The cost of being a single mission partner

I serve in a culture that values marriage highly, yet if a woman believes in Christ it dramatically reduces her marriage options. Constant ministering to struggling singles highlights my need to keep my own contentment in being single a top priority – so I can minister without hypocrisy that Christ is enough.

Key to this is counting the specific costs related to single missionary life and calling others to pray with me for a willing heart to bear them. These include:

  • Transition-time loneliness: Though I’m grateful for good friends both overseas and in the UK, no one truly shares ‘both my lives’. This is felt particularly acutely each time I travel between locations. 
  • Not having someone to talk to: Working in a closed country, some topics can only be shared with fellow missionaries. There’s a limited and transient community of mission partners where I am and so, when one friend’s parent was suddenly diagnosed with cancer at the same time another friend was on home assignment, I was suddenly left feeling very alone. 
  • Not having a consistent co-worker: In my main ministry, I currently have no one I’ve been working with more than four months. In my first five years of serving here my ministry oversight changed at least once a year. There’s been a lot of change to bear ‘on my own’ and at times it has overwhelmed me.

I’ve needed to learn not to blame myself or others for not planning better (or think the answer is in another ‘thrive overseas’ book or seminar!) - and also not to jump too quickly to glossing over it by saying, ‘it’s a great opportunity to just depend on God.’ I’ve found I need to slow down, acknowledge costs, mourn losses and seek Christ’s help to be content to bear them. 

I’ve realised, as a driven ‘do-er’ by nature, I need to fight the temptation to seek contentment from doing ministry. It can be tempting to spend time with married friends chiefly to see the realities of parenting overseas, to help me appreciate that as a single mission partner I have more time for ministry. But in doing this I am seeking personal contentment in my situation - not in our Saviour. This can lead me to counsel single locals to be content chiefly because marriage would likely be much harder… something I’ve had to repent of!

I’ve found 1 Corinthians 7 increasingly helpful in addressing this: ‘[An unmarried woman’s] aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit… in undivided devotion to the Lord.’ 

It’s a text that is often used to say singleness is great because of the time it gives for ministry (giving way to situational contentment again). It struck me again recently that the language of body, spirit, devotion highlights that singleness is actually a better status for deep devotion to Christ himself. He is the one who is ultimately and eternally satisfying and so - without the ‘distraction’ of the good but not ultimately satisfying relationship with a spouse - singles are better off!

And of course that is what I need to be modelling to those I minister to: that Christ is the one who satisfies and singleness is a state that helps - not hinders - finding satisfaction in him, our ‘living water’. It doesn’t take away the real costs of singleness, rather these are reminders to us that full satisfaction in Christ is yet to come. These costs can open a door to model the Christian hope – that Christ is a ‘spring of water welling up to eternal life’ (John 4:14).

Please pray for single missionaries, that their lives would model that the gospel is good news whatever the cost - including not having a spouse - because knowing Christ now and in eternity is where true satisfaction is found.

Written by a Crosslinks mission partner who has served in a sensitive location for 12 years. Read more about the unseen costs of being a mission partner in the Crosslinks magazine.

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