In two previous blogs, I discussed how the church leadership and the laywomen of the church could prepare single women for the mission field. But preparation is only the first of many steps. The church prepared the single woman, and she is on the mission field. Now what? What can the church do to support their single women while they are overseas?
Send her a care package with things she needs.
Let’s start with something tangible. Take time to send a care package from your church. Unless you want to surprise her, ask her if there is anything she needs. Don’t assume you know what she needs. Ask her family members if they would like to include things in the package.
In some places, women struggle to find things that they need and can use very specific care package items from their supporting church. When I lived overseas, I needed one shoe size bigger than those produced commercially in my new home. I either found new shoes when I traveled out of the country, or I asked people to send me some from the United States.
“For many women, their strength comes from seeing Christ and the community of believers show up in their weakness.”
I’ve met many women who needed certain feminine products sent to them in care packages because they couldn’t buy them in their new home. Others needed hair care or makeup options because these products were limited in their area.
However, many female missionaries end up in areas of the world where they have access to almost everything they can get in America. In this case, consider sending cards, her favorite candy, and little things that show her you love her. You’d be surprised by how much joy a little care package can bring!
Have substantial conversations with her about how to feel safe in her new context.
In an Advance 2017 breakout session, Jen Wilkin said, “Men outgrow vulnerability. Women do not.” Many women feel vulnerable in their own culture and context and a new context often amplifies this vulnerability. Some single women move to areas where women are not valued or protected. Others move to areas where women’s lives are severely restricted.
Don’t assume the single woman you sent knows how to think through feelings of being unsafe. Talk to her about those feelings. Connect her to counselors in your church who have the tools to help her deal with her emotions instead of squelching them. Introduce her to others in your church who have either traveled or lived overseas and can help her determine culturally appropriate ways to live wisely in her new place of service.
Some women move to places that don’t just feel unsafe—they are unsafe. Learn to be a listener and look for signs of deeper problems like abuse or manipulation. Remember that abuse can happen from those inside her new culture and even from those who are on her team. Let her know you are willing to listen to her if abuse ever happens. Figure out how you would respond if she ever tells you about an incident and let her know that plan.
Recognize that no matter how strong she is, she may have seasons of loneliness.
The strongest women can have seasons of loneliness. In the newest version of Little Women, a passionate Jo cries out to her mother, “Women, they have minds and they have souls, as well as just hearts. And they’ve got ambition, and they’ve got talent, as well as just beauty. I’m so sick of people saying that love is just all a woman is fit for. I’m so sick of it!” Then she sobs, “But I’m so lonely,” as she collapses into her mother’s embrace.
When I went overseas, I fully believed that God had called me and that, though I deeply desired marriage, I did not need to wait for a husband to fulfill some of the good works the Lord had prepared in advance for me to do. I see many courageous women who feel the same way. They step out in faith, recognizing that at this stage of life, they can leverage their singleness for God’s glory.
They go. They show their strength. They show that God can (and does!) use single women for his good purposes. Single women answering God’s call to the mission field can change history. We’ve seen it already, and I believe that we will continue to see it.
“Encourage her to think theologically while engaging her new culture with the gospel. Equip her with tools to confront these challenges.”
This strength we see in these single women makes it easy for us to assume they are happy on their own. Just as Jo’s gifting and desire to see women as more than romantic interests didn’t take away her loneliness, the strength to go doesn’t mean single women want to be left alone. In fact, for many women, their strength comes from seeing Christ and the community of believers show up in their weakness. It can be easy to believe that single women overseas don’t need you. But don’t believe it. It’s a lie.
Recognize that the single woman you sent will have seasons of loneliness and be prepared to respond to her. Make sure she knows that your community is still standing behind her. Talk to her often. Pray for her continually. Visit her when you can. Don’t just expect updates from her. Update her on the lives of those in the United States as well. Intentionally build a lasting relationship with her.
Help her think through issues theologically.
Theological questions don’t often diminish when a woman goes overseas. In fact, when faced with new cultures, her questions often blossom and change. Areas of study that fascinated her while she was in the United States may take a back seat to new emerging issues. While you hope that those on her team can help her think through theological dilemmas, make yourself available for those chats, too.
Some women may be uncomfortable with a decision on their team. Others might feel the need to talk about an issue with someone who is not in the host culture to make sure culture isn’t blinding them from the best decision. Encourage her to think theologically while engaging her new culture with the gospel. Equip her with tools to confront these challenges. Teach her to rely on the Holy Spirit as she delves deep into Scripture and her host culture. Be a sounding board, a teacher, and a cheerleader as she walks with her Lord and asks what it means to love him with her heart, soul, mind and strength in a world that is often strange and different.
How does your church support the single women you sent overseas? Look for tangible and intangible ways to show her she is remembered and loved. From cards and care packages to difficult conversations, remind this woman that you have her back. Just as Andrew Fuller once promised William Carey, show her that you hold the ropes while she goes on God’s mission. Then, be amazed at what God will do through the woman you send.
Anna D. is a PhD student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) in applied theology. She is interested in cross-cultural studies and the arts, as well as creative methods for theological education. She currently works for the SEBTS Global Theological Initiatives department. When not studying, she loves being outside or in a coffee shop with a friend.