A single coworker once commented on the bizarre frequency with which “single” is used as an identifying characteristic for those serving abroad. It’s true. Did you even blink when I described her as a “single coworker”?
Why do we talk about a single teacher in Africa, a single translator in Asia, or a single nurse in South America? Because life is very different as a single on the field.
As a single, I felt a call to serve overseas. I talked about it with family and friends, of course. But then I quit my job, raised support and moved myself and my, um, suitcases to the other side of the world. My church family and my organization supported me in that process, but an awful lot of it looked like I was doing it on my own. No one else to convince this was God’s plan for our lives, no other schedules to coordinate, no second tickets to buy.
On the field, I landed in the orientation course, naturally gravitating towards the other singles who didn’t know a soul this side of the ocean.
The transition meant learning to cook from scratch with locally available ingredients. It also meant figuring out electrical systems, new technology and more than I ever wanted to know about plumbing. One person, multiple new skill sets, all while living somewhere with limited access to YouTube. I am grateful for others who lent their expertise to the “poor single girl”, but even then it was up to me to decipher enough of the problem to ask the right person for help. Again, an awful lot of it looked like I was doing it on my own.
I am not complaining. Really. I have grown in ways I could not have imagined. Single life is not necessarily harder, but it’s definitely not easier. And that’s what I need my married colleagues to hear.
I have friends, even close friends, who point out why my singleness means I have it easy. Sorry, not true.
- Yes, I don’t have to cook a hot meal for someone every evening. But no one celebrates with me if I nail a new recipe or manage to track down rare, exciting ingredients.
- I don’t have to deal with a spouse’s jet lag and culture shock in the middle of my own, but there’s also no one here to be the link to the familiar when I need it most.
- I don’t have to mesh my writing style with someone else’s for a joint newsletter. But no one communicates for me when I can’t get to it.
- Because no one is depending on me at home, sometimes I have crazy flexibility to meet urgent needs or serve in unexpected ways. But sometimes my colleagues depend on me a little too much to make crazy changes to my schedule to meet urgent needs… or just to babysit.
Is ministry easier as a single? Travel? Language learning? Home life? Boundaries?
Everyone who serves abroad has gone through radical changes. We have crossed cultures, oceans and language barriers. We have—hopefully!—learned to withhold judgment and give extra grace to ourselves and others while in transition. We need to keep applying those lessons to our relationships with our colleagues. Single or married, our lives can seem as different from each other as the lives we live now are from the ones we left behind.
Easier or harder? Better or worse? Hard to say. Probably just different. And keeping that in mind is a critical step in bearing one another’s burdens in a way that puts God’s love and grace on display in our communities.
What would you like for other singles or married to know?