“Wait a bit!”
Most agencies will require at least a year of marriage prior to deployment. Marriage itself is a cross-cultural experience! You don’t want to complicate it by dealing with culture shock and language stress in the beginning. I expect there are exceptions to this, but unless you have a compelling reason that you would be better off moving right away, I recommend you spend at least a year in your home culture. Take the time to study your future culture together and perhaps engage in some cross-cultural ministry together locally.
Answer from Jim, who has served with The Mission Society for ten years in Kazakhstan.
“Take the first year to get to know each other.”
Within a month of getting married my wife and I embarked on leading a cross-cultural team into Africa. Although it was in the same missions organization, it was in a branch of ministry that my wife had not been a part of before. We found it to be a very challenging experience, and one that we wish we had not had in the first year of our marriage.
After our own experience I have always recommended to couples to take that first year to get to know each other and focus on that. I don’t think that there is a need for people to pull out of full-time ministry, as I have heard recommended by some, but I do believe that the first year of marriage should be spent in a place where you both feel safe and secure, with loving people and mentors around you whom you already have a relationship with.
Answer from Bill, who has served with Youth With A Mission in Australia, Switzerland, and Canada for eleven years.
“Adjust to marriage, first.”
Many missions organizations and churches will require you to wait at least one year after your marriage before heading overseas. This allows you to adjust to being married without all of the distractions and frustrations of being in another culture. Getting used to married life is hard enough, but thinking about doing it in the context of everything unfamiliar is just too difficult. This is also biblically cultural because in the Old Testament times, a soldier was not allowed to go into war for one year after his marriage. People have recognized the need to have that year to adjust for literally centuries.
Spend your first year of marriage drawing closer to God and to each other. In doing so, you will build a solid foundation for your marriage, which is the second most important relationship in your life. (The first is your relationship with God.) You’ll figure out how your communication works, what’s your style of conflict resolution, and learn to serve the other. Have a good, strong marriage is a great witness for those you are serving.
Answer from Emily, missions mobilizer with Team Expansion.
“You may feel more at home in your host culture than your home culture.”
In my case, Bolivia feels much more like my home than my native culture (U.S.) because I have lived here for so long (more than eight years). My husband met me here and within nine months we were married and made our home in Bolivia. We have had a wonderful time of marriage! And although there are stresses and challenges (both for him adapting to Bolivia and me in my new role and with less ministry time), I imagine there would be anywhere in the world during the first year of marriage.
Answer from Jennifer, who has served with Casa de Amor Children’s Homes in Bolivia for ten years.
“Wait a year. I am glad I did.”
My wife and I were in a similar situation. We were in the States for a year after we got married and before we went overseas. Two weeks after our first anniversary, God had worked out everything for us to get on a plane and go overseas. We’ve now been overseas for almost three years, nearly 75% of our married life, and our first child was born here.
All this to say that we know from experience how valuable that time was during our first year. Being overseas at all is HARD. Being overseas in a ministry role is HARDER. In some countries more than others. Take the time to enjoy that first year with comparatively little life pressure.
Answer from Mike, serving in Asia.
“What if you’re from two different countries or cultures?”
It’s fairly common for single missionaries to meet someone on the field who is either from their host country or from a different sending country, and in such cases, this question becomes more difficult. Because navigating a cross-cultural dating relationship can be challenging, not only for those directly involved but for others around them, most mission teams and agencies will want to be aware of the potential relationship and may have guidelines and policies that apply. If would be a good idea to find out what these are before you declare your feelings for one another.
You may also want to talk to others who have experience with cross-cultural relationships and marriages and seek their input on how you should pursue the relationship and where you should live, initially, to help your marriage get off to a good start. I’ve met people who have decided these things in a variety of ways. Often a key factor is where you have the best support network.
There’s also the question of where to get married. Many cross-cultural couples end up having more than one wedding celebration in order to include friends and family in different places.
If you are from two different countries but well adjusted to the host country, it may very well be best to stay there after you get married. If one person is way ahead in their cultural adjustment, however, the contrast may be difficult for the other person and not a good strategy for the long-term. If possible, find a place where both of you can, in some sense, feel “at home.”
For a helpful resource on cross-cultural relationships and marriage, look for a copy of Love Across Latitudes: A Workbook on Cross-Cultural Marriage, by Janet Fraser-Smith.
See also this series of articles on missionary marriage issues.
Answer from Marti, an AskaMissionary.com editor who has served as a mission mobilizer for more than 20 years, currently with Pioneers.