‘It is a great life being a single global worker. We are the best value out there!’ exclaimed a single woman to her global worker colleagues. It is true. Singles often learn the new language faster and fit into the culture more quickly because they have more time to spend with the local people. However, they often wish they could fit into their ministry teams better.
At a recent Women of the Harvest retreat, eighteen single women global workers gathered to discuss what they wish their teammates knew about their lives. (I winced as I saw myself in some of their comments.) Here is what they said about how to include them in the team.
The majority of single global worker women work as hard as their male counterparts and wish that their opinions and ideas carried equal weight in developing team strategy and in making decisions. They know that most agencies will not be handing leadership positions to women, but they would love for their ‘voice’ to be heard. Many times men in leadership will make decisions affecting single women’s lives without any input from them. This contributes to the feeling that many single women have of just being a ‘pawn.’ One woman felt taken advantage of by male teammates who just assume that she will organize events (or any other stereotypical female task) without even checking with her first.
Listen To Me
Often singles do not feel heard unless the wife of the man she is in a discussion with is present also. Then the man will take her words more seriously. It is hurtful to not be valued for your expertise and to always feel you must go through someone else to get a hearing.
One woman sadly declared, ‘My opinion means nothing to the married couple or the couple with kids—because I am not married.’ Whether her teammates intended to imply this or not, that is how she felt. Another was told that because she was single she had no wisdom in dealing with nationals!
When working in cultures where a woman’s voice is not heard unless she is married and has children, it may be even harder for mission leadership to be mindful of listening to the ideas of their single women teammates. In this cultural context, global worker women have learned that they get a better response, both with leadership and in the culture, if they let the men do the talking. One woman did state that ‘it is wonderful in culturally sensitive situations to have a male coworker stand in for me.’ This remains a fine line to walk. Any global worker woman in that context has to determine her priorities: Break down cultural forms that are destructive to women? Or submit to them to avoid offense and gain a hearing for more ‘important’ facets of the Good News?
Could the team setting be a place that rises above the prevailing culture, giving each member a safe place to be heard and valued, especially the single woman who is already marginalized by the culture?
Give Me Space…
Single women confided that they need to live in their own space. Too many have been hurt by the thoughtlessness of those in leadership who assign them to live with any other available single. They need a choice. Except for unusual circumstances, two families would not be put together in the same house. Singles need the same consideration. And it is beneficial for mission organizations to give it.
Several years after going through a missions ‘boot camp,’ a single woman still expresses her surprise and gratefulness that the administrators had assigned her and other singles separate quarters. It helped to ‘sell’ her on the organization and remains a touchstone of their attitude toward her as an individual.
One of the biggest misconceptions about singles is that they want to be a part of a global worker family. Not always. Some are older and used to being by themselves. Being around young children, especially if the children are quite active, can be difficult for them.
A huge issue is babysitting. Most enjoy being included in occasional family gatherings but do not care to be a permanent babysitter. One put it this way: “I do not want to automatically be an ‘aunt’ to some kids. I want it to develop naturally. I am older now and do not enjoy kids as much as I used to. Global worker families I work with often assume I want to be an ‘auntie,’ especially a ‘babysitting auntie’.”
…But Include Me
Loneliness is a painful reality for singles even though they understand that loneliness can be painful inside a marriage, too. How can you find out what a single coworker is thinking? Talk to her. Would she enjoy being part of your family for certain events? Make some ‘trial runs’ to see how she fits in with your family. Go over this article with her. Ask her questions to help you understand how best to lovingly include her. Call her up just to chat and let her know how valuable she is to the ministry team. Invite her over for a meal and ask how you can best shield her from loneliness. But do not rush this process of inclusion. Most singles would prefer to have relationships work out naturally rather than being in forced friendships.
Together, Let’s Balance Our Ministry
Some singles are disturbed about the precedence that family takes over ministry. They know that family is important, but several mentioned that among their coworkers, they felt that more than one family had their priorities ‘all out of whack to the detriment of the work.’ They observed some global workers whose families always came first, to the point that the global workers were rarely with the nationals and did not carry their part of the ministry load.
Because so much importance is put on the family, the singles in the team do not feel that they are as important as those who have children. And some resent the exorbitant amount of team meeting time that is spent discussing children’s needs and issues. One younger woman admitted, ‘I am tired of the energy our team has to spend on family issues, child care, and kids’ education. It feels unbalanced.’
Respect My Time
Other hurtful myths are: singles do not need a vacation, their evenings are always free, it costs singles half the amount to live as it does a couple, and they have lots of extra time. Here is what singles would like their married colleagues to remember about the single life. They have their own home to take care of….along. They have to take care of their car…alone. They must do all the writing to supporters and the paperwork for the mission, all without anyone’s help. With all that to do, there is not much extra time or free evenings for the single woman.
In fact, the single woman may find herself needing help from her teammates in order to survive and thrive on the field. Setting up a house alone, in another culture, is hard. One woman shared that she had to do it all by herself. She was hurt that the other global workers did not help her. Even having a male colleague help in dealing with the local handyman is often a great relief for the single woman living in some cultures.
Often single women need someone they can feel accountable to. Some have mixed emotions about being on the mission field but wanting to be married, too. A trustworthy woman to talk to about these feelings with is invaluable.
One global worker confided that she felt called to her field of service but often found herself making poor decisions about dating nationals; she ended up getting into a relationship that was not wise. She was grateful that she could ask her colleagues to pray with her about her decisions, keeping her vulnerability in check.
Hear My Heart
Singleness presents many unavoidable challenges for global workers. The fact that they are single is a tender issue for most women. Thoughtless remarks like, ‘You must be too picky’ or ‘You need to move to another place to meet a man’ or ‘You are so attractive. Why aren’t you married?’ just cause pain to the single woman. On a daily basis many singles give that area over to the Lord. They try to be careful what they read, listen to, or think about, and refocus on Christ being their Bridegroom.
Some admitted that in a day’s time they can swing from being desperate for a husband to not feeling the need to be married at all. Most are on the continuum somewhere from martyrdom to demandingness to being OK with not being married. They seek a balance in the middle where they are aware of the desire to be married but are not acting like a martyr as a single woman on the mission field. As her teammate, simply listening to her heart and offering your support are better alternatives than making thoughtless comments trying to ‘fix’ her single situation.
Transitions are hard for anyone in missions, but they are especially hard for some single women. As anyone on the field knows, mission work is full of endless transitions: from home country to field and back, changing field assignments, etc. Being alone is amplified in the midst of transition for single women. Singles long to have someone joining in on the new experiences with them…someone to help make the necessary decisions…someone who is invested enough in the ministry to get on the plane with them.
Finally, single women brought up the issues that surround the male-female ministry relationship, offering solutions that have helped in keeping all above reproach. Many women mentioned how they try to be very careful when they are around their male teammates, such as never being alone with them or riding alone in a car with them. For any single woman working directly with married men on the ministry team, it can be easier to relate to the male coworker than to his wife, who is perhaps primarily at home caring for children. Some go out of their way to ask these married men about their wives. The single woman may make an effort to spend time with the wife, hoping to alleviate the tongue-in-cheek title of being the ‘other woman.’
The single woman, in an effort to remain above reproach, may, in fact, be isolating herself from her teammates even more. Some of the older women bemoaned the new atmosphere of worry about sexual harassment, stating that teammates ‘don’t hug anymore’. Male/female dynamics are a significant aspect of ministry that need to be discussed more openly in the team setting. This can effectively dispel unspoken assumptions with the hope of creating a more unified team.
Love Me… Let Me Love You
The majority of single women global workers are ‘low maintenance.’ Because of that, it is easy to forget that they need encouragement, need to feel valuable to the team, need help, need a friend with a listening ear and maybe some occasional advice. One woman told how she cried during her furlough when she got a haircut or someone touched her face, because she was so starved for physical contact and received none on the field. She understands why it was that way, but she still has a natural, normal, human need to be hugged and touched.
One of the best ministries you may have in the culture you are trying to reach is loving your teammates. Singles need to reach out in friendliness to married women too. Both can benefit from this, bringing unity to the team. When people see genuine love among global workers, they are seeing what Jesus desired for His followers, ‘By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love one for another.’
Several of the women said they were tired of talking about singleness as though that were the main thing about them. ‘We are people in our own right,’ one said. And one young global worker, new on the field, was amazed at the hubbub being made over her being single. She said, ‘I did not even think of myself as single until you all pointed it out to me and started calling me that!’ Instead of calling her ‘the single woman,’ call her your teammate…your valued colleague…your trusted sister in Christ. By doing so, she is effectively worked back into the team.