Better or Worse? – The Single’s Version

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?

Not necessarily.

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?


  1. Kathy August 5, 2015

    Well said.  I most recently moved overseas and even in my 8 months I have gone through a lot of what you’ve shared here. It’s not always easy being single, but it’s not always difficult either. What does make it harder is when people, with good intentions, say things that they just don’t realize are hurtful or insensitive.   And when we as singles try to explain why it hurts, they just don’t get it or think we’re being overly sensitive.

    Life is good… but sometimes it’s just tough.

    1. Krista B August 6, 2015

      Hang in there, Kathy. Single or married, the first year on the field is usually the hardest. May the Lord bless you with someone who really “gets it” when you need it most. And remember that He “gets it” when no one else does.

  2. brooke August 6, 2015

    Thanks for bringing it up.  Being single has advantages in how we deal with the locals, but it sure has disadvantages in our home culture settings.  I travel on furlough by myself for thousands of miles, I struggle to find a place to vacation, I eat most dinners alone and have learned to love silence. I do all the finances for my ministry as well as the correspondence,  while most couples on my field share these jobs or divide them up.  I know how to wire things, and unclog things and hack things, and start a fire and hire employees and teach the Word in another language. I drive on “wonderful” roads alone or with nationals. I can go days or weeks without speaking English.

    I am alone, but I am free to serve in ways my married counterparts are not. I am alone and struggle to share my thoughts and emotions. I am alone and have found comfort in the Lord.

    1. Krista B August 6, 2015

      I am alone and have found comfort in the Lord.

      Love that thought, Brooke. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Christy August 6, 2015

    I’m just headed for my second term in Southease Asia. I remember thinking in my first year tere that “I could die on Friday and my team would not until Wed” that’s when we have our team meeting. Holidays had to be the most difficult. I just tried to plan a lot of Skype calls during those times.

    Like was said in the article it is hard whether you are single or married for different reasons,  I’d like to see more sensitivity on both ends.  I was around a couple moms and I knew I could do things for them that would lighten their load for the day.

    I am so grateful for Velvet Ashes  the articles so often put a voice to what I am feeling.


    1. Krista B August 6, 2015

      Glad the post resonated with you, Christy. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    2. Stephanie August 7, 2015

      I’ve had that thought before too!  I could die and when would someone notice?  In my previous situation, I couldn’t make it to Wednesday because I worked at an international school – someone would start to ask questions on Monday.  But still…

      I don’t do lots of Skype calls during holidays, though, and prefer to celebrate with a family, here, locally.  Usually another expat family.  Because 99% of the time, I love the auntie role.  Only 1% of the time do I begrudge the babysitting requests.

  4. Karen August 6, 2015

    Thank you for expressing some of the experiences of a “single” cross-cultural worker so well. As I was reading the article, and others comments, I felt a sense that it our experiences could be summarised like this. Being a single cross-cultural worker overseas isn’t necessarily harder or easier than for couples or families, it’s just different! The older you get, the more “different” it becomes.

    1. Krista B August 6, 2015

      Good summary, Karen–thanks for adding your thoughts!

  5. Lizzie August 7, 2015

    Thank you for this. It is a great perspective to think about as I am praying and looking into going over seas. I am single and female and sometimes that fact makes me doubt if going is a good idea.  So to hear that it has its gifts and struggles gives me hope.


    1. Krista B August 7, 2015

      The Lord bless you as pray about overseas service, Lizzie. It is wise to look for hope and examples of the Lord’s faithfulness to those who have “done it” rather than to focus on the challenges and the doubts.

  6. Ashley Felder August 7, 2015

    My husband and I have discussed numerous times how  often times, it is much harder to be a single on the field. He was one before we were married. Me? Not sure I would’ve done it. So, let me join the Father in rejoicing in the fact that all of you women took the leap to serve as a single. We will continue to pray for you on your journey. And, continue to pray for ways that we can help meet your needs…whether that’s sharing a meal or sending my husband to fix your toilet. 🙂

  7. Krista B August 7, 2015

    Thank you, Ashley, for your prayers and your great attitude towards working together.

  8. Mallory August 16, 2015

    Thank you, Krista! I’ve been on the field as a single for three years, and resonated with everything you said, especially your four comparison points. Thanks for putting my thoughts and feelings into words.

    1. Krista B August 16, 2015

      Thanks for the encouragement, Mallory. Glad my words could be a blessing to you, even just as a reminder that you’re not alone.

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