Thursday, November 5, 2015

Letters to a New Missionary: Praying for Husbands Club (singleness part 1)

Alone...but never alone!

My housemate sat on our porch with some of our Papua New Guinean friends as they expressed their concerns. “We’re worried about you girls,” they shared. “Since wives have to listen to their husbands, when you get married, your husband might tell you that you can’t be friends with us. We’re going to pray that your husband will be friends with us too.” They nodded vigorously....and so became the latest members of what we jokingly refer to as the “praying for husbands club” that seems to take a special interest in our household. ;)

Recently, I was asked to share about what it’s like to be a single woman working cross-culturally. Each gal’s experiences (and each field) is different, but here are some things I’ve learned from friends and personal experience over the last four years in Papua New Guinea (PNG). (I’ve broken the discussion into two posts, so stay tuned!)

Note: My discussion is from the perspective of a single woman, and thus, it’s aimed at single women. This in no way is to belittle the challenges faced by single men on the field!

Point 1: Being single on the field is harder than being married.
  • The life of a missionary is one of continuous change and transition (I moved 24+ times in my first two years). As a single, although I have friends everywhere, apart from Jesus, there is no one who has shared even half my experiences on the field. 
  • Singles get to balance two full time jobs—daily life (which just takes longer on the field) plus their normal “work” or “ministry.”
  • The hundreds of major decisions that come with crossing the planet are made solo. 
  • Some jobs (like translation) require a close co-worker. Marriage provides one; singles search one out (some call it “marriage without benefits”). 
  • When a culture says that a woman’s value comes from bearing children and her protection comes from a husband, single women can face lies of worthlessness as well as can be a target for harassment (not to mention marriage proposals and green card seekers!). 
  • In a culture like PNG, single women often need to ask for help from our married male friends in everything from travelling to negotiations in conflict. Not only does this make us feel guilty (pulling him away from his family when he’s got enough to do at home), but there’s the pressure not to put extra stress on marriages (always trying to be culturally appropriate for our host culture, missionary culture, and home culture)!

Point 2: Being single on the field is easier than being married.
  • Because singles have more freedom with time, energy, and resources, they can more easily engage in direct ministry, organizational leadership, language learning, time spent building relationships, hobbies, and even living in rough or remote situations than a parent might feel with young children at home.
  • Some young mothers report that they struggle with feeling a lack of purpose and value that they didn’t when they were single and able to be more directly involved in “ministry.” 
  • Singles can often be completely flexible and spontaneous without having to work around a family’s schedule (e.g. travelling companion for a medivac or a last-minute kitchen manager for a workshop).
  • Life in general is a lot less expensive (less support to raise!)! 
  • Singles pull much less baggage through the airport... :)
  • Singles can develop both greater independence and a wider skill set than they might otherwise not have attempted.

Conclusion: It’s not really harder or easier to be a single on the field. It just is.
But being able to make a cheesecake (like my
aweseome housemate) doesn't hurt!
The only way to thrive on the field, whether you are married or single or red-haired or can bake a cheesecake or can walk across coals barefoot, is to have full confidence that you are exactly where God has called you to be. After all, we know that if He calls us somewhere, He will enable us to be there—and that includes our marital status. The choice before us really is not whether to go to the field single or married, but whether we are trusting and obeying exactly what we are supposed to do in this moment. And then the next.