What perspective should I take toward serving in missions as a single person?

 “Both singleness and marriage have rewards and challenges; either way, God promises us his help and presence.”

When considering the benefits of working as a single person in missions, we need to recognize that the apostle Paul recommended singleness: “He who refrains from marriage will do even better” (1 Corinthians 7:38 ESV).

Missionary statesman John Stott opted for singleness in order to give himself more fully to the ministry. To him, this was a personal direction from the Lord, but not a pattern for all. Viv Grigg, led to minister in the slums, noted the difficulty of raising a family in such a context. 

When considering the benefits of working as a married missionary, the majority of those would undoubtedly testify of the incredible blessing to be married and raise a family in another culture. Also, the practices of biblical marriage and childrearing need to be modeled.

Paul’s command for husbands to love their wives and wives to respect their husbands is a universal command that fits into any culture. My wife, Mary Anne, and I lived for seventeen years on the second floor of a student center in Bogota, Colombia. We prayed that our relationship as husband and wife and as a family would be positive illustrations to the students. 

For single women desiring to marry, mission-field living poses a statistical challenge: single women who remain on the mission field usually don’t marry because there are so few single men to even meet and because single men typically marry in their first few years overseas. 

One way to face this issue of singleness is through God’s sovereignty. The God who calls us to follow him promises to us his presence (“I will never leave you nor forsake you,” Joshua 1:5) and to supply our needs (“My God will meet all your needs,” Philippians 4:19). He does not, however, promise us a spouse. But, if he considers that a spouse is truly our need, he is well able to supply us with one. 

Answer from Jack Voelkel, former missionary-in-residence with the Urbana Student Mission Convention; originally published on the Urbana website. Previously, Jack served thirty years with Latin America Mission in Peru and Colombia.

“Surrender to God your desire for marriage; then trust his plan for you.”

I was afraid that I would not meet anyone I could marry and that I would remain single if I stayed overseas for any length of time. I wrestled with this issue and finally read a book that I knew about but had been avoiding, Single and Satisfied.

I was not sure I wanted to be satisfied with being single! But reading it did the trick. I became convinced that if God wanted me to be single, he would be all that I needed and I would be satisfied. On the other hand, if God did have a husband in my plan, then he would bring about our meeting, and I didn’t need to worry about it. Given where I would be serving, I figured that the latter was highly unlikely, so I surrendered to God my desire to marry, which had been strong since I was a young girl. I would go, even if it meant remaining single.

Three weeks after that, I met a young, single missionary named Jerry at a planning meeting for a high school outreach. This event would feature our singing group in a camp setting, and Jerry was on the camp board. He had been serving in Korea for a number of years.

When we met, we discovered our mutual love for the Lord and desire to serve in Korea. We immediately recognized that God had brought us together. We found that as we were each following God’s plan individually, his plan for us to serve together in Korea as a married couple came together.

Answer from Barb, who served with Operation Mobilization in South Korea.

Excerpted from the book Scaling the Wall: Overcoming Obstacles to Missions Involvement, by Kathy Hicks.

“Single missionaries have more flexibility to immerse in a culture.”

From my experience, serving as a single person in missions is great. Why? I get to bond with the culture in incredible ways. For example, I lived with a local family for my first six months in ministry, and I became their “daughter,” attending every family event and holiday.

Our singleness allows us the flexibility and mobility to dive deeply into the culture.

Answer from Melinda, who has been in Muslim ministry for nine years, five of them in Central Asia.

“Singles can focus solely on serving God.”

Mission service is different from a job. It’s a lifestyle lived every day, night, weekend, and holiday. It’s a culture in itself. In that culture of ministry, we should understand that, as single women, we are free to serve God above all

If we choose to marry, we lose that focused attention as we become wives. We may be the same people, but our ministry has changed from serving others to serving our husbands. That’s not a bad thing. In fact, it’s a great honor. But it is an extreme change for a woman in missions. 

Also, make certain you and your dream man have the same vision before you commit to a life that is not for you. Pray diligently about the matter, because if you’re an unhappy wife, you will hinder the ministry of your husband and of missions. 

If you choose to marry, then serve your husband with all you have and do it joyfully. If you don’t marry, then serve God with all your might.

Answer from Jessie, a single woman who has served for four years in Mexico.

“Go as a single and trust God with your desire for marriage.”

I learned to trust God with my future relationships. I want to have a family of my own, and this became an obstacle along the way. While I was preparing to go on the mission field, a friend I greatly admired told me that he liked me and wanted to get to know me better. We shared our plans and visions for the future.

I thought, this must be the man God will give me as a partner in life and in ministry since we have common goals and visions. God later showed that he had different plans for each of us. Again, I needed to follow God’s leading in faith, and, again, I was reminded that he who has called me knows my needs. 

In my desire for a lifetime partner I have learned to have faith that the Lord knows best. Psalm 139 has been a great encouragement to me to this day. Verses 16 to 18 strongly encourage me not to worry about anything, for a faithful, sovereign Father and God will show himself to be true.

He does not make mistakes. Understanding more about him and his ways has made me more certain about my future. Even though it is still unknown to me, he has it well planned. I just need to wait on him in faith, not relying on my own ways and understanding. 

Answer from Melita, from the Philippines.Excerpted from the book Scaling the Wall: Overcoming Obstacles to Missions Involvement, by Kathy Hicks.

“Even if you don’t have a spouse, a ministry partner can be a big help.”

I’m sure there are great benefits to being single, as well as being married in ministry. I have been a single missionary for fifteen years but God paired me with another female minister. This is how God has always sent us out. It’s also biblical. So God can also provide a same-sex ministry partner for you, because two creates greater power and you will not be lonely. 

I praise God for my ministry partner. We are true sisters and are closer than I am with my own sister. Whatever your situation, God has what you desire. Lately God showed me that he has a mate for me. So if you desire a mate, he’s put that desire in your heart and will provide. Wait on God and don’t make your mate your focus.

Answer from Helen, who has served with RCCG and in local churches in the U.S. for fifteen years.

“Following God’s will for your life is the most important.”

Ever since I can remember I have desired my own family. When I was seventeen I developed a passion for serving children-at-risk and five years later I moved to Bolivia to launch the ministry of my dreams, an orphanage.

I had been raised to recognize my single years as a gift and to use them for wholehearted service to the Lord and others, and that’s what I did. But in the quiet moments, I had to wonder if I had sacrificed the dream of having my own family on the altar of service.

As the years rolled on, I admit I wondered what God was up to! It now seemed like it would take a miracle to meet the “right one” on short infrequent trips to the States, and even more so while living in Bolivia. 

So I laid down my dream to keep focusing on Casa de Amor and street kids and jail visits. Well-meaning people told me I might as well give up on ever marrying if I insisted on staying. But why would I leave Bolivia if God hadn’t called me elsewhere? 

Now I know that if I had abandoned my first calling I would have missed meeting the man of dreams. In March 2012, my future husband visited Bolivia for the first time and went out of his way to come to my city of Cochabamba just to meet me and see Casa de Amor firsthand; God had given him a strong conviction that he HAD to visit.

Less than nine months later we celebrated a beautiful wedding in Bolivia. To top off everything, I still haven’t had to leave, because God provided a paying job for my husband on that first trip in March. God is good and faithful!! Never doubt that he will fulfill the desires of your heart as you faithfully serve him.

Answer from Jennifer, who has served with Casa de Amor Children’s Homes in Bolivia for ten years.

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