When You Find Love in Your Host Culture

by Nikole Opiyo

It only took a week to realize that I was going to marry my husband. We had had feelings for each other, but realizing that I was a short-term missionary and he was a local, we buckled down and had a deep talk about the reality of the situation. That talk ended in us deciding to get married. In one night all these pieces in my life fell into a place I never thought they would. I remember looking at him the next day and saying to myself, “I found the ONE” and that ‘peace that passes all understanding’ fell upon me like I had never experienced before.

It felt like a dream. A most wonderful dream. The next two years of dating were filled with all the wildness and whimsy that any dating relationship is filled with. Lots of dates and laughter and getting to know each other. Dreaming of the future and wondering what God has in store for us.

As Christians, we sought God like never before. We met with other cross-cultural couples and asked all the hard questions. We talked about culture and gender roles and family and finances. We fought. We frolicked in the beach. We served together in various ministries. I learned how to cook his traditional food and he took a liking to cheese pizza. We stayed on our knees, praying, until the day we walked down the aisle and made a beautiful commitment to belong to each other forever.

However, there is something funny that happens when a missionary girl decides she wants to be in a relationship with a local boy. Everyone seems to put on their skepticism glasses and watch from afar. I hate to admit it, but from my experience, missions agencies and other missionaries are the worst at this. Most agencies I have encountered have rules and guidelines that forbid entering into a relationship with a local. Some don’t allow any serious dating relationships at all — although I am sure they would have been a little more flexible had I found another missionary boy I wanted to marry.

I have talked to other mixed couples who, like us, found each other on the mission field. They have told me stories of how they were hastily separated (sometimes even moved to different countries or returned home), or the mission flew their relatives in to try to bring them home and discourage the relationship. Many of these couples felt like they had to hide. Others did tell their agency, but their bosses started to look down on them.

For my husband and myself, we were ignored. My husband was ‘released’ from the mission a few weeks before I came back to serve with them for a one-year term. The week I left to go home after my term was up, my husband was conveniently re-hired. No one acknowledged our relationship. No one asked how we were doing. No one was accountable to us. Some of them didn’t even show up to our wedding. Through all the wild and whimsical, there was also the lonely and disapproving.

I have asked some agencies why they have these rules, and I understand where they come from. They are worried about being taken advantage of, losing focus of the mission, and being vulnerable through emotional times. Understandable. But here is my suggestion: instead of putting on the glasses of skepticism and backing off, why not draw nearer and look closely?

You know what I really needed? Someone to walk through the journey with me. Because apart from us being in different cultures, I was still a girl who fell in a love with a boy and needed all the support I could get as I waded through this new territory. I needed someone to keep encouraging me in my relationship with Christ knowing that He would give me the ultimate wisdom I needed in deciding who to spend the rest of my life with.

I am so thankful for those who chose to draw near and listen, most of them being our local friends. They asked the hard questions, kept us accountable, and pointed us towards Jesus. Now, six years later, they are still our greatest confidants.

I know we can do better at this, especially as it’s becoming more and more common for short-termers to engage in romantic relationships with people their host communities. Let’s draw nearer, look closer, and point each other to Jesus.


Nikole Opiyo is a small-town Canadian girl who married a Kenyan boy from the ghetto and now they serve in Mombasa, Kenya with The Rehma Project. They have two precious little girls, Mercy and Amina. As a Childbirth Educator and Doula, she is always looking for ways to equip, educate and support pregnant women in her community. She blogs at www.movingwithcompassion.com. You can also follow her on Instagram: nikoleopiyo.

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A Life Overseas is a collective blog centered around the realities, ethics, spiritual struggles, and strategies of living overseas. Elizabeth Trotter is the editor-in-chief.

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