Challenges and Benefits of Being Married on the Mission Field

Just a week into being on the field, my husband and I found ourselves sipping tea with two Muslim ladies in our neighborhood. The grandmothers smiled and laughed with us, happy to have afternoon visitors.

As I drank the hot tea and ate snacks I had never seen before, I marveled at the access we had gained in a matter of days. Alone, my husband wouldn’t be able to drink tea and chat with these ladies without raising eyebrows. And being an introvert, it would likely take me more than a week to brave an unexpected visit with a neighbor I didn’t know. Yet there we were, talking with them as friends, gaining valuable insight on our new neighborhood and opening up possibilities for our first deep relationships.

God calls all sorts of people to the mission field—students, retirees, singles, married couples, large families, etc. We each bring something unique to the places where God sends us. In this stage of life, my husband and I have been married a little more than two years, and we do not yet have children.

“God calls all sorts of people to the mission field—students, retirees, singles, married couples, large families, etc. We each bring something unique to the places where God sends us.”

It has been rewarding and challenging to navigate the transition from singleness to marriage while also undergoing the overhaul that comes with moving to the other side of the world.

Although we are relatively new to marriage and our current place of service, we have learned some valuable lessons in these transitions.

Challenges for Married Missionaries

Independently codependent
Figuring out how to work together and pay attention to each other’s individual needs can be challenging. My husband and I previously served on the field as singles, where we only had to consider individual needs when making plans. We quickly noticed some friction after trying to weave our schedules together as a married couple.

Others’ assumptions
One of our biggest challenges has been the assumptions made about us. We often hear from other missionaries that things are easy for us because we don’t have kids. Although we know people never intend to discourage us, we often walk away from conversations like that wondering if something is wrong with us because things do not seem “easy.” Entering a new country, learning a new language, and working together to accomplish the mission are not simple tasks. Although we don’t have kids, we still struggle to rustle up the energy to do the work we are called to do.

The locals also make assumptions about us because we’ve been married for two years and still do not have children. I have been told by multiple people that all I need to do is eat this or that and I will become pregnant. People within our new culture begin to speculate that something is wrong if you aren’t expecting a baby after six months of marriage. It is not customary for them to wait to grow a family.

Building a fortress
Another struggle—one for families of all sizes—is the temptation to shield ourselves when things get tough. We want to flee from the uncomfortable and take refuge in our families where we feel safe. In a culture that is so different, it can be exhausting trying to “fit in,” making us feel the need to take a break. The challenge here is to take a break without constantly separating ourselves from our new host culture. If our homes become our fortresses, we may keep our comforts close but we will bar new people from coming in.

Benefits of Being a Married Couple on the Mission Field

Built-in team
Serving on the mission field as a couple has the added bonus of a built-in teammate. My husband and I are sounding boards for each other. We can access people and places we may not be able to on our own. We play off one another’s strengths, working together to spread the gospel among the people we serve. At the end of long days, we can debrief together and learn from each other.

More focused time
Our situation does lend itself to more time to focus on things outside the home. We see the benefits of being able to create a schedule for practicing language and visiting our neighbors that does not revolve around nap times and school activities. Moms and dads have concerns that we don’t yet know about, and we recognize the need to maximize this time to focus on learning our new culture and language.

Welcomed by community
Being married has opened some doors for us to bond with other families. Many people in our host country assume that Westerners live together without being married, which is something they look down upon in their culture. When we tell a new person that we are married, we see an immediate change in their demeanor as they look at us with relief and approval. Our friends welcome us into their homes, and we have common ground with older and younger couples alike.

Advice for Married Couples Considering Overseas Mission Work

If you are married and considering serving overseas:

  • Do ministry together now. Share the gospel and disciple other couples or singles as a team. This will help you learn how to work together and play off each other’s strengths.
  • Practice good communication. Be open with each other about your preferences and needs. Get to know yourself and each other so you can take care of one another on the field.
  • Choose an assignment that fits both of your gifts and strengths. The job you would choose as a single may not be what is best for both of you as a couple.

“Do ministry together now. Share the gospel and disciple other couples or singles as a team.”

When we got married, my husband and I thought we would stay in the States for several years to have a “normal” newlywed life. God obviously had different plans, and I am so glad he did. Although it hasn’t always been easy, we have had a joyful transition to marriage and to missions, growing and learning along the way. If you are married and know you are called to missions, don’t wait until a “better” time. If God calls you to go as a married couple, he will give you the grace you need for every transition.

Harper McKay is a writer serving alongside her husband in Southeast Asia with the IMB.