After writing the post on single missionaries about a month ago a number of people who are working overseas and are single contacted A Life Overseas. And it was so good. Because we realized we had been neglecting this critical part of our community. Today our guest poster Geren St. Claire talks about what he has heard from some single missionaries through his work at CalledTogether. You can read more about Geren at the end of the post.
A Life Alone
Everyone who has ever experienced the joyful shock of uprooting their entire life and re-implanting it in a new culture knows how surprisingly lonely such a move can be. But what many of us do not fully understand is the double burden carried by those who move overseas without the comfort and support of a spouse. Singleness intensifies isolation. Consider the following illustration:
The intensity of isolation grows when a person does not have the support of a family. One single worker put it this way:
“Cross cultural loneliness is its own kind of loneliness. No matter what you do or how hard you try, you will never be able to integrate 100% into your adopted culture. Yet once you integrate even a little, that culture has become a part of you. You will never see or fit into your home culture the same way again. This whole process can be surprisingly wonderful, but at the same time terrifyingly isolating. It is no wonder that many of us do not want to walk this path alone. We want someone there with us who can honestly tell us, “I know exactly how you feel.”
Singles on the field often tell me about their difficulty coming to a sense of true belonging, even among their team. Perhaps that is why singles are about 40%-50% less likely to go overseas long-term. Add those numbers up: With a global total of around 500,000 cross-cultural workers, the international Church may be losing as many as 80,000 potential harvesters due to the isolation of singleness.
As we pray for the Lord to send more workers into the harvest field, we ought to consider new ways to recruit, sustain, encourage, and empower singles for the work ahead. I oversee a network of globally-called singles, and I invited some of them to share their hearts with you—both the good and bad. Here’s a summary of what they said:
4 ways to Empower Singles (As Told by Singles)
- Honor them. “Give… honor to whom honor is due” (Romans 13:7). Singleness on the field is difficult and scary, and those who follow Christ in the face of these difficulties are worthy of honor. 71% of the singles who responded to our internal poll said that isolation is a major issue for singles who serve Christ overseas. How can you recognize and honor that sacrifice?
- Invite them to belong. We are designed for more than just marriage. We’ve been grafted and intimately woven together in Christ. We are one Body. One Bride. Brothers and Sisters. Adopted Children. When I read the book of Acts, I am always overwhelmed by the familial intimacy shared by the early Christians—to such a degree that the Romans mistook them as incestuous. The early Christians adopted one another into their families, and shared life with one another. We ought to do the same today. But this doesn’t just happen by itself. Melanie recounts her experience on the field,
“it seems like 99 meals out of 100, I eat alone. For about a year, I had a standing weekly ‘date’ to eat dinner with a worker family on my team. Words can’t say what this simple thing meant to me. It’s generally not enough for a worker family to say, ‘Oh, you’re welcome here any time.’ But specifically inviting me to share meals and life and events with them was a great blessing.”
Are there singles in your city? What would it look like for you to adopt them into your family? Did a single recommend this article to you? Maybe take that as a friendly hint.
- Don’t Look Down on Singles
There are a whole slew of emotions that can stem from being single on a team of married couples, and singles are not often in a position to express their frustrations. Staci offered some helpful examples of team dynamics that had hurt her:
[last year,] our team leader didn’t think it was worth it to keep doing our monthly team meetings because the other married couple was out of town. Now, from my perspective, it felt as if somehow we (the singles) weren’t important enough to keep our team-meetings going…
…Another thing I often experience is being treated like I’m a teenager. Our team leader is only a few years older than I am, but often calls my team-mate and I “the girls” and talks about how young we are and how we need looking after… it often feels belittling whether they mean it or not.
Lest we drift into pride, lets reflect on a few simple truths and ask God to expose any error in our thinking. Here are some truths about singleness and marriage that may serve as correctives:
– Singleness is not something to be pitied. Certainly, there are side effects of singleness that may warrant compassion—loneliness, insecurity, dreams lost or delayed, etc. But singleness itself is not a bad thing, as Paul makes clear in 1 Corinthians 7. Making this distinction can help you immensely as you try to empathize with singles.
– Marital status isn’t something earned or deserved. There shouldn’t be pride or shame in either case, because marriage is always a gift from God.
– Marriage is a blessing. God loves good marriages, so seeking a good marriage is one way to honor God. There is no shame in desiring or pursuing marriage, because God calls it good.
– Marriage cannot be used to enhance or prove someone’s value or worth—to attempt to do so is idolatry.
– Likewise, marriage cannot complete a person.
– Marriage doesn’t make a person more holy. God sanctifies through marriage, but He also sanctifies through singleness. Given that Jesus and Paul were both single, it is dangerous to say that marriage opens a person up to ‘higher levels’ of sanctification. That may be the experience of some, but marriage has stifled the sanctification of others. What sanctifies is living in the light of community, and this can come through, or apart from, marriage.
– Singleness has some advantages that should be recognized. For example, as Melanie writes, “Many singles integrate into a host culture in a way that married folks and families don’t. When they return to their apartment each night, they don’t have a home-culture family to retreat to. Value this skill.” Likewise, the apostle Paul speaks in 1 Corinthians 7 about how singles are able to focus more intently on the work of the Lord, because their time and attention is not divided.
How have you hurt the singles around you by harboring false attitudes towards singleness? Where might repentance be necessary? What about confession?
- Hook a brotha up!
Once our attitudes are correctly calibrated (and usually not until then), we can begin to help our single friends search for a godly spouse. Most (but not all) singles have a strong desire to be married, and you might be surprised just how willing they would be to receive your help. But you need to offer help with the right kind of attitude, or it can come across as condescending.
You can network with other team leaders within your organization, or with friends back in your sending churches. Singles on the field have very few opportunities to connect with potential marriage material, and they may gain a lot of hope just knowing that the doors are still open, whether or not you actually find the right person for them.
Finally, you might consider telling your single teammates about www.CalledTogether.us, which is an inter-agency network of globally-called singles. The website has grown quickly since its May ‘14 launch to include more than 1000 singles, further highlighting their felt need for community.
Are the singles on your team open to your help in their search a spouse? Is your attitude toward singleness getting in the way? How can you help them in their search?
There are great gains to be made, both for the Church and for our teams, if only we can learn to love singles more effectively. And truthfully, love should not need a justification. It is its own reason. So I challenge you to connect with, belong to, and love the single God has placed around you, for the sake of Jesus’ name.
— Author Bio —
Gerin St. Claire (@gerinteed) is the cofounder and director of operations for CalledTogether. He recently completed seminary and now lives with his wife in Dallas, TX.