Why Being Single in Missions Might Be Better
It was July of 2006 in Mbale, Uganda. I was 25, single, and about to free fall down the side of a 320 ft waterfall. In the beginning abseiling sounded like a good idea, a way to prove to myself that I could get over any of my fears. But once I realized there was just a skinny, African man holding onto a rope at the top, I began to shake on the inside.
Those first few steps backwards over the edge into oblivion were terrifying. And yet had I not made that leap I never would have seen what was below.
In the underbelly of the spray there was a perfectly curved rainbow, one that can’t be seen anywhere else except suspended above the earth, on a cliff in Africa. It was truly breathtaking.
I wanted to hang there forever, weightless, between heaven and earth dissolving into the colors being washed anew by water and light.
I wrote in my journal then, ‘The more of my fears I face on this trip, traveling as a single woman, the more I’ve realized not a lot scares me anymore. I’m beginning to wonder if all this aloneness, this solitude is teaching me something. There’s something out here in all this wild green, in this endless landscape, that is soothing the hurt out. There is something about this saying yes to God which was also like saying yes to myself.’
These days I wake up and go to sleep alone, unafraid. And my own skin is a comfort, not a terror.
I was learning self-love.
Singleness in missions was giving me a capability, a secure sense of self I hadn’t learned elsewhere. It was giving me a closeness with God that was intimate and deep. It was giving me a courage to adventure with God and take risks together I’m not sure I could have learned otherwise.
Many people see singleness in missions as a liability, but I would argue that there are many reasons being single might be better.
“In the 21st century, the number of singles on the mission field has doubled,” –Rhonda Pruitt, a missions professor at Columbia International University. (Christianity Today)
Unfortunately, many singles are about 40%-50% less likely to go overseas long-term. With a global total of around 500,000 cross-cultural workers, the international Church may be losing as many as 80,000 potential harvesters due to the isolation of singleness.
“To fail to reach out to the single adult is to ‘wall out’ over 40 percent of the adult population today.” -Earl Creps-
Single missionaries seem especially gifted for a task that is precious as well as perilous.
Paul mentioned the gift of singleness in I Corinthians when he spoke of being undivided in his ability to serve the Lord.
Gladys Aylward, Lottie Moon, and Amy Carmichael led the procession of dedicated single women who inspired others back home, proving that single women were a necessary force on the mission field.
This wasn’t a post I set out to write, but rather something that developed out of the 60 surveys I received from single women serving on the field.
In their own words, here are some of the unexpected gifts of being single on the mission field:
Intimacy with God
Some of my sweetest experiences in my relationship with God are when I was single. Many women reported the numerous benefits of time alone with God, including a dependence and a trust in Him.
“Not having a husband to depend on has made me depend more on God. Not having a family to love me has made me lean hard on God’s love. God is particularly near to those who are lonely and brokenhearted and to those who are forgotten and uncared for. I have found Him to be very near.” – Lori
“My intimacy with God has been the biggest gift! Learning to adventure with him, depend on him, lean into him as my everything (husband, father, friend, brother) has been so beautiful.” -Christina
“Jesus has been showing me I am His Bride. -Kelly
I’ll admit sometimes I miss the days of singledom when I didn’t have to blend my calling with my husband’s calling, when I could travel to new places on a whim, when I could donate to whatever nonprofits I wanted without a financial review (that’s real!) or leave the house messy if I was tired.
It’s easy to feel like having a spouse will somehow fulfill this part inside you, but I’m learning we’re the only ones who can really fill it through compassion for ourselves.
“I have learned to be so thankful for this season of my life. If I was married or even in a dating relationship, I know I would not be serving overseas.” -Erica
“I don’t have to defer to a spouse’s wants or preferences. I can live where I want and do the type of ministry I want.” -Sarah
“I don’t have to worry about how my call might affect the other person.” -Lanae
“Not having to be responsible for a husband and children while trying to juggle pioneering a ministry.” -Ingrid
I didn’t get married until I was 28. In the South, that was the equivalent of being a spinster with twenty cats. But I could never regret those years because those were the years I learned who I was and found a strength inside me I still call upon now. I learned how capable I was to face and overcome any challenge. I had time to work on myself, get therapy, and get healthier. I didn’t depend on anyone else for anything.
“I have found that I am capable of WAY more than I thought, or what others have told me I can do.” -A
“I’m not any less fulfilled because I don’t have a husband.” – Greta
“I feel as though I truly “know” myself and how God has wired me.” -Jess
“In my rural setting, my host culture thought I wouldn’t be able to do my own cooking, laundry, household cleaning, etc. Being a strong, independent woman, I must admit I took offense at that.” -Deb
Many women reported being adopted more fully by their host culture, and having more time to spend with girlfriends, roommates, and children. They mentioned these relationships made their lives rich and full of joy. These deep relationships are what keeps them going.
“God has shown me that Romance isn’t just between a man and a woman, it can be between girlfriends, in a platonic relationship, and of course, between Him and His beloved – us.” -Greta
Being a mother or “aunty” to so many other children I couldn’t have if I was married, being a sister to many great couples.” -Tobi
“I was able to bond with my host culture even more because I had the time to really spend with them, learn their language, and invest in ways married couples couldn’t.” -E
When you’re married and begin having children, your time and your life quickly don’t become your own. Being single allowed me to have spontaneous pizza parties with my girls, dance parties with kids, we could stay up late to watch the The Sound of Music, I took random road trips with girlfriends, and we talked late into the night painting our nails.
“They want me to go out for dinner with them at 10 pm?! No problem! I don’t have any other responsibilities!! I am able to hang out with more missionary kids – the families would invite me over cause I was “alone”, so it gives me more time (I think) to hang out with them and get to know them.” -Katie
“Ability to go. Unencumbered. Can keep my own hours and schedule. Freer to travel. Able to share house with guests.” -Roberta
Some of the other benefits single missionaries mentioned:
- Being able to do as I want: My decisions only affect me, not a spouse or kids
- Flexibility with my schedule
- Being able to travel cheaply on a whim in my nomadic lifestyle
- Confidence in my own abilities; independent; capable
- To be the only one you have to check with. You hear from God and “boom you’re done.”
- More extended time with God; Less split or distracted
- The ability to serve spontaneously in many different capacities
- Deep, treasured friendships with other women/men
- Not having to defer to a partner’s needs
- Communal living
- Resilience- a strengthening of my soul
- Having local nationals as friends
- Turning to God rather than a partner for infilling
- Other joys God gives to replace the joy of marriage
- Getting to experience the Bride of Christ all over the world
- I feel as though I truly “know” myself and how God has wired me.
- Being able to work crazy long hours on something I’m passionate about
- Getting asked to speak more frequently than married women
- The freedom to be able to steward my own time and money
- It’s an honor to reflect God’s heart and love to a hurting world
- Having a smaller budget
So, enjoy this time. Take that adventure with God whether you’re single or married.
These may be some of the best years of your life you’ll look back on with pride and nostalgia.
One thing I loved about the responses from so many single women in missions, was this sense of how much God desires to be with His people, and how they get to be a beautiful reflection of that, until we all meet in Heaven someday.
How have you experienced being single in missions as better?
**I want to thank you, my tribe, for sharing my last post on singleness. Because of you it went viral and we’ve had over 10,000 views to raise awareness about singleness in missions. Please continue to share!
**FYI: This is not an anti-marriage post. I love my husband and I love being married (most of the time ha!) and I’ll be writing more on marriage in missions soon–I’d love to hear from you on that!