‘breath of fresh air’ one evening as I was contemplating my isolation.
Verse 1: “Even today my complaint is bitter”… I (Wendy) was becoming bitter and complaining.
Verse 3: “Oh that I knew where I might find Him”…I was ignoring my Bible and prayer time so much, I wondered ‘where is God in all this?’
Verse 4: “I would order my cause before Him, and fill my mouth with arguments”…I was telling God my ‘side’ of the story and wanting to let Him know all about it!
Verse 6: “Will He plead against me with His great power?”…I often asked myself if God would punish me for my feelings and gripes.
Verse 6 again: “No; but He would put His strength in me”…NO!!! I am God’s child, and He knows I am but flesh. He WILL give me the strength I need each day to carry on, even when I am isolated in the middle of a jungle.
In Nancy Leigh DeMoss’ book Lies Women Believe, she says, “The deepest longings of my heart cannot be filled by any created person or thing. If I accept them, unfulfilled longings will increase my longing for God and for Heaven.”
We will always experience some feelings of isolation, because we are not home yet. But now, after six years with these precious Indians, when we push away from the bank of the river, I am waving good-bye with joy in my heart, looking forward to the next time I can visit these friends of mine in this village!