What are the challenges faced by a missionary in singlehood and marriage? Aisha, a worker in West Asia, encourages others to serve faithfully nonetheless.
For Aisha*, choosing God over everything else was what mattered most. She had received a marriage proposal, but her suitor wanted to serve in the USA while she wanted to serve elsewhere.
In evangelical faith missions, surveys have shown that 80 per cent of single missionaries are women. For every 10 single missionaries sent, only two are men. Singleness causes many young people to think twice about joining missions; why would one choose to be a missionary if one desires marriage?
At age 32, Aisha arrived in West Asia. "When I arrived, the field leader asked me two questions; one of them was, 'Are you ready to be single because most people who serve here will remain single.'"
Single in a foreign land
"Starting to live in a foreign country alone was difficult," revealed Aisha. She faced moments of loneliness and constant change.
"My roommates changed constantly...just when I got used to the living habits of one roommate... I'd have to adjust all over again to someone new."
"For those who want to get married, missions can be challenging as people may constantly question... when you will get married. It can evoke many emotions if you haven't settled that in your heart... It can get very demotivating."
Fortunately, such questions did not faze Aisha, as surrounding herself with good female friends helped her persevere and even thrive during bouts of loneliness. "We prayed and shared much together. I think the difficulty for singles in the mission field is not having someone around to care for you. But having good friends helps a lot," she explained.
Uncertainties in ministry
But how does being single affect ministry? For one, patriarchal dominance in local culture made it challenging for Aisha to function independently.
"Locals tend to exert their 'ownership' over you as if they need to take responsibility for you. But when you're married, that responsibility is your husband's, so locals tend to leave you alone," she quipped.
Outreach in her early days was also challenging, as not many locals were actually interested in the gospel. Still, this was to be part and parcel of Aisha's life for the next 10 years and little did she know that God was about to turn the page to a new chapter.
The start of a new chapter
"After 10 years here, I got married... It wasn't love at first sight," Aisha recalled with a laugh.
"And even though we were on the same team, we only got married after knowing each other for eight years," Aisha said.
Being married allowed Aisha to minister in creative ways and meet more diverse groups of people, which she never could as a single. "For example, I can invite both the women I meet, as well as their husbands, for coffee with me and my husband."
For the most part, Aisha grew her ministry among the older, married ladies, especially after she found out that many women were not literate.
As word spread, one of Aisha's students introduced her to Fatma*. During their first meeting, Fatma's first question to Aisha was, "Do you have a copy of the New Testament?"
Aisha was shocked. How did Fatma know that she was a Jesus follower? Was this a trick question?
It turned out that the older generation was more familiar with the faith, and Fatma's grandmother used to tell her that foreigners would know where to get a Bible. With newfound knowledge of the Bible, Fatma started going to the local church in her area, and her daughter is now a fellow worker!
Creative ways of reaching out
One of the other ministries Aisha started with her husband was to plant a church in another unreached part of the city where there is little or no access to the gospel.
As Aisha observed, "Sometimes locals get curious about church because they see depictions of churches in movies and want to see what a confession box looks like, for example. Others come to the church because they have sick family members, and they believe that the Christian God can heal them."
Aisha elaborated, "The locals here believe in spells. Sometimes their local spiritual leaders direct them to the Christian God, believing that only the Christian God would be able to break the spell. So these people come to the church, and that's our opportunity to talk to them. We seize this opportunity to offer them the Bible and fellowship."
Reaching out amid a pandemic
A long-standing challenge for local evangelical churches is that locals tend to avoid them because most function as house churches.
"Locals think that perhaps the house church is a cult and so doesn't operate in a proper building," Aisha clarified.
"But when COVID-19 hit, we all started meeting online. This country is very lucky to have a good network. And it had been working in our favour because people aren't apprehensive when we suggest attending an online service, and as time progresses, we invite them to study the Bible together.
"Moving things online has helped us reach people who may not even live in our city. All we need to do is have them share the invitation link with friends.
"The gospel is like a light. When the light is switched on, moths go towards the light while cockroaches flee from it. In a sense, we will get to keep in touch with those who are really interested in the gospel."
Even more gospel opportunities
"The field is really ripe for young people because they are now accessing more information on the Internet than ever before and exploring different religions. We need workers here, especially young people," Aisha says.
Despite the pandemic, the gospel has been spreading rapidly. Moreover, Aisha and her team decided to start virtual mission trips for people to "visit" the country and get to know local believers.
Aisha remains unfazed by the challenges that may come her way. "God gave me an innovative and bold spirit, so every difficulty makes me want to solve it.
"Before I came to the Lord, life felt meaningless... I felt God gave me a sense of purpose in life and I wanted to do something of eternal value. I draw comfort from Jesus' promise that He will be with us to the very end."