“Wait, and get some good counseling.”
I would strongly advise that you NOT go into full-time, cross-cultural ministry as long as you have struggles in your marriage. A small problem here will almost surely be magnified there. It is for your good, for the good of the people to whom you will minister, and most importantly most glorifying to God for you to get some good counseling before to consider missionary service.
Answer from Dick, who served with SIM International in Nigeria and the United States for thirty-two years.
“There is no one who does not have struggles, but missionaries face additional challenges that can strain their marriages.”
First of all, let me say there is no one on the mission field who does not have struggles in their life, and (if married) certainly in their marriage. I was very encouraged by a local pastor many years ago when I heard him say he and his wife had to forgive one another at least once a day. They were particularly known for having an exemplary marriage. Even the best of couples struggle.
Having said that, I have to say you must be aware that missionaries will face many additional stressors that they would not otherwise face in their home cultures, which puts a lot more strain on all relationships, especially marriage. Therefore couples need to have a great deal of maturity in their relationship and the ability to deal well with their issues. Unfortunately, I have seen several couples have to leave the field and their marriages fail because they couldn’t handle their struggles.
The level (seriousness), frequency, and how struggles are currently managed would determine your readiness to serve as missionaries. If you have found tools to help, and learned how to work through your difficulties in a God-honoring way that produces growth, trust, and strength in your marriage, I believe you could be a tremendous witness on the mission field.
If not, I would suggest consulting a good Christian counselor, preferably one who has missions experience, to know better how to prepare you for the field. Many mission agencies have very good counselors or can recommend someone.
Answer from Dick with Christ for the City, who has served in Costa Rica and the US for thirty years.
“Before you apply, an assignment.”
Good comments. How about an assignment?
Relocated marriages usually include very challenging times. Why? A marriage in transition is one where both must accept that the relationship as previously known has ceased, while developing positive responses and adaptations needed to integrate into a total new way of life and love.
This happens through positive attitudes with good personal communication between you. Why? What happens?
— old habits and roles no longer manage new life situations
— every day environment need to be relearned
— new ministry expectations (language) include a broader learning curve
— the inability to communicate or understand the simplest things, limits our efficiency
— emotions become unreliable and test the ways or outlets we use in processing
— there are even changes in your spouse
A few questions to ask yourselves BEFORE YOU APPLY to be missionaries. Set up a few times to go through theses slowly and carefully (without interference from children, if you have them). Make sure BOTH spouses respond.
— How do you feel spiritual leadership is going in our family right now? What is your expectation for this? (It’s helpful to tell your spouse how you may have gotten that expectation.)
— Who is responsible for what right now? Is anyone responsible for devotions, teaching, reading, or at least prayer time together?
— What does it mean to both of you, to “take responsibility”?
Ask each other:
From what we know about the country, the people, and the environment to which we desire to move,
— How do you think this will affect our marriage?
— What are your fears relating to our marriage with this move?
— What do you think might be good for our marriage in living there?
— What are the ministry goals you have?
— How can we help each other accomplish them? What expectations do you have for me, related to your own goals?
— What changes are you expecting concerning your roles?
— What is your biggest concern about your own future ministry?
— How will our marriage elevate or help the ministry goals or others?
1. Share your hopes and dreams for your future life as missionaries with your spouse. Collaborate on what might be your vision for “your life together as missionaries.”
2. Together, write out a vision statement or family motto for you and your family (older children might be included at this point).
Do you have a habit of polite, helpful, and thankful every day communication patterns?
If no, discuss how to help each other toward that goal and begin now.
Answer from Holly, who has served with the Center for Intercultural Training for thirty years.
“Find an experienced missionary mentor and don’t go until you are rock solid.”
Sorry to say, but there are an alarming number of missionaries who crash and burn overseas. Not only do they fail personally, but their inter-personal conflicts, both in marriage and with co-workers, are alarmingly high. We think the reasons are: (1) There are additional pressures and frustrations in being in a cross-cultural situation. (2) There aren’t the same support systems that exist for us as they do in [our home countries]. We are more isolated. These things put a strain on all relationships.
I would strongly suggest that you connect with an experienced missionary-mentor: someone who has field experience and can also help you through your present struggles and help you decide when you are solid enough to do well overseas. If you go, you should also make sure you have good and available oversight and mentoring throughout your time overseas. Don’t take chances. Failure in such an endeavor can have long-term consequences.
Answer from Ronald, who has served with Hope in View in Ethiopia for twelve years.
“A good agency can help you assess your marriage and find a good placement.”
Cross-cultural living and service can be very tough on a marriage, whether you already know you have problems or not. So a good sending organization will include in their application process some sort of psychological assessment, often specifically including meeting with a counselor to talk about your marriage. Of course, you don’t have to connect with an agency to get marriage help. You may be able to find someone in your church to come alongside you in this area. Talk to your pastor or a trusted leader about their suggestions for growing in your marriage, whether you go overseas or not.
Some avenues and locations of service might be more or less challenging than others. For example, you might be able to find support roles that allow you to be part of global missions without being on the front lines, and sometimes these positions are less demanding. If you do move overseas and join a young or small organization or one that doesn’t have a proactive plan for “member care,” you may face more challenges. If you can join a healthy mission team you may be able to avoid the stresses that come with feeling that your spouse is your “only friend,” and developing expectations for one another that cannot be met. Living in isolation or taking on a leadership position early in your ministry, especially if/when you have young children, can also multiply the challenges.
Keep in mind a few things you can do that will help keep your marriage (and your ministry) from crashing and burning:
1. Commit to honest and transparent relationships with others who can mentor and counsel you, and seek an organization that has strong values in this respect.
2. Make sure you take days off and vacations and do what you can to maintain good emotional, mental, and physical health.
3. Make sure you raise 100% of your financial support and have a good team of intercessors and a sending church behind you.
To explore this topic further, download the free ebook on Missionary Marriage Issues by Ron Kotesky, or read the articles that make up the book.
Answer from Marti, an AskaMissionary.com editor who has also served in missions for more than 20 years, most recently with Pioneers.