Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Friendless in Mexico

This month I am blessed to have WOTH publish another one of my stories in their onlineMagazine. If you haven’t seen it yet, check out “Guilt Trip.” It’s not as embarrassing as the Target episode that launched my writing career, but it’s another typical Jamie Jo moment.

Normally when the magazine is first posted, I rush to see what fun photo the editor found to spruce up my writing. Not this time. First thing I will do today is read the bio line for each author.

I am curious to read what others have to say about their favorite national friend. Do others actually have good friends from their host country? For me, I came up blank. Frankly, this is a matter of deep shame and regret for me, to not have any national friends.

Me, the ultimate extrovert. Me, who would have trouble naming my closest three friends out of a dozen truly amazing kindred spirits I consider “best friends.” So what’s up with not having any national friends? I don’t know. I find it nearly impossible to break through the cultural barrier to develop friendships.

Here in Mexico I have many acquaintances. Some of them might even miss me if I ever left for good. But on a daily basis, they simply do not need my friendship. Culturally, the women in our town stay at home, and if they host a special event or take a vacation, they only include their extended family. They need no friends. Even in our local church, I don’t see the depth of friendship among the ladies that I have with my fellow missionary friends.

This past weekend I was blessed to participate in a ladies retreat for the English-speaking missionary community. Just like the WOTH Furlough Retreat last summer, it took no energy or effort for me to relate to such like-minded women.

In contrast, I remember taking a van-load of Mexican women to a retreat several years ago. There was lively chatter and laughter the same as our ex-pat retreat, but the difference was that none of the conversation was directed at me. In fact, the women reverted to their native Zapotec language instead of Spanish, leaving me completely in the dark. I was merely the chauffeur, the benefactor, the I-don’t-know-what. I certainly was not a “friend” the way I would normally define it.

In a closed community that has seen its share of missionaries come and go through the years, even ten years is considered “short term.” In the national women's experience, all the missionaries eventually leave to go back to their passport country. Even after sixteen years of living here, I am still considered an outsider and a relative newcomer.

Just like the movie Sleepless in Seattle, I had to sign my blog post: “Friendless in Mexico.” Sad but true. How about you? Are you blessed with genuine friendships cross-culturally?

IRL* just wondering if my story is unique...


  1. We also live and serve in Mexico, although in a more urban area. Still, I feel a bit of an outcast (and I am and MK from Mexico!). I always feel as if I'm missing something in interactions with the women or as if I'm a target for their "needs."

    Yesterday, a couple we've known and ministered to for a long time called and asked if they could come over. We spent hours worrying over what they wanted and what our responses should be. They never came to "the agenda" during the visit! Afterward, we analyzed the visit and came to the conclusion, "They actually came to just visit and talk!"

    Maybe, just maybe we are actually developing a real friendship with them. (This, after 6 years here and 3 years of intensely training them for leadership with the youth of the church.)

    My Mom, also an MK and missionary in Mexico, has a very best friend, who is a national. They are bosom buddies. What's funny, is that Mom has very few gringa friends and even feels uncomfortable at our field conference each year. Not sure that I will ever be like her.

  2. Hugs and smiles do not a friendship make.

    Many nationals here in southern Mexico seem happy to see me when I am around them. They may even spend a few moments talking, asking how things are, etc. However, none have extended that past those few moments. I've even given up inviting them over or out for coffee somewhere since I'm usually turned down. The few times I've gotten together with someone, it's obvious they are not enjoying themselves as well as I am. It's a chore, perhaps an obligation for them.

    It was a bit different in Chihuahua. There I did have friends, and a very good one was a national.

    However, even in the ex-pat community I can't say I have really good friends. There are many sweet "sisters in Christ" who I get along with quite well, but if anyone were to ask them questions about me, such as:
    - what is her favorite color?
    - what are some of her goals?
    - what hurts her the most?
    (etc)....there would be no answer. To me, that's what a good friend is - one who knows you deeply, accepts you as you are, and shares in your life's highs and lows.

    That's what I miss most in my missionary life, having a friend close enough who knows me, cries with me, laughs with me, and supports me through dark hours and in my weaknesses.

    There are times when I need to pick up the phone and simply talk/complain/cry with someone and I stand there for minutes wondering, "Who?". Usually I walk away from the phone, asking the Lord why it has to be this way. Then I spend time with Jesus, who is my best friend, and who sticks closer than a brother, sister, or anyone else.

  3. Such insightful remarks. The comment section is my favorite part of this blog. I love the diversity in experiences and the camaraderie we share.

    Inkyspot, how I can relate! I, too, am so thankful for the barren times friendship-wise that remind me that when all is stripped away, and Jesus is all I have, that He is MORE than enough.

    That said, I am blessed with a large collection of friends who really do "know" me and care deeply. They just aren't locals.

    Beth, let us know how this potential friendship continues to develop. What struck me when reading your comment is that I've never thought to actively pray for a friend like that, let alone to nurture a potential relationship. I just always got stuck in the rut of feeling I was the "target" as you said, for some need they had. If a woman calls me or seeks me out, it's likely only because she needs something I can offer. Not that they want my friendship.

    Inkyspot, you are a gifted writer. I'm sure God will use your writing during this friendless phase to encourage others in the same boat (or desert). Keep journaling! You, too, Beth.

  4. I do know what you mean about "friendless". I have delt with it for many years myself. It is akward to say since I have quite a circle of "friends" that are nationals. We do go have coffee and meet for breakfast at Marco Polo "de vez en cuando". We can chat about politics, the church, the latest diet, etc.... but when I start to talk about homeschool or want to blow off steam about something cultural, their eyes get glossy and they lose interest or they feel offeneded by my being offended... you know what I mean.
    Then when I think we are really bonding, one will refer to me as their "pastora" which automaticly puts up a wall. I just want to be able to let it all hang out and not be criticized or step on anyones toes. So, I totally can relate to you Jamie!
    Guess there will always be barriers. Some bigger than others, but always something that keeps us from that total connection...
    I imagine Jesus felt the same way... Like when his disciples couldn't cast out the demon and he was frustrated with them for not "getting it". Then there was the Garden of Getsemane when they kept falling asleep. I'm sure their "flesh" caused that same barrier between them, prohibiting them from really being his "national friends". But even though, he was still willing to give His life for them. And we do the same. Even in the frustrating moments, I couldn't imagine just up and leaving my "national friends". I couldn't think of anything else I want to do with my life than to serve Him here.

  5. Wow, Tish, you do get it. I love your thoughts about about the disciples not totally "getting" Jesus either, and how for that reason He DOES understand our frustrating plight living cross-culturally. Well said!


  6. I am so glad to read that I am not alone. We women need other women so much, and it is hard when we don't have the types of friendships we think we need. I have struggled with this a lot lately, especially since I lost a good friend over a bizarre disagreement I can only attribute to spiritual warfare. In not having that close girl-friend, I find myself asking the Lord, "how is it that you meet our needs, but I have gone for over a year now without a good friend nearby, and at a time I could really use one?" But like Inkyspot said, I am forced to rely on my best friend, and truly test myself to see if He is my "all in all". One fellow missionary said, we do deserve to have our needs met, but when they're not, we can embrace the opportunity to be like Christ in His suffering.

    I live in a very bicultural community, where I am an outsider to both cultures. My "national" friendships are genuine, yet like mentioned previously, their social needs are met within their culture, so I often feel that huge sense of "unbelonging" (especially at holidays--can I hear an "amen"?). Yet it is that love that can only be explained as coming from Christ Himself that has me here. And just when I think there aren't friends there, He brings along a sister...or just listens as I cry, reminds me He is El Shaddai, All-Sufficient One.

  7. Amen! :) I think if Beth has the boldness to pray for a friend when none seem to be available, you (Beth) can pray for reconciliation with your former friend, and in both cases defeat the enemy who so wants to discourage and destroy us. Yes?

    Inky, we should get together IRL. Yes? I'd love to know your goals (besides writing), frustrations, and preferences. Already we have so much in common.... Call me.

    Reading this today I rejoice in El Shaddai!

  8. In W. Africa, where we work, I feel like I do have three dear local friends... but there will always be things about their lives that I don't know if I'll ever "get," just as there are things about my life that they can't get. I don't think that makes our love or friendship any less real or precious - just different. And if I value their friendship, offered out of a heart of love, less because it doesn't "feel" the same, then I think I'm placing an expectation on them and our relationship to fill a whole that only Christ can fill.

    After having lived the missionary life for the last 10+ years, I also find that there are things about my life that my sending church friends and family can't understand... and once again, it is okay, although sometimes lonely. I've struggled with the question: Does God truly supply all my needs (relationships included), according to his riches in Christ Jesus? The answer is a resounding yes... as someone recently told me, sometimes my greatest need is to have a need so that I'll turn to the One and Only who can fill those empty relationship holes in my heart.

    Outside of my husband and kids, my closest earthly friend is another missionary who ministers in the same part of the world, and I thank the Lord every day for the way He uses her in my life to exhort, encourage and teach.

  9. I feel like I could echo some or all of what most of you have already written. It does help a lot knowing there are others who are walking a similar path because sometimes it does feel very lonely.

    I remember when we first came here to the Baja just crying out to the Lord one time asking Him, Will I ALWAYS feel like an outsider here? No matter how much my Spanish improves or I understand the culture better, will it even matter? I was missing my friends who I would go out to coffee with, who I could be completely myself with, etc. After many such conversations like this with the Lord, crying out to Him for the loss of the rich, deep friendships I had experienced and no with prospect of experiencing that here for a long time (if ever), I remember feeling like the Lord was asking me if I would let Him be that for me...that He had blessed me with so many of these wonderful friendships in the past and would I allow Him to be that for me now. I feel as if He has drawn me so much closer to Him...closer than I probably would have if I had those close friendships here and I am now grateful for that. (There was a time, I don't think I could have honestly said I was grateful or even thought that someday I would be grateful. In fact, just now in writing, it hit me that I am grateful.)

    Yes, it is still really hard at times and I long for a day when I can just go out to coffee with a good friend like I once did. It may never happen in this life (I sure hope it does) but slowly but surely, He is working in my heart to help me be ok with that. Some days it is easier than others.

    As we prepare for our first Home Assignment, I am not looking forward to hours and hours in the car but I am looking forward to reconnecting with many of those good friends. However, part of me is also struggling with the reality that our lives are so much different now and it may not be the same....that is also hard to accept but just as He has carried me through the dry times here, I know He will help me through this part of the journey as well. (sorry that got so long!)

    Thank you all for sharing your journeys...they really are encouraging and a HUGE blessing to me. Pattie

  10. I work in Japan and can certainly understand what you're saying. After eight years I can say I do have a good Japanese friend - just one - yet her friendship doesn't really compare to the soul mates I have in English speakers. I haven't even been into her house. I wish my Japanese was better and maybe it would be a bit different.

    I get really frustrated with people who breeze through Japan and say what a friendly place it is - when it really isn't. They are polite and helpful, but not friendly. Japanese have a significant barrier between "outside" and "inside". Both physically with their houses and with their thoughts. They don't tell you what they are really thinking. They take a long time to make friends, even with each other.

    All that said, I have learned so much through my loneliness. When I'm in my home country I find I have a deeper appreciation of and dependency on God than many of my peers. Our family of five is quite close too; because we've had to rely on each other and share so many common experiences that no one else around us share.


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