Relationships

Marriage & Missions: The Pros and Cons of Going Overseas as a Single or Married Couple

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Written by McKenna Von Gunten

If God loves the partnership of marriage and missions so much, why would He call me to be a missionary when I have the desire to be married and I’m still single?

It’s a frustrating question, isn’t it?

If you’ve dreamed of getting married since you were two, singleness can seem like a huge hindering block to life–especially when your calling is to be a missionary. Even the marrieds would agree that it’s hard to find someone in a Christian missions college who not only loves God and knows Him intimately but is also mature in their faith and has a passionate heart for missions.

In this blog, we’ll uncover the pros and cons that marriage and singleness have on the mission field and then look at how God wants you to go about marriage and missions for your own life.

The Pros and Cons of Marriage on the Mission Field

Thriving in Community

Marrieds, becoming a missionary couple will be one of the best and hardest decisions you will ever make. You are going to be able to do life together as a married couple and share in one another’s experiences while also serving side by side together in ministry. However, if you’re pioneering a new ministry, going to another country, planting a church, or moving into a restricted area miles away from any other Christians, your spouse is going to become your community. If you don’t work well in conflict, stress, or confrontation, you’ll need others to help keep each other accountable. If you can, reach out to your family and friends in the States and ask them to pray for you. This will help keep your marriage relationship strong and healthy while also giving you the opportunity to have grace for one another.

On the other hand, marriage has so many opportunities to grow together in the Lord. You can pray together, break out in worship sessions, serve by washing the dishes, and help do the budget for the month. You’ll always have someone to talk to, walk with, and study God’s Word in the evenings. Not only will you grow closer in unity to your spouse, but Christ is going to become the center of your marriage and ministry.

Singles, sometimes God may call you to be single for either a period of time or for the rest of your life because He has something big that He wants to do in and through your life in a way that marriage cannot. Either way, God created all of us to live in community with one another and build relationships. Going on the field with a team who will encourage you, keep you accountable, and work alongside you is important for both your ministry and personal spiritual growth. This is your season to make new friends and focus on God while asking Him to show you how you can grow in your identity. While being a single missionary in a foreign country can be difficult, your singleness is a gift that God can use to partner with believers in some of the hardest and darkest places.

Combatting Loneliness

Marrieds, you are going to experience loneliness even when your best friend is running the race by your side. Your family is going to be on the other side of the world and the only way to reach them is at six in the morning or eight in the evening because of the time difference. Your spouse might be the only person in the country who speaks English and half of the time they are away doing full-time ministry in the village. Making friends takes time–especially if you’re just learning the language–and you’re not going to see the fruit of the gospel right away. You’re going to get homesick, tired, and bored. You’ll wonder why you ever got married to your spouse in the first place and wish you could just curl up on a couch in an air-conditioned room and sleep forever.

Two of the best ways to combat loneliness in marriage is by first spending time with the Lord and asking Him to remind you that He is with you always. Another way is to confide in your spouse. When you’re doing mission work in another country, especially pioneering work as many former missionaries did, you are going to experience many different levels of loneliness. Keep open communication with each other and process these seasons with the Lord. Also, be intentional. Date your spouse once a week and make sure you spend time with them throughout the day. Learn your spouse’s love language and go out of your way to serve them. Persevering with your spouse through these seasons of loneliness will create a healthy marriage and increase your faith and reliance on God.

Singles, every missionary has felt the ache of longing to have someone by their side who knows them. The wonderful news is that you’ve always had someone by your side ever since you were in the womb. Your seasons of loneliness are some of the most beautiful times that you will have with the Father. Sit with the Lord in silence, meditate on the scriptures, and ask for His comfort and guidance in this season. Your heart is undividedly His and all devotion to Him is unrestricted. Ask God to remind you why you’re here and why He called you to serve Him as a missionary overseas. Loneliness can’t thrive when you’re in fellowship with God and surrounded by His Presence. Remember that you are never alone and that all of creation praises His Great Name, no matter what part of the world you are in.

“I pray that no missionary will ever be as lonely as I have been.” –Lottie Moon, single missionary woman to China

Honoring Time on the Field

Marrieds, your time is now forever tied up with each other until the day either one of you go to be with the Lord. One challenge in being a missionary couple is learning how to balance time with God, your spouse, and ministry. There is no longer any freedom to make a decision on your own if you want to accept a dinner invitation without first asking your spouse for their opinion. As a married couple, you will need to ask your spouse for wisdom and discernment before going on a spontaneous two-hour drive to visit a sick man over the border. The key to a successful marriage is good communication with your spouse and when to say yes or no to opportunities that arise on the field.

Singles, have you ever thought about the times when you were completely content in the Father’s Presence where nothing else mattered but being with Him in that moment? Not only does the Lord love your single-mindedness, but He honors single devotion. Your time right now is a precious gift from the Lord to grow in your identity and seek after intimacy with the Father. You have hours and hours to know Him, study His Word, and intercede for family, friends, and the nations. If anyone tells you that you need to get married before going on the mission field, I’ll be the first to tell them that they are wrong. You have the freedom to be spontaneous. You can learn to manage your time now by organizing your priorities and building long-lasting relationships. You are able to make decisions on your own and you aren’t limited in your response to go wherever the Lord calls you. The Father is delighted in your singleness because you are completely and undividedly His–that is the beautiful truth of the Father’s heart for you.

Is it Worth the Cost?

Marrieds, the mission field is never going to be a safe place. Many missionaries have lost their own lives and loved ones to illnesses, diseases, prison, cannibalism, and martyrdom. As a married couple on the field, this is where you will need to come together before the Lord and hand each other over to Him completely. Ask each other, “Is Jesus worth it to risk our lives for the gospel to reach people who have the greater risk of never knowing Him?” When you trust the Lord with each other and understand that you can’t keep each other safe, it creates a new level of dependence on God in your marriage that will keep Him as the center of your life together.

Singles, God may be calling you to remain single and go to the darkest and hardest places on earth. If He is calling you to be a single missionary in a foreign country, never use your singleness as an excuse to not obey Him. He will never see your singleness as a hindrance. The only hindrance He sees is your unwillingness to go. You don’t need to wait to be married to be an effective missionary to obey the Lord’s call. GO. No, God doesn’t desire for you to be reckless and unaware of the danger of going alone to the spiritually dark places, but He will always honor an obedient and tender-heart that longs to go where no one else has dared to go. Being a single missionary is never going to be safe, and while marriage does present a level of safety and security, only God can guarantee that He’ll keep you safe from harm–a spouse cannot.

Love and Respect–Effective Ministry

Marrieds, your marriage can be a great advantage to reaching people with the gospel. When you treat your spouse with love and respect, you are going to be watched day and night. Honoring each other in marriage is not common in most foreign countries, and your marriage can present a powerful opportunity to reach both men and women with the gospel through you and your spouse.

Being a married couple or a single doesn’t make you any less or more qualified for missions in God’s eyes. He has used countless missionary couples and single heroes of the faith who have been pioneers of the mission field to show you that He is not a God who can be limited in what He can do. At the same time, their stories have proved that it is possible to work alone or embrace both marriage and missions at the same time.

“I hope no Missionary will ever come out here, without a wife, as she, in her sphere, can be equally useful with her husband.” –Ann Judson, wife of Adoniram Judson and pioneer missionary to India and Burma.

Benji and Katie (Davis) Majors with their thirteen girls in Uganda.

These are just a few of the missionary heroes who have gone before you and were successful in both marriage and missions:

  • Jim and Elisabeth Elliot
  • Adoniram and Ann Judson
  • Hudson and Maria Taylor
  • Cameron and Elvira Townsend
  • William and Dorothy Carey
  • George and Mary Müller
  • Nate and Marjorie Saint
  • John and Mary Williams
  • Eric and Florence Liddell
  • Jonathan and Rosalind Goforth
  • John and Isobel Kuhn
  • Joseph and Elizabeth Fry
  • Samuel and Amy Zwemer
  • Klaus-Dieter and Tina John
  • Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand
  • Loren and Darlene Cunningham
  • Benji and Katie (Davis) Majors

The challenge for many of these missionary couples was that while in pioneering their own mission work, they lost many of their loved ones. After the death of their spouse, they often continued working in ministry by themselves or remarried and took their new spouse onto the field with them. No matter what their marital status was, they were all very successful in bringing the gospel to unreached peoples–even those who had taken the life of their spouse. God has used their stories of obedience to impact lives across the world for centuries.

The wives and children of Ed McCully, Roger Youderian, Pete Fleming, Jim Elliot, and Nate Saint.

Singles, this is not a season of despair. The Lord doesn’t see you as less than or as a hindrance because you don’t have a spouse by your side. Instead, He looks at the thoughts and intents of a passionate heart as the gateway into effective missions. As a single missionary, you are able to go where no one else has gone, and pioneer what no one else has dared to do. You can be way more effective in ministry because of your singlemindedness towards God.

Sadhu Sundar Singh walked barefoot over the Himalayas to preach the gospel to unreached people groups.

There are actually more single women missionaries than single men and married couples combined on the field today. These are some of the many missionary men and women who went out on the field and never married and were very effective in missions:

  • Amy Carmichael
  • Mary Slessor
  • Lillian Trasher
  • Lottie Moon
  • Ida Scudder
  • Florence Young
  • Corrie Ten Boom
  • Rachel Saint
  • Gladys Aylward
  • Mother Teresa
  • Mildred Cable
  • Helen Roseveare
  • Sundar Singh
  • David Brainerd
  • Clarence Jones
  • David Livingstone
  • Saint Patrick
  • Paul

Amy Carmichael with some of her children from Donahver Fellowship in India.

What does God want for your life?

Marrieds, this is the time for you as a couple to come together before the Lord and ask where He may be leading you. I am praying that the Lord will continue to build your marriage into a strong tower that has Him planted at its center. I am also praying that He will use you as a couple and that your ministry together would be effective in bringing the gospel to unreached nations all over the world.  

Singles, this is the time for you be still before the Lord and know Him. Ask Him to reveal what He wants for your life. You may always have that strong desire to be married, but right now, the Lord might be asking you to step into a dance with Him and let Him lead you until the right one comes along. If it’s in His will for you get married, then He is going to bring that someone along and you’ll be married in His perfect timing. I am praying for you to focus on Him and rest at His feet knowing that He loves you and can use you no matter where you’re at.

In His everlasting grace.

Your friend, McKenna

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