Gladys Aylward, Helen Roseveare, Marjory Foyle, Elsie Maxwell … single women have always been, and probably always will be, a critical force in missions. It’s estimated that 60% of the missions workforce are single women. It’s a dynamic worth some more thought.
- Value. We need to celebrate the work of single women in our missions. Particularly as it will be the majority of that work! There are still conscious or unconscious biases in our society – wherein men, couples or families, may be more valued, noticed or acclaimed. And there’s probably some truth in the stereotype – that many women are less likely to push themselves forward or blow their own trumpet. Let’s encourage our single women to excel and celebrate them when they do.
- Missiology. ‘A man of peace’ is a great thing. But we mustn’t be too wedded to one model. There are many examples of where new churches have been birthed through single women reaching other single women. In one community in North Africa the gospel spread and grew through young women coming to faith and then passing that flame on to their children and wider families. There are similar examples in Central Asia.
- Leadership. 60% of mission workers are single women, but 90% of missions leaders are married men. Whilst we may take different theological views on gender in leadership, we need to be wary of our blind spots. Does our local, regional and international leadership contain or consult single women? Are there any single women on our boards? The British church is also predominantly female, so there’s lots of good single women out there to recruit.
- Understanding. We should do all we can to understand the different needs of singles and families in mission. Debbie Hawker and Tim Herbert’s ‘Single Mission’ is a great place to start. But we should also recognise the limits to what we can really understand, if we aren’t walking in those shoes. ‘We understand your position (a 30s single woman in Muslim country) because we were single too (in their early 20s in the USA)’. Her heart sank.
- Caring for their present. We need to be diligent to caring for God’s daughters. There are many stories of single people being perennially moved around accommodation to make way for new or expanding families – or not given suitable accommodation. We must remember that a single person also needs stability and facilities to cook. Standardised policies may have different impact on singles and families. For example, whilst we don’t want to spend too much time engaging with people at home rather than immersing ourselves in a new culture, a married couple will have the relief of being able to talk to one-another in their mother tongue, whereas a single person may need a Skype call or two, for the same respite.
- Caring for their future. We need to ensure that all our missionaries are making adequate provision for their retirement – but all the more so with single women who won’t have children to support them in their old age.
- Thanksgiving. Let’s give thanks for the single women God has given us in mission and all he does through them. Maybe we could all do that right now.
Perhaps next time, single men in mission – ‘Those single women certainly have lots of friends in a similar position: I’m the only single expatriate man for miles around and everyone is trying to marry me off ….’