Single Women Missionaries: Faithful, Fruitful, and Courageous

Single women are powerful participants and leaders in God’s kingdom work in the nations. Today we share words, experiences, and exhortation from single female missionaries with All Nations and from some of our female leaders.

Here are some of the topics the missionaries will be speaking to:

  • Unique challenges of single women in missions
  • Unique opportunities of single women in missions
  • Beautiful ways they have partnered with God in Kingdom work
  • Words for a single woman sensing God’s leadership into missions
  • How married friends could love single women better

We are thrilled to have thoughts from these kingdom workers from around the world – the Middle East, West Africa, East Asia, and South Asia. Scroll to the very end to see what our female leaders have to say – Dr. Mary Ho, Meredith Johnson, and Dr. Pam Arlund!

Let’s begin by acknowledging that more than “just” being single, these women are courageous disciples of Christ. It is easy for single women to be singled out because of their gender and marital status. We not only affirm that the gender and marital status of the women we will highlight this month is good, but that the more extraordinary thing about them is their courageous obedience to Jesus to the ends of the earth! This quote from Michael Frost in Mission is the Shape of Water says it well:

Michael Frost
Missions is the Shape of Water

“In many books on mission history, Mary Slessor is often grouped with her contemporaries like Amy Carmichael, Lilias Trotter, and Lottie Moon, as representing a quaint new mission innovation – the single female missionary. This diminishes their contribution.

It is certainly true they were making different choices about their lifestyle and their future from other young women their age – choices based on their deep devotion to Christ and to the service of others. But in all four cases, these women lived in remote communities, far from conventional mission centers, at great personal cost. they learned local languages and embraced a similar lifestyle to the community they were serving. Their extraordinary achievement was not simply in being female but in courageously obeying Christ’s call to spread the gospel. (p.111)”

Alexa, in the Middle East

Name changed for security

“In the Middle East, there are a lot of expectations that single women will always be accompanied by a father or brother, and they won’t be working independently or living by themselves. There’s a lot of breaking cultural expectations just by arriving as a single woman and living in a house with single women. God turned these challenging expectations into opportunities.

Arriving as a single woman in a culture that is gifted in hospitality has created a lot of opportunity for me as a single woman. I’m invited into homes, I’m treated as a daughter and a sister; people are taking care of me because I’m not with my family and women need to be cared for. It’s actually a lot easier to access homes and families as a single woman than as a single man in this region. God has used it as an opportunity rather than a challenge to really create family here.”

Q: What unique opportunities have you encountered as a single women in missions?

“It is beautiful to know God as my one and only, my Father and my brother, when I don’t have that since I am far from family and friends. Him being my one and only is actually a privilege I highly recommend. He’s the one that does the work, He’s the one that opens the doors, He’s the one that opens hearts.

He has opened opportunities for me as a woman. Women’s communities and relationships are really strong here. So He has cared for me and giving me a strong believing community wherever I go among women – mostly single women.

He’s also partnered with me to open local communities of women to me. Women gather and care for each other regularly, so He has invited me into that. This happens at the gym and in homes, and in different ways like women’s discussion groups and women’s language classes. He’s opened so many doors!”

Q: What are some beautiful ways you have partnered with God in Kingdom work?

“I work in the Middle East, and it’s really important for me that I have safe relationships with married men in a culture where the separation of sexes is so strong. Single women will probably never have trusted local guy friends here. We experience harassment, and there are a lot of negative expectations from a community or cultural viewpoint. For example, people can assume that single female missionaries are not godly people because we’re doing the ‘loose single woman thing’ – we’re not with our families and we’re working jobs. They just assume negative things about us, so it is very difficult to have safe male relationships with locals.

It has been really important in my journey as a single woman to have safe married friends that can be my brothers and my uncles and my fathers. I need to experience that safe family life, and it is difficult to get in this culture because men and women are so separated. I have interactions with local men, but not close relationships with them. So I really value my close married friends where the husband can speak into my life and help care for me. I need those healthy male relationships.

Some couples that come to the field just fall into the cultural expectation of male and female relationships. So the men relate to the men and the women relate to the women. But it’s really important as a church and as believers to recognize this is not God’s intention.

Safe godly men should be relating well to the single women in their lives, to their wife’s friends. I think this gets overlooked by married couples. It’s not easy for married couples in every way, but it’s easy for them to have relationship with each other and then have their friends be separately as the culture would expect. This is unhealthy for the single women in their community.”

Q: What would you like families / married couples to know about being a single woman in missions?

“Never look at your singleness as a hindrance to how God is going to use you. Instead of that, God is going to use it as a way to open doors. I think there’s a lot of misconception in the mission community around the idea that family is more powerful. There are definitely very special opportunities for families and married couples. But if God has asked you to go as a single its because He wants to use you as a single – and He has special opportunities only for you for which He needs a single woman.

You can access places that only single women can access. In my experience, single women are bold! We’re crazy! We go to the hardest places and we go first, and then the families and the men follow. Looking at it from the human point of view, that seems backwards. But God uses it.

Singleness is never a hinderance if He has called you single. It is a gift, and it will actually open doors – because He’s called you that way and He wants to use you that way.”

Q: What do you want single women who sense God’s call to missions to know?

Susan, in West Africa

Name changed for security

Q: What unique challenges have you encountered as a single women in missions?

According to the Islamic tradition, men here are allowing to have a maximum of four wives. Therefore, any man has the freedom to chase another woman. A single non-black woman is an ideal target. I learned about their culture and tradition before moving here, so I know how to turn them down in an easy way. They value relationship and friendship more than anything. So I choose not to be offended when a man approaches me for marriage, and I respond with humor. I might jokingly tell him that I’ll let his wife be the one to hit him for approaching me with the proposal. And sometimes, I take these opportunities to share with them what the true meaning of the marriage is from Scripture.

In addition, as a single woman living in a foreign land, I’ve encountered attacks and dangers. I am very cautious in order to protect myself – I don’t go out alone at night or go to the places that are not safe. I also always pray for God’s protection.

Finally, sickness is a challenge for a person who lives in a poor country alone. God’s mercy has been on me.”

Q: What unique opportunities have you encountered as a single women in missions?

“I have learned how to rely on our Father in heaven firmly since I don’t have anyone else around. When bad things have happened, prayers are my strong weapon.

I have also learned to love people unconditionally just as Jesus teaches. When the children here ask me if I have my own kids, I tell them, ‘You are my children!’ They laugh at me but are really happy to hear what I say. They know that I really love them. I try to forgive them again and again for their wrongdoing just as a mother to her children.

Many parents in this tribe don’t care much about their children’s growth and development. The parents didn’t receive an education themselves, and they don’t care what their children are doing in school. I often see groups of kids wandering around on the streets or playing soccer, or sitting in corners doing nothing. As a single woman I have time and attention to give them!”

Mary, in South Asia

Name changed for security

“Missionary life can be demanding. Without a partner with whom I can share burdens and responsibilities, I have had to build alternative networks to provide emotional support and practical help. (Isaiah 43:19)

Balancing personal life and ministry can also be difficult to achieve. Missions is not a 9-5 job and can only be done through collaboration. This requires me to be connected to different networks – connections through all sort of strings. This is a beautiful thing, but as a single woman without some natural boundaries with (or help from) family it creates a big challenge for me. I’ve learned that without setting personal boundaries, I could easily burn out.”

Q: What unique challenges have you encountered as a single women in missions?

“Due to the fact that I’m growing older I’m perceived as an aunty: in my case an aunty that is to be respected. This “aunty archetype” is a relational crown placed upon me, bringing lots of unique opportunities, the biggest of which is a place in the families. This takes away the usual struggle to build relationships with people of all ages. It is a gift thrown in my lap! Apart from growing older I have done nothing to deserve this status.”

Q: What unique opportunities have you encountered as a single women in missions?

“By myself I can’t do a lot in this country with its huge challenges, but I feel greatly privileged to be a link in the networks God is putting together across structural, temporal and geographic boundaries to address this country’s complex problems. I get to see these networks create collective solutions together and share resources and achieve collective goals God gave us!

I am connected to lots of other ‘branches abiding in Him bringing forth much fruit glorifying God the Father,’ which brings great joy (John 15:4-5).”

Q: What are some beautiful ways you have partnered with God in Kingdom work?

“When I was young the idea of having to live this life without a life partner didn’t attract me at all; it even frightened me. But I can truly say that I would not want to have missed the experience and joy of God taking care of me and of His friendship. He is a great travel companion and life partner.

I’m not saying He can’t be a travel companion and life partner to married couples, but that He is truly enough and able to fill my heart with joy and excitement, and to surround me with His Presence even while staying all alone in a shabby hotel room. Cor. 9:8 says, ‘And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.’ He can do for you what he has done for me!”

Q: What do you want single women who sense God’s call to missions to know?

Jessica, in East Asia (and all over)

Q: What unique opportunities have you encountered as a single women in missions?

“I am a pioneer at heart! I love to start something, pass it on, and then move on! This means I have moved to the next country about every 3 -5 years over the last 20 years. I’ve been in the U.S., East Asia, Southern Africa, South Asia, and am currently back to East Asia (Taiwan). This would never have been possible if I had married and had a family.

I still hope to marry one day and get old with someone but for now my singleness has been a key and critical aspect to my calling!”

Q: What unique challenges have you encountered as a single women in missions?

“In some cultures it was very strange for me to be an unmarried woman living in a country not my own. In addition, I traveled alone a lot for ministry, which shocked my local friends while I lived in South Asia. It didn’t matter that I was almost 50 years old at that time.

On one hand this was a little annoying but on the other hand it revealed a beauty in the culture as many of my local male friends would send me messages while I was traveling just to make sure that I was okay. They were like my little brothers always watching out for me.

In one particular country in South Asia it was not safe for women to walk through the village alone at night. As an American woman I had always taken my freedom to walk anywhere at anytime (within reason) for granted. I adapted, and would rarely be found out and about at night. But one night a dinner with friends in the village ran late. It’s a very small village and so I walked home alone. One of my “little brothers” saw me and was immediately concerned for my safety, insisting that he walk me home.

Another time another local man made unwanted advances toward me. I mentioned it to one of my “little brothers”. I’m not sure what my brother did but that man never even looked at me again! God provided me these “brothers” to help protect me in a place that was not always safe for women!”

Q: What are some beautiful ways you have partnered with God in Kingdom work?

“I am currently in Taiwan pioneering a new mission hub for All Nations. My job is to develop our training/coaching/member care programs so that we can send many, many Taiwanese and other Chinese peoples to the Nations to make disciples, train leaders and ignite church planting movements in preparation for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ!

This nation has historically been a missionary receiving nation but that is changing! This year is the 400th anniversary of the Gospel arriving on the shores of Taiwan. It feels like this time in Taiwan’s history is the time when they will shift from receiving to sending. God has a great inheritance in the Nations for Taiwanese missionaries! And I just feel privileged that God and All Nations leadership have invited me to play the tiniest part in what is happening!”

Q: What do you want single women who sense God’s call to missions to know?

“Firstly, You CAN do all things through CHRIST who strengthens you! Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t! If God says Go, that settles it.

Secondly, don’t enter into anything you do feeling like you have to fight to get noticed all the time. It’s true that as women, especially single women, we may get over looked at times. But God is your defense and He always sees you! As Proverbs 27:1-2 reminds us, ‘Do no boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring. Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips.'”

All Nations’ Leaders

Dr. Mary Ho
International Executive Leader
All Nations International

All Nations’ value for women comes from the top. These are the words of Dr. Mary Ho, All Nations International’s International Executive Leader (see this video for all she had to say!):

“Everywhere I go, I hear comments like, ‘Wow, you and All Nations have such remarkable women leaders!’ We really do…. Among our most dynamic woman leaders are our single women… Single women have gone to the hardest and most risky places on earth that others wouldn’t go.”

“Women have always led, but they’ve been leading as hidden figures… I believe in this century God is calling women to be global leaders… I am so proud to be a woman. This the global century that God is calling us forth to be global leaders.”

Dr. Ho recently published an article with the Lausanne Movement titled “Growing Global Women Leaders form the Majority World.” Click through to read her call for female global leaders!

Meredith Johnson
Co-Executive Director
All Nations Kansas City

When she was still single, this was the advice that Meredith received from Floyd McClung, All Nations’ founder. Check out the Shifting Culture Podcast to listen to how God has led Meredith all around the world!

Fun fact: Shifting Culture is hosted by Joshua Johnson – Meredith’s husband, and the other Co-Director of the ANKC Hub!

Dr. Pam Arlund
Perspectives Co-Editor
All Nations Leader

One theme that repeated through all the answers we heard from our single female missionaries was their unique privilege to know so clearly how dependent they are on God. Here are Dr. Pam Arlund’s thoughts on the subject:

“Single females are, by God’s grace, some of the most vulnerable people on earth. When they leave their families and friends to move to a new location, they are literally left as their one defender and provider as being Jesus. There are no other helpful humans to turn to or rely on, which is a vulnerable and good space to live in.

When I am feeling vulnerable and wish I had a husband or extended family to help with paperwork, the checkbook, trip plans, fixing things, sharing my life and heart, and bringing pleasure (as good spouses do), I pause and thank Jesus that He can do all of those things for me.

Single men face some of these same challenges, but single women are weaker and more vulnerable in most societal situations due to social expectations, lack of physical strength, etc. So, I didn’t mind it when people point out that I was a single female missionary – though I suspect few of them realize how much an advantage that gave me, helping me to know very overtly that I had to rely on Jesus alone.”

Do you sense God’s call to missions? Check out this video and our path to the field, and please reach out to us. We’d love to talk!

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