All the Single Ladies

Many Women Feel that These Are Their Options.

The future for single female missionaries looks a bit bleak. Why? Because single women outnumber men 4 to 1 on the mission field.

There are many wonderful women who want to become missionaries, but they desire another godly thing that conflicts with this desire: A man.

This is no sin. Women have the God-given desire to marry and to have children, just as men do. In fact, they probably have it stronger than men.

What are they left with? If they become missionaries while still single, the chances that they’ll marry somebody from their home culture are not very good. Now they’re left with a choice: To be a missionary and an old maid, to marry and live the American dream and not be a cross-cultural missionary, or become a missionary and marry somebody from a different culture.

If you’re a missionary in Western Europe, marrying somebody from that culture is probably not much of a change. A single missionary in Europe (if the missionary is from the West,) won’t deal with too much cultural difference. Both of you are from the developed world, both of your countries share capitalism, a strong work ethic, similar worldviews, respect for education, women’s rights, and even your food will be similar. The language might be different, but you’ll both likely speak English as your first or second language.

No big deal, right?

Now, if a woman goes to North Africa, the story is very different. A converted man in North Africa has a different worldview and a much different perspective on a man’s and woman’s roles. He doesn’t come from the “first”world. Certain aspects of education and rights for women are very different.

Now, he’s not necessarily wrong about any of these things, not any more wrong than a Westerner is, but his view is radically different, making marriage (the equal yoking of two human beings) nearly impossible. It is generally accepted by Christian and secular psychologists that it is very hard for two people from radically different cultures to marry. However, God can still ordain this and definitely works through it.

So, it depends on culture. If you go as a single missionary to Amsterdam, no biggy. Scotland, even less. You can find a spouse from the people-group you’re trying to reach. If you go to Libya however and marry a local that came to Christ after being a Muslim, you’re in for a world of shock.

Every culture has their preferences. There are biblical commands and principles that need to be followed, but after that, Christians the world over have remarkably different preferences. It’s very hard for people with different preferences to be yoked together. For example, it would be hard for a Western woman to submit, (a biblical command) to a man whose preference is that only their sons be educated.

That said, many woman have to choose between marrying and being missionaries.

This is a very grave issue, and I can’t decide which is worse:

1. That less women are going on the mission field because of this, or

2. That so few men are going on the mission field.

I lean on the second one as the greater problem. Yes, it is definitely the second one. Men should be leading in this field. It should be the men if anyone who risk never marrying because of the Great Commission.

Where are all the single men? Why aren’t men leading in this?

For Men:

Men, go into missionary work! For those of you who’ve considered this strongly at one point or another, and you know who you are… seriously, take the plunge! Not only will you be fulfilling a biblical command, but you will be giving up so little in return. There are plenty of single women on the mission field. You don’t have to decide between marriage and missions like women sometimes do. You can fulfill the great commission abroad and also fulfill a single woman who’s already there, praying for a husband.

You’ve been given the God-given mandate to lead women and to lead in ministry, so start leading already!

For Women:

Stay strong! Don’t settle for a man that won’t be a missionary. Don’t wait for a husband to go on the field. Above all, pray and seek the Lord. Pray that God would pour his Holy Spirit on men in calling them to mission work. Pray that he’d awaken in them a burning passion for the Gospel.

Question:

Why are so many more women on the field? Why aren’t men becoming missionaries? What is at the root of this problem and how can we solve it?

35 Responses to “All the Single Ladies”

  1. Jeshurun May 12, 2011 at 2:49 pm #

    For your point on men, it’s not just missions, men need to buck up in general and be men. Men in this society are an endangered species.

    • mike olmstead May 12, 2011 at 4:37 pm #

      We named our first child after a pioneering missionary to Ethiopia– never married and had 46 years on the field! Selma Bergsten was wonder. She spent her last years in a nursing home. Pretty much all she remembered at the end were Scriptures and hymns. And, she shocked the African staff when she spoke better Walamo than they did! Her memory is honored every time we speak Selma’s name. I wonder if she ever wanted to marry?

      • Jordan May 17, 2011 at 11:58 am #

        Good question. I’d never heard about her before. She sounds like a great missionary! Thanks for your comment Mike!

    • Jordan May 13, 2011 at 2:07 pm #

      Amen! We need to pray and act that men would awaken!

  2. Lauren May 13, 2011 at 5:00 am #

    As a young single lady, I’ve definitely felt this tension. Ultimately, though, though I both strongly feel “called” to missions and to be a wife/mother, I have to trust God with His plan. I can’t determine when I’ll get married – whether at home or abroad – but I can have an impact now by being obedient to be involved in missions.

    This is an off-the-cuff response, but perhaps there are more women on the mission field because they have more opportunities to serve there than in a traditional church setting – beyond the nursery and the women’s brunch. It also seems guys have a lot more pressure to succeed in a career.

    • mike olmstead May 13, 2011 at 3:12 pm #

      good thoughts Lauren.

    • Jordan May 17, 2011 at 12:00 pm #

      Lauren, good point! Many women who are very committed might go into missions because they don’t have the biblical role to become pastors or certain kinds of leaders. I’d never thought of that.

      Thanks for your comment! Praise God for you being obedient now and getting involved in missions!

    • Brian Stankich May 23, 2011 at 8:25 pm #

      Yeah, that career pressure is important. I can’t deny that. But in the scheme of things, it can be a distraction from God’s heart. The two can be married (no pun intended) by single men building a career while living internationally if he is intentional about it (see post on tent-making).

      A related common difficulty for women like Lauren is when single ladies work cross-culturally and then get married. As a married missionary who begins a family, they often miss and long for the days of ‘freedom’ when they were single. Just a heads up that I’ve seen this a lot. It can be headed off with proper orientation and training though.

    • Cheryl Weber May 26, 2013 at 9:04 pm #

      It’s alot harder though when you are no so young and really beginning to feel the loneliness of your never married status…and the frustration of finding a mate who had a calling to the particular field of missions to which you are called. As my pastor said this morning, sometimes the hardest thing we can do is wait.

    • Please do pray for India and you can contactme if the Lord leads you. We are into church planting ministry by sending missionaries to the unreached millions in darkness. Will be praying for you.my email is samuelwithjesus@gmail.com.

  3. Brian Stankich May 23, 2011 at 8:19 pm #

    Excellent topic! It is a huge problem, but apparently, God doesn’t agree, because he doesn’t seem to be resolving the issue. He is content to let these ladies serve single, seek him, and become more like Christ in the process. Come to think of it, that is what he wants for all of us – to seek him and become like him. This “problem” may not go away any time soon.

    I will wholeheartedly disagree about your comments regarding an American marrying a European – the cultural differences are significant.

    Most young single guys are not mature enough to live and minister cross-culturally. It is a reflection of our weak churches, not preparing men to be self-disciplined, godly, holy, and purposeful. Our young men are not dreaming godly dreams. They are swallowed instead by cultural traps of lust, significance, and climbing hills rather than mountains.

  4. alelige May 24, 2011 at 2:50 pm #

    My God bless all of them

  5. ashley May 27, 2011 at 9:09 pm #

    I think part of the problem with men is the “Peter Pan” mentality. We as a society are pushing adolescence too far into adulthood. Men aren’t expected to mature until their mid-twenties once they finish college and find a “real” job/career. I’m not saying every Christian man falls into this category, but when society as a whole has certain expectations (or lack thereof), I think some of that crosses over into to the church and can affect spiritual maturity as well.

    • Lisa October 31, 2011 at 3:20 am #

      I completely agree with you!

  6. stevehoose May 27, 2011 at 9:31 pm #

    I think the tendency in the church lately is for men to be pressured to “be a hero” suck it up and just go overseas, whether you have a desire to be married or not. I don’t think there should be any shame for a man who stays on the homefront and waits to be married (unless God is clearly calling him to go now). My biggest exhortation is that single men going into the field would have at least one other single man as a ministry partner in any team context. I was part of a team that started out as 3 couples and me (single male) and we thought I could just tough it out. The reality that people in this situation will encounter is that with all the pressures of married life in the field, our married friends just aren’t going to have all the time in the world to spend with us, and you will end up spending a lot of time alone. Which, generally speaking, isn’t too healthy overseas.

    • Kelli August 30, 2012 at 6:38 am #

      I realize I’m super late in responding to this, but I just had to ask a question. Why is it okay for the guy to stay at home and wait to be married? And, if that is okay, should women do the same? The point was made in the blog that many women don’t go to the mission field because they’re at home waiting to have a husband first, but then they get married to a guy who doesn’t have the calling to go. If the guy marries a woman who’s still at home, wouldn’t he have the same problem? Wouldn’t his best chance of meeting a mission-minded woman be on the mission field itself?

      I ask this because I myself am a single female career missionary, and I have had to face the strong likelihood that I will never marry for exactly the reasons this blog addresses. I actually had the American dream financially before I went on the field, only to discover that I didn’t want it. The Lord is so much more valuable than that, and I don’t regret a moment of my choice to follow Him overseas. But I still have the desire to be married and, as hard as I try to crush that desire and long for it to be replaced by some “call to singleness” that will replace it, it’s still there. I refuse to be disobedient and return to life in the homeland (until He calls me back here), but I would love to minister together with a missionary husband. But it seems they’re all either already taken or being encouraged to wait around at home until they can find a missionary wife. And it just makes me want to scream, “But I’m already over here!”

      One example, and I’ll shut up. :) My former pastor, a dear friend of mine and a very godly man, felt called to mission work for years, but he longed to be married before he went. He did finally marry in 2009 at age 37. His wife did not have a call to missions herself but had told him that she would definitely submit to what he felt called to do. Now, three years later, he no longer discusses going to the field himself and seems less interested in missions at all. I’m telling you, that used to be his passion! You couldn’t spend an evening with him without hearing him talking about mission work with this light in his eyes, but it’s gone now as he’s settled into being an associate pastor with a wife and young son. Is he being disobedient? I don’t know. I just wonder what happened to the passion he felt for God’s call and, admittedly, I do wonder if he settled for a lesser god rather than sacrificing to follow the real One.

  7. Aaron May 27, 2011 at 11:51 pm #

    My understanding is that in the US, women out number men in both church attendance and in those who profess Christ as their salvation. Is the mission field more skewed than the church as a whole when it comes to gender disparity? Or could this be a product of less men in the church?

    • Jordan June 2, 2011 at 1:43 pm #

      Aaron this is a good point. Women definitely outnumber men in the American church. It’s been this way in Christianity ever since the second century actually. I’m sure they don’t outnumber men 4 to 1 though. Maybe 2 to 1, but yes, great point. We should expect women to have more of a presence since there are more female believers. Also, in many denominations, Women cannot be recognized as pastors, so many who feel led to full time ministry become missionaries instead, whereas men have the option.

  8. amanda bradbury June 24, 2011 at 12:35 am #

    Interesting. Brilliant site Jordan. Controversial question, If a woman is married can she continue to serve as a missionary? Of course theoretically yes, but in reality? If you have to spend twenty something years devoted to raising a family, plus also most likely to earning a living as well, how much time is left to do mission? Does anyone know of a married woman raising a family who is a missionary? It seems impossible. Maybe that’s one reason God leaves many Christian female workers single. Getting married for a male missionary means gaining support, having a home and more stability that may help him do mission. Getting married for a female missionary most likely means giving up mission at least as a priority to raise children instead. I’d like to be wrong but I can’t think of anyone that doesn’t fit this. I’ve heard of female missionaries turning down marriage because of this. But being on your own especially on the mission field is hard and long term isn’t a viable option for many women either. It’s hard if you are female and your passion is mission, since you are basically a bit stuck between two options that block your way.

    • Jordan September 5, 2011 at 11:11 pm #

      Great thoughts Amanda. It’s right that if a woman wants to do full-time mission work, she won’t be able to be a very good mother at the same time. That said, single women often don’t find as much contentment in mission work. They want a husband. Some women are gifted with the gift of singleness, but not many. It’s the same for men. Maybe the best thing a woman could do is marry a man who is a missionary (or will become one) and be a blessing to him and help him during the years that she’s helping mostly with the kids.

      She can still do outreach for 10-15 hours a week. She’ll be effectively helping mission by making her husband better and more supported from the foundation up. After her kids grow to the age when they won’t need constant supervision she can become a bit more involved. When they hit mid teens she could become nearly full-time as is her husband.

      Though she might not be on the frontline during those child-rearing years, she’s still very effective in her support and encouragement of her husband and in her own part-time work. That said though, a single woman, if she can stay in the field long term, will be more fruitful. Thanks so much for your comment!

  9. Nicole August 9, 2011 at 10:37 pm #

    I hear the idea that women out number men 4 to 1 on the mission field and my heart cries, “my God is able to prepare a table in the wilderness.” I think the bottom line is that we should walk in obedience. If God is leading you to the ends of the earth, just go! He will take care of the details. God is more than able to provide husbands for single female missionaries even if He has to raise them up out of the rocks.
    Also, although it’s difficult to embrace the prospect of becoming an “old maid,” how miniscule will the pain of being single for about 30 years seem when compared to the glory of seeing all those who escaped an eternity in hell b/c of your sacrifice, walk the streets of heaven.

  10. amanda bradbury September 7, 2011 at 11:18 pm #

    It’s a man’s world. How sad that a woman can’t be married and be a missionary. I wonder if it’s possible for a man to give up having children so their wife can do mission instead of having to carry out the duty of raising kids. If female missionaries consider sacrificing marriage completely to do mission then why couldn’t a guy consider sacrificing just the having children part? I imagine they wouldn’t though. Also I have the impression sometimes that although people accept that a guy can have a strong calling from God and a purpose, they don’t believe that a woman can be called in that way. Yet they are. I suppose it’s up to God though, everything is possible even if it’s extremely unlikely.

    • Makena June 22, 2013 at 6:10 pm #

      Amanda,

      As someone who always imagined adopting, I can tall you that something changes when you get married. It’s harder to be satisfied staying single than to be satisfied without children once you are in a wonderful relationship. I still want to adopt, but I remember the strange feeling of yearning for my own children–and the huge blessing they have been–which makes me feel there’s no shame in “spending time raising children” for a woman on the mission field. In fact, many places lack the example of a godly Christian mother and missionary kids may well be the source of those mature men we need more of!

  11. Corin December 10, 2011 at 10:29 am #

    I don’t know if it’s a question of missionary or mother for women on the mission field. I grew up on the mission field and I am sure that as a family we demonstrated God’s love and God’s purposes for/through families. I guess it really depends on one’s perspective. What a priviledge it is for one to spread God’s love to those who don’t know or see it!

  12. Kate April 11, 2012 at 3:11 am #

    Could you tell me where you got the stat about single women outnumbering 4:1? I am writing a paper on the issue. And this is very interesting.

    • Jordan April 14, 2012 at 11:08 pm #

      We responded to Kate via email, but thought others might be interested too. I (Jordan) heard this at training at MTI, Mission Training International. I tried to dig up where they got the stat but couldn’t find it. They’re a great source though. Thanks for reading and asking!

  13. Jeanine September 3, 2012 at 3:16 pm #

    I am a single latina missionary in my early 30′s…missionary in South East Asia…working mayorly in chinese culture…I believe there is no higher calling between missions and marriage/family. Both are God glorifying, disciples making callings. However, I am aware that the “statistical” chances of finding my husband in the missions field are low likely. The reality is, God still All-powerful, All sovereign and in complete control. If he wants me to marry a godly man willing to obey him….He will bring him even riding IN a whale (unless he wants to obey and come in airplane)….So we can have peace…I really want to get married, have my family and adopt a baby, but God is bigger than that and if one thing I know is that HE IS FAITHFUL! So yes…men please come to the missions field. For those who are scared of coming with your families, please obey the Lord. I assure you, that there is no other place of more joy for you and your children than in God’s will. So whether you are marrried or single…Honor God :)

    • Khuram June 13, 2014 at 4:18 am #

      Hi, I am so glad that you are serving in China. I was reading the book on Hudson Taylor – A man in Christ in China. It is a wonderful book. I am from Pakistan and I am an indigenous missionary and served also in UK and USA! My email is khurram.fcc@gmail.com

      God bless and I look forward to hear from you!

  14. Esperanza April 13, 2013 at 7:03 pm #

    I agree that there are fewer men in proactive or leadership roles within Christian groups anyway. But I think maybe another reason there are so few single men on the mission field is that they marry before they go. I have met many missionary couples where the husband is the initiator in coming to the mission field – the wife supports him and comes too of course, becoming passionate about the work as well. But I think fewer Christian husbands would do the same. For a man, marrying does not often mean giving up on overseas mission. For a woman, I think it often would.

  15. crystal August 20, 2013 at 8:37 pm #

    I am 35 single (never been married) and am a woman on the mission field. I can relate to this tension–it isn’t easy, and although sometimes I feel like my heart breaks, by God’s grace day by day it is possible! I just want to encourage men to step out–YOU are needed on the mission field. Women stay strong, trusting in God;s loving care and cling to the truth that when we finally see Jesus it will be worth it all.

  16. Seth November 1, 2013 at 7:35 am #

    I am a 35 year old single male with a heart for missions. I have never understood if I am truly “called” to be a missionary. I know without a doubt that I am “called” to serve the Lord in full-time ministry though. After graduating from Bible College and Seminary, through which I ventured into various internships in both pastoral and missions/church planting, I felt “led” to Canada to assist in cross-cultural church planting in a large multi-cultural city. I was so excited, but no sooner than I arrived, the team broke up, I became confused and isolated, loneliness came in and I struggled with sexual temptation, yet I still persevered alone trying to find another team, evangelizing, living among unreached people groups, and dreaming of making disciples. After trying to join 2 more teams on the field and it not working out, everyone was telling me to just go out alone and “be a man”. I thought about Paul, and wondered why He had never been commissioned alone, how Jesus had sent the disciples out two by two, and how the specific statement about Adam was, “It is not good for man to be alone.” I struggled for 1 1/2 years with the pressures of starting something. I had many days full of mountaintop experiences of ministry and evangelism, praising God for the opportunity to serve alone, but the same night as I was alone in my apartment building the loneliness of the valleys corresponded to the majesty of the mountaintops from those very same days. It felt like I was becoming bipolar. After meeting a missionary minded woman who rejected me because I was not “doing anything” in her opinion. I was working a bi-vocational job, supporting myself, and assisting other teams around that schedule. After the rejection by her and by another team, I crashed, the loneliness, discouragement, and disappointments were too much. Maybe I’m weak. Yes, I’ve wondered if I am just one of those guys who was raised in a man-diminished N. Amer church/culture. Do you know how much guilt this all brought upon me, much of it false? I’ve decided that it is far better for me to get married first before attempting to go out again in that kind of role. Why would I risk falling into sexual sin and destroying my whole ministry career? It is not good for a man to be alone. Okay, we each have to decide with wisdom and faith, but let us also remember that we are free in Christ and that the primary objective of our salvation is not to make other disciples but to be conformed to the image of God’s Son. “For this is the will of God, even your sanctification” 1 Thess. 4 and “Obedience is better than sacrifice” – Following a subjective personal call to the mission field is not a matter of obedience or disobedience. Breaking God’s revealed commands is disobedience. Going to the mission field is a step of sacrifice. Anyway, this is my story, how the Lord is currently leading me, and it is mixed with lots of prayer, struggles, questions, etc.

    • Kelli January 31, 2014 at 5:27 pm #

      Wow, Seth, thanks for sharing your story. As a single female missionary, I’ve admit that I’ve often wondered (rather judgmentally) where the single guys are and why they always seem to wait around at home to get married rather than going forward with their call to the field. But you bring up some really excellent points. In particular, your point about God saying, “It is not good for man to be alone,” was made specifically about Adam. I had never considered that it might be referring to the male gender more so than females, but perhaps that is the case. Regardless, I’m sorry you had to go through so much, my brother. You’ll be in my prayers that the Lord will bring you a missionary wife who will be your helpmeet in ministry. Thanks for opening my eyes to the struggles my brothers go through.

    • Patara August 9, 2014 at 9:44 pm #

      I am happy to see a man just as yourself that loves the work of our precious Lord.

  17. Jackie February 24, 2014 at 1:00 am #

    I have been thinking more and more about missions and why the vast majority of missionaries are families. Paul says that the unmarried person is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord but the married person is anxious about worldly things, how to please their spouse and so their interests are divided (1 Cor. 7:32-35 )If this is true, wouldn’t the most God focused missionaries be single people? Shouldn’t our churches be encouraging single people to go into missions and especially single men since there are so few of them?

  18. Khuram June 13, 2014 at 4:22 am #

    I praise God for using me on mission field and I am also praying for a wife who can join me to work in Pakistan. I am praying for this purpose because Bible says that ‘A wife comes from God’. Its the grace of God and its the gift from God! I am an evangelist missionary and I am involved in mission work in UK, USA and Pakistan. I request all of you to keep me in your prayers that God bless me with a wife – who has heart for God and people and have calling to serve God in missions, through any dimension.

    My age is 27 and I am a business graduate as well theology graduate from UK. God bless. I can be reached through my email that is following:

    Khurram.fcc@gmail.com

    Grace and Peace,

    Khuram

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