Decision time?

Many mission agencies benefit hugely from the input of single mission personnel.  Their flexibility, focus and availability are a huge blessing.  Many of our new recruits are young single people seeking to serve God in mission, and they throw themselves wholeheartedly into their work.  Over the years, many will get married, but there is still a sizeable minority who don’t.  Irrespective of the unique personal needs arising from being a single person in mission, which can be very demanding, sending agencies can often inadvertently contribute to crushing the feelings of single mission workers.  By making assumptions about the flexibility of singles, they can unintentionally contribute to stress and burnout.  Sometimes they can take advantage of singles to such an extent that, in a different context, it could be seen as discrimination or even abuse.

For example, it is often taken for granted that single people should share accommodation, while married people are entitled to their own homes.  While this is logical in terms of finance – and perhaps single people find it hard to raise sufficient support to pay for solo accommodation – it can also be very demoralising in the long term.  Imagine how it might feel to be an introverted 45-year old single woman in this position.  While couples much younger than her are given their own home as a right, she is expected to share with a succession of randomly allocated strangers with whom she may not actually get along, and so never has a place called ‘home’ that she can retreat to?

Here are some other areas where your agency may need to reconsider how it treats single mission workers:

Up country – send the singles?

Deployment – when considering deployment issues, does your agency make decisions about who to send up country on the basis of whether they have children who would have no access to good education there?  It may be sensible to ask the single people to go, but is it fair on them to ask them to make sacrifices you wouldn’t ask of mission workers with families?  Next time you find yourself saying ‘It wouldn’t be fair to ask so-and-so because he’s married/got children’, ask yourself whether it’s fair to ask others just because they haven’t.  Is that manipulative?

Status – How does your agency consider the status of single workers?  Are they perceived sub-consciously as short-termers because they haven’t ‘settled’, and therefore are not consulted, trained or promoted?  How many single mission workers are represented in your leadership?  Are there tasks you think they can’t do just because they’re single, as I was once told by an agency director?  Single people have many godly gifts and professional skills, which coupled with a deeper exposure to the local culture which married people may not be able to achieve, can mean they are an extremely valuable resource in leadership and shouldn’t be overlooked.

Workload – do you, perhaps subconsciously, assume that because single mission workers don’t have to go home to their families they can absorb a heavier workload?  Do you deliberately give them more work so that they don’t have to go home and be lonely?  Perhaps it’s better to have a conversation with them about what is a sustainable workload which allows them to make the decision on what they do with their out of hours time.

I am certain that there are no mission agencies out there which actively and knowingly discriminate against single people.  Yet in our prioritising of practical, economic and achievable  targets we may inadvertently be taking advantage of the numerous single mission workers who feel overlooked and undervalued by their agencies.  This can add to stress that they have to deal with and can indirectly lead to burnout and attrition.

It would be a good practice to open a discussion with them and find out how they feel, and to regularly ask ourselves the question of how we might plan to be more inclusive and empowering in the way we treat them.  Sending agencies have come a long way in recent decades towards being more inclusive to women and non-Europeans, and now need to become more inclusive to singles.