Single mission workers – what the church should know


This week’s guest blogger is Sarita Hartz, writer, former mission worker, and missions coach.

I came home after a long day in the IDP camps, tired and sweaty with barely enough energy to make myself a sad bowl of pasta (for one) before I curled under the covers.  I was journaling when I looked up and saw the largest spider I’d ever seen crawling across the ceiling.  I unsuccessfully tried to kill it with a broom, then worried for hours about where this alien antichrist arachnid could be when I finally breathed an exasperated prayer, “God, if you could please just send my husband.”

Then the tears fell.

I’m not typically a woman who’s afraid of killing spiders on her own. I’m strong and mostly fearless, but the loneliness of life overseas as a single woman was overwhelming me.

When I was younger, I was determined no one would keep me from my calling.

When I left for Africa, I wasn’t sure I would ever get married. But I knew if I pursued God with my whole heart He would fulfill His promises to me. I was independent, strong-willed, and let’s face it…a lot idealistic. But I needed some of that brash naïveté to be crazy enough to strike out on my own overseas.

One of my biggest fears has always been I won’t fulfill my purpose.

I didn’t want to be a woman who’d never lived her dreams or fell into her man’s dreams and slowly became flimsy, like a cut out of a paper doll, a thin representation of her former self.

As I spoke across the country about my ministry in Uganda I’d often hear women say, “I was going to go to Thailand to work in sex-trafficking but I met my husband and we had kids and you know...”

They didn’t regret their kids obviously, but there was a wistfulness in their voice that frightened me.  It seemed women were always having to choose between having a husband or living their dreams.

Equally so, many young women used to come up to me and say, “I could never do what you do because I don’t have a husband,” or “I want to get married, so I can’t move to a remote village where there aren’t any single guys.

I wanted to call bulls*#$!

I wanted to shake their shoulders and say, “Yes you can! Don’t limit yourself!’  You can break the rules. Except in our culture we haven’t taught them they can.

Don’t let the enemy make you believe the lie that you can’t be used or you can’t pursue your call unless you’re married.

Or that you can’t run off to a war zone because you need to stick close to the “dating pool.”

I moved full-time to a remote region of northern Uganda as a single woman, at the age of 26, with my own nonprofit and no husband. (Not too many single bachelors there) But statistics say:

“Singleness is the fourth most common reason appointees don’t make it to the mission field or take a long time getting there.” (Pioneers International Report) 

This makes me incredibly sad. This means we’re sending the wrong message to our singles. We’re quietly withdrawing our support unless they’re married in ministry.  Still, I’m proud to say that:

1/3 of missionaries are single and 80% are single missionary women (AIM)

You go girls! (Cue Beyoncé).  That means you’re carrying much of the global worker force, ladies. Well done! We really need you!

Yet being single in missions presents its own unique challenges including safety issues, suffering, loneliness, sexism, misconception by others, cultural oppression in patriarchal societies, temptations for sexual partners, being emotionally manipulated into cross cultural marriages, torn between family back home, higher levels of burnout, and grieving the diminishing possibility of marriage.

People might assume “life might be easier” for singles, but living overseas that proves less true.  In a recent survey I conducted amongst nearly 60 single women, many common threads emerged of how being a single woman missionary is especially difficult.

And you can read the results on Sarita’s own website!

Is “failure” at short term mission always a bad thing?

This month’s guest blogger is Charlotte Wright, who shares a retrospective on an ‘unsuccessful’ short-term experience.

Charlotte setting off for an island in Lake Victoria

I spent a year in Uganda working with a mission agency after university, with the aim of considering longer term mission work.  I thought I had an idea of what life in Africa could be like, but my expectations were wildly misplaced!  I had the opportunity to go as part of a team, but as I had significant other overseas travel experience, the agency were happy for me to go out on my own and “tag” onto another team already in place.

Looking back, my faith was very shaky at that time, but I was certainly not aware of it.  Once I was resident in my first location, the loneliness of mission work set in and I felt totally isolated, despite there being lots of people around, both African and from overseas.  I missed my life in the UK – my family, being able to go out for a drink with friends and also playing sport, especially as women taking part in sport was frowned upon by those around me.  I was told that I could not wear trousers as it was not culturally appropriate and I really fought this rule – I simply couldn’t understand how this might upset people, despite being told that it would!  On the back of this, my faith faltered and I realised later that this was because I had always used friends and family to prop up my faith rather than relying solely on God.  I simply wanted to go home!  Thankfully however, I am stubborn and refused to give up.  I rode the loneliness out and I also had friends kindly organise to come out and visit me which was a massive lifeline.

After 4 months I moved to a different location and found myself with more emotional support from other mission workers around me.  My faith started to recover and I felt a little more settled.  However, I found myself time after time questioning the long term beliefs of the African women around me – I couldn’t understand why they would be happy to be so subservient to men…. My western views often caused upset and anger from those around me.

Over the final six months, I took part in a biblical foundations course and God spent significant time putting my faith back together, for which I will always put as my major lesson from the trip, learning to rely solely on God and nothing else.  Once that foundation was in place, I found I could withstand so much more.  However, being forced to preach most weeks was very difficult, as I never felt called to preach and I found this very stressful.

Looking back over the time I spent away I am not sure that I was a blessing to those around me……. I clashed with the culture, did not enjoy the subservient role that women are obliged to take and generally missed being at home.

Some would therefore see this year away as a failure.

However, God used the time to rebuild my faith, for which I will be forever grateful, and I have also developed a passion for the African culture and country.  I have subsequently come home to be involved in financially supporting mission as well as understanding how difficult mission workers can find things whilst away, hence my involvement in Syzygy.  I would therefore not say that the experience was a “failure”, just a massive learning experience as well as strengthening my faith hugely over the time.

Charlotte Wright is a stockbroker who is Chair of the Syzygy Trustees.

UGANDA (Roger & Mel with Soapbox)

Praying with a school girl at St. Johns Secondary School

On one of our first days in Kampala, the team visited a secondary school and attended the Christian Union meeting. Here we experienced the most vibrant of worship celebrations, led by the children themselves. After this the Soapbox team presented a medley of songs/ drama and testimonies, at the end of which an appeal was made for any who needed prayer. We were privileged to pray for some really needy situations in the lives of these children, many of whom had a relationship with the Lord, but were otherwise destitute. The girl in the photo was facing eviction from school because of not being able to pay the school fees. We could offer prayer and fellowship, but little else in the context where the need is so great. We had to remind ourselves of the ability of our God to meet the needs of all his children, and to trust in his unfailing love. In such a difficult context, the joy and delight in praising the Lord challenged our own worship. With so little, they were able to offer so much heartfelt thanks- how much more should we, in the comparative comfort of our Western lifestyles unreservedly worship the Lord with all that we have!

Coaching children at Shalom Primary School
We worked in association with Nakawa Baptist Church, situated in a slum area just outside Kampala. The Church here has set up a school at which around 150 children from the surrounding areas come to receive education. Most of these children are funded through Compassion and Soapbox Child Sponsorship Schemes, without which they would not have access to any formal education. The team spent several mornings with the children teaching them songs, bible stories and games. Here in this picture Roger is using his training as a football coach to conduct a basic ball skills exercise. The children loved the opportunity to train and to compete in these events. When the team left Nakawa, the coaching kit was donated to the church and several of the young Ugandan Christian men expressed their intention of continuing the activities with the children in an attempt to promote physical fitness and also as a bridge to building relationships with the children, from which foundation the gospel could be explained.

Visit to Mwana Primary School
The Soapbox team visited several different schools during the 2-week trip. Each time we would receive the warmest of welcomes, followed by a selection of activities aimed at sharing the Gospel message in a culturally appropriate way. On this occasion the school assembled all their classes in the covered courtyard area and we performed a series of presentation items based around the story of Noah’s Ark. Along with some moments of hilarity in some of the sketches we performed, on each occasion the Gospel of God’s love was presented and an opportunity to accept Jesus as saviour was given. We were very encouraged by the levels of responses and as well as sowing many seeds, we witnessed several lives changed by the acceptance of Jesus as Lord.

Door-to-door evangelism in Nakawa District
On a couple of occasions the team spent a morning visiting the local area around the church. We found the local residents very welcoming and ready to hear our message. Often we would sit down on the doorstep of the house and explain the message of God’s love from the bible. Sometimes quite a crowd would form, and a surprisingly large number of people came to accept Jesus as Lord. We also held an evangelistic event towards the end of our second week, at which many people came forward for prayer and to accept the free offer of salvation. Nakawa Baptist Church are well organised in terms of follow-up, and many of those who confessed Christ were given a bible at the following Sunday service. Our team had been privileged to sow the seeds, and we left with every confidence that our brothers and sisters in Nakawa would carry out the regular watering. As for the increase, we know that only God himself can save people and we continue to trust Him for that!