When I first felt called to the mission field, I didn’t give much thought to whether I’d serve as a single or as a wife. I was only eleven, after all. I just knew Jesus offered salvation, people needed to hear about it, and I wanted to go tell them.
With laser focus, I prepared for life as a missionary. I involved myself in church outreach, attended college and seminary, satisfied work requirements, and met every condition the mission board had for new workers.
By the time these years of preparation wound down, I expected to be married, but a suitable spouse still hadn’t come along. I felt disappointed. Through prayer, I wrestled with the decision to go overseas as a single woman. I could continue walking down the path I was on, delay, or abort the plan altogether.
Moving overseas as a single intimidated me, but the call to international mission work had a magnetic pull. After careful consideration, I boarded the plane and stepped into the unknown. Not once have I regretted my decision to serve overseas. But it hasn’t always been easy.
Challenges for the Single Female
I am single, and I am tired.
Most challenges I face on the field would exist if I were living in America. No matter where I live, I must find the energy to run errands and pay bills with no one to share the responsibilities with me.
In the developing country where I live, though, public transportation, language barriers, scarcity of goods, and people staring magnify the level of difficulty. Sometimes I wish I had a spouse to run errands so I could take a break.
My greatest challenges, however, come from trying to fit into a family-oriented society.
I am a minority on the mission field.
Singles, especially those past the age at which most people expect them to be married, don’t fit the status quo. For example, field training for women missionaries often centers around families. Mothers advocate that having children makes them acceptable and relatable to the local people and attracts those people to the gospel. They are not wrong.
On a bad day, though, I’d hear those moms and feel dejected, even ashamed, thinking I’d disappointed God and hindered the spread of the gospel because I’d failed to find a husband or have children. I futilely spent many years on the mission field wishing I was someone I wasn’t: a wife and mother.
Then one day, the folly of my thinking struck me. Scriptures like 1 Corinthians 7 reassured me that God has an important role for singles. I can do things as a single that married people can’t easily do. If I could get those early years back, I would embrace my singleness and use it every day, unapologetically, for the glory of God.
Taking Advantage of My Stage of Life
I want to accept who God created me to be and use it for good. When I seek out the positives of single life on the field, I find many.
My local friends shower me with invitations.
Many cultures view singleness as an oddity. Nonetheless, the local people where I live warmly invite me into their homes, their lives, and their circles of friends. Their small homes may not fit many guests, but they can squeeze in one extra person. This provides me many opportunities to share the gospel.
I meet more people when I’m by myself.
Strangers hoping to improve their English are far more likely to come up and talk when I sit alone at a coffee shop or fast food restaurant, as I often do.
I can change my schedule on a whim.
I once traveled to meet some church leaders in another city, expecting to return home later in the day. Instead, when they invited me to go with them to their village to lead Sunday school training and to stay in their homes for several days, I did.
I’m able to engage in ministry outside my home.
My married friends with children often engage in ministry by inviting people into their homes. I do that sometimes too. Most of my ministry, however, takes place outside my home—in villages, coffee shops, and schools. Working together, singles and married people can cover more ground and share the gospel in various venues.
“Working together, singles and married people can cover more ground and share the gospel in various venues.”
I model a lifestyle outside the norm.
No one I’ve met aspires to end up single like me. But in many respects, others don’t experience the perfect lives they’ve dreamed of either. Most confront unfulfilled dreams and shattered expectations of what they wanted their lives to be. When they see that God helps me thrive amid un-asked-for circumstances, it encourages them to believe the same is possible for themselves.
Advice for Singles Considering Overseas Mission Work
If you are a single woman and considering overseas ministry
- Study what God says about singleness in Scripture. Carry it in your heart so you can quickly recall it on days when you feel like an outsider in the Christian community.
- Being married with children is probably wonderful. But it is not everything. Don’t idolize marriage and children if God leads you down a different path.
- Read biographies of other single missionaries. Lottie Moon, Amy Carmichael, and Marie Monson are a few examples. Focus on the spiritual characteristics and personality traits that helped them thrive.
- Examine it carefully, but do not suppress the call of God in your life.
- Let eternity guide your thinking. This temporary existence on earth prepares you for an eternal dwelling that matters so much more than your marital status.
- Do not waste a single day wishing you were living someone else’s life.
I have spent over two decades as a member of the international missions force. Mr. Right, should he exist, has not shown up yet. But I look around at the life I’ve had on the mission field and I’m grateful I didn’t back away. God works through all kinds of people to do all kinds of things for his kingdom.
Emily Stockton lives overseas and writes for IMB. You can follow her on Twitter @EmilyStockton.