Not long ago, I asked single missionaries to respond to an anonymous survey about their experiences. Let’s see what they answered.
Q How much time have you served on a foreign field?
A 0-5 years 53%
6-10 years 12%
11-20 years 29%
more than 20 6%
Q Did you feel “alone” because you were single?
A Yes. 47%
Only once in a while. 47%
Q Did you ever feel excluded by your missionary team?
A Yes, especially by the married couples, families. 38.5%
Yes, the male leadership treated me like a second-class person. 15%
No, I didn’t feel excluded. 46%
Q Did you get unwanted attention from the opposite sex (native people or otherwise)?
A Yes. 41%
I got several marriage proposals! 12%
Other: “I got occasional whistles from guys on the street.”
Q Overall has your ministry experience been positive?
A Yes, somewhat positive. 23.5%
Yes, very positive. 76.5%
Q What would improve your experience?
A Being included as an integral part of the team, especially socially. 15%
Being included as an active part in discussions and planning. 31%
Having a partner to travel/minister with (husband or a female friend). 31%
Help with car, house maintenance, etc. 15%
Feeling loved and appreciated. 8%
- “House maintenance is a difficulty. I hate to bother the head missionary, but he is the one with the knowledge and ability to fix things. Carrying heavy items home has been an ongoing difficulty, even groceries. But I guess I just didn't have many expectations so these things haven't bothered me too much. My biggest difficulty has been health issues, which probably wouldn't have been much different if I had a partner. On a field that is open culture, I would say that a single missionary would be much less lonely unless they couldn't get over their background and just relax. My field is not an open culture, so people do not at all readily include me in their lives. Also, I think being somewhat of a workaholic makes it easier not to notice the fact that I am not included aside from passing church or school encounters. I strive to invest in the people, and that keeps my focus on them and their spiritual needs rather than my own emotional need.”
- “Have had a really great experience, so can't complain.”
- “It isn't just on the field. Churches are geared toward families and couples. People sit as families, and churches feel family oriented. We have had several people drop out because their spouses don't attend and they don't like sitting alone. Depending upon the team, I have been out of the loop and not known about certain activities. I don't like to be obligated to attend family camp and family functions. I’d like to be looked upon as a person and not hear, "well, you don't understand" or " you can't do that or teach that." I say I'm not teaching experience, I'm teaching the Bible. I have more national friends and "family." I get more help and people don't ask and beg for things because I am single.”
- “Although the team I work with have made me part of the family, other missionaries seem to forget I'm an individual and on the same level as they are. I never get emails about meetings or important goings on. Whether it's just an oversight or purposeful, it’s hard to deal with at times.”
- “There are times I want to travel somewhere, but I can't because I am alone. It would be nice to have someone to travel/minister with.”
- “Feeling loved and appreciated. I think it helps my spirit tremendously when I don’t feel taken for granted.”
Q What one sentence of advice would you give to any future/actual single missionary women?
- “Choose your team carefully and know what the expectations are before joining the team.”
- “Guard yourself from every kind of high expectation: as to living conditions, results, your own performance or ability, new friendships, etc., but go out of obedience and love for God alone.”
- “Learn to lean on Christ.”
- “Stick to your purpose. (For several years, I was distracted by trying to be like the married missionary women, and I had to learn to stick to my purpose and what I was called to do. I wasn’t called to do what they do. I was called to come along beside them and help them with their responsibilities.)”
- “Reach out. Share. Others are struggling with what you are.”
- “Keep remembering that God is in control, and if He hasn't sent the man to be your husband it is because He knows you can serve Him better alone right now. You are not flawed or missing something spiritually to make you worthy of being married. Just pray that if and when it is in God's plan, that you still desire a husband someday.
- “Cling to Jesus. He is a precious Lover of our souls and will truly be all you need if you will allow Him.”
- “Don't let anyone tell you that you are not complete in God just because you aren't married.”
- “There will be times of disappointment and discouragement, but God is always faithful.”
- “Be absolutely certain it is God calling you to your place of ministry.”
- “Daily remind yourself that nowhere on earth is supposed to feel like home; that feeling should be saved for heaven.”
- “Be confident of who you are in Christ, let Him meet your needs, and be content with Him Who fills all things.”
- “Stay active in your prayer life and Bible reading. Sometimes our married coworkers don’t understand us, but God does. When situations arise, pray instead of react. Most of the time the misunderstandings and slights are unintentional.”
- “Be yourself. Obey God above all else. Be confident in your calling. Don’t worry so much what your missionary colleagues may think; everyone is different. You shouldn’t worry about pleasing them but rather about being obedient to God and pleasing Him. The nationals will accept you easier. You will learn your language faster. You will become one of them more quickly. Don’t just hang around missionaries or expats. Pray that you will be socially satisfied within the culture and with the national people. Be present. All in! Make that place your home, not just a place where you serve. Decorate your home. Get pets. Buy plants. Do things that you like to do outside of ministry and church activities. (Anything you do opens doors to share Christ with those you meet along the way.). So, take a painting class. Join a gym. Take a cooking class. Travel your country. Take a day off and a vacation—even if you go alone. Try new foods. Invite people, families and couples, not just singles to your home. Enjoy your life.”
- “God is enough.”
Q Share how God has blessed you personally.
- “The blessing of the mission field is of being on the front lines, of seeing God work, firsthand. To know that you are filling in a gap where the gaps are much wider than within the borders of the U.S. Planting the gospel in hearts where it has never been planted before. Making a difference for one ... and then another .... It’s knowing that you’re living in the gold, silver, precious stones mode, rather than chasing wood, hay, and stubble. These are the blessings of the mission field.”
- “I work under the leadership of a national pastor and have a wonderful relationship with him, his wife, and family.”
- “I have worked with two missionary families. Even though I didn't choose the family I work with now, God has helped us work together effectively. No one is perfect, but I am thankful that I have never had to leave the field because I didn't have a missionary family to work with.”
- “After five years as a single missionary, the Lord graciously led me to a godly, single pastor, and we were married.”
- “God has done so much to further the work here on the field. I know that I am doing exactly what He wants me to do. Although I still sometimes struggle with loneliness, it doesn't overtake my life. God has proven faithful every step of the way.”
- “God has given me wonderful friends and tremendous Christian leaders with whom to work and I am very grateful for them! God is my comfort and security. He has proven Himself over and over.”
- “The first ministry I worked with was a struggle, but God has given me a great ministry to work with now. I really feel that God has been faithful to me because I trusted in Him to guide me each step of the way. He will never leave me nor forsake me.”
- “The Lord has blessed me in allowing me to invest more of my time in the ministry and people. I would not change that for the world.”
- “I served eight years as a single, and including that, worked twenty years before I married. I am glad I worked to make my home a place of ministry to others, even though some wondered why a single would. I'm also glad I learned to be content with the Lord alone before I married. That kept me from trying to make my husband do what only God can do in my life.”
- “I'm blessed to have great missionary partners in my current ministry.”
There are more single missionary women today than probably at any time in the history of missions. They serve in schools, orphanages, helping families, homeschooling missionary kids, doing accounting, nursing, doctors, teaching music and English and doing many busy-work jobs that free up the missionaries they work with. They keep house and open their homes to others. They embrace ministry. I don’t know what we’d do without this army of missionary women all over the globe!
Some of the heroes we all hold high were single missionaries: Lottie Moon, Gladys Aylward, Mary Slessor, Amy Carmichael, to name a few. They were courageous, gutsy little gals who wanted more than anything else to serve their Lord and Savior.
As you have read, the women I interviewed love God and want to make a difference. I tip my hat to all of you, wherever you are.
How can married women missionaries encourage our single co-workers? One word sums it up: include. The Bible indicates two paths—single and married (1 Corinthians 7:34). Both singles and married people are vital for life and ministry, and of course, every individual is important. Love the single lady missionaries on your field. Make sure you listen to their ideas and include them socially. Include them in planning, and don’t leave them out of the loop when communicating what’s going on in the team. Help them feel busy and satisfied, but be careful not to overwhelm them. Be open and transparent—and listen.
Thank you, everyone who took part in my survey. It encouraged me, and I am sure you’ll encourage others. God bless each of you!
Therefore, my beloved brethren,
be ye stedfast, unmoveable,
always abounding in the work of the Lord,
forasmuch as ye know that your labour
is not in vain in the Lord.
(1 Corinthians 15:58).
by Lou Ann Keiser (Spain)