When Your Missionary Teen Struggles

by Editor on December 3, 2012

Today’s guest post comes from missionary mom Colleen Mitchell. Here, Colleen talks honestly about the struggle of watching a teenager battle isolation overseas.

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I have often written about how one of my greatest struggles in living life as a missionary is a battle with loneliness. After nearly a year in our current mission, I find that some hard growing up over the last couple of years has helped me to accept the burden of loneliness that comes with this life. But I’m facing a new struggle this time around, one that pains my heart worse than my own loneliness ever did. It is watching my teenage son adjust to the reality of life in this place, battle the unavoidable loneliness it brings.

In our past mission posts, I was always a mom to little guys, little enough that being with their mom and dad was all they needed to be content. This time around, we headed into the field with a much different dynamic. Our five boys are now fourteen, eleven, nine, seven and five. The middle two boys tend to pair into a nice friendship (when they’re not trying to kill each other) and the two youngest boys form such an adventurous little pair that we’ve affectionately labeled them our little hobbits.

My oldest is the one who is left without a built-in companion among his brothers. He also happens to be my most reserved kid when it comes to meeting new people and trying new things. Not so much an introvert, but a thinker and a reader who is a little slow to jump in.

This child has spent most of his life surrounded by a large and exuberantly loving extended family, a lively faith community and lots of like-minded families. Friends were built in to his life without much effort required. As he headed toward his teen years, we encouraged his participation in activities that allowed him to initiate new friendships and relate to a variety of people.

And just when he’d hit a social groove that I firmly believe would have carried him through his teen years with rewarding friendships, we made the decision to head back into the mission field. And I sometimes struggle with the cost this young man has had to pay. 

Making friends in a different culture is more than challenging. It seems impossible at times. And the majority of his life-long friends at home have gone on with lives that now seem exactly as they are, a world away.

I try to remember that fourteen was probably going to be hard and fraught with social issues wherever he found himself. I try to remember that there is much good to be learned in a slow, intentional and somewhat lonely life. But, this Mama Bear wants all to be well for her cubs. And watching this man-cub’s transition has been hard.

I find my heart constantly crying out for him, begging God to give him a friend at his side. I remind myself that if this life was God’s calling for our family, then it is God’s calling for this child as well, part of God’s plan for his life. And I cling to the notion that His plan is undoubtedly for this young man’s welfare and not for his woe.

He is noble and strong in this walk. He is learning. He is growing. Now for my mother’s heart to find the courage to let her son be the man he is meant to be.

Maybe that is the real challenge here.

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Do you have teens living abroad with you? How have you helped them make the adjustment to life in a foreign culture? What are some ways to help them find friendships? 

Colleen Mitchell is a wife, mother to five sons walking this side of heaven and one already home, and foreign missionary serving in the Chirripo mountains of Costa Rica. She has heeded her mother’s command to use her words when she needs to express something and blogs her missionary heart at Blessed Are The Feet.  She is actively engaged in the work of her family’s non-profit foundation St.Bryce Missions (www.saintbryce.org) and in founding the Mercy Covers initiative, a micro-enterprise cooperative for women reaching out to orphans and trafficking victims through its work.

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