Allyson shared the results of her survey of single women(SW) serving or preparing to serve overseas. Many who read Peter’s Wife could benefit from these insights. The largest group are the wives and mothers who are serving overseas with SW on their team. They can probably do the most to help SW with their particular struggles. Agency directors may not be aware of some of the special stresses single women on the field face and what they could do to help. And finally there are some from home churches who could do much to help SW serving overseas.
Many of the problems that the SW mentioned are common to anyone serving outside their culture. The lack of communication with people at home, the glazed over looks when we share our stories, the expectation that those serving overseas need much less money to live on and really should live on a lower standard than others, and the fear of loss of support when we are “out of sight.”
But SW have some additional stresses because they are serving outside their culture “alone.” They may be part of a team, but without the committed relationship that marriage affords, they have some special needs. We want to do what’s loving for these women, so we want to know what will help.
Even before going overseas, while raising support, they already feel the stress of their “aloneness.” They feel like they always have to be “on” without a break, because they can’t share the responsibility for raising support. Often SW are asked to speak in women’s and children’s meetings, but have difficulty meeting the person who can make financial support decisions. They have to deal with some combative people who don’t think they should serve overseas if they are single.
What these women would like their sending organization to do to help them would benefit anyone they are sending out. Some organizations place a lot of emphasis on knowing where their people feel called to serve. Perhaps it would be better to consider the team they should serve with first. This may reduce the attrition rate caused by conflicts with other workers on the field.
Providing a mentor was a common request. Someone to help walk them through the process of support raising and the practical needs for going overseas, like how to get visas and knowing what to take and what to leave behind. Helping them plan a time-line so everything doesn’t come down to the last month before leaving would be something a mentor could do. They would also benefit from regular meetings with someone with overseas experience to help them become aware of what they will be facing so they can adjust their expectations and deal with the heart issues of leaving.
Once on the field, SW face some stresses uniquely theirs. I was struck by the poignancy of the cries from SW who were part of teams overseas. One woman said the hardest part was being forgotten by families going to lunch after church on Sundays. Several mentioned the lack of a man to “champion” their ideas to the team. They felt the married women’s ideas at least had a fair hearing in the team planning. Another felt taken advantage of by the couples expecting her to babysit since she was single. One SW said that the community of SW is generally young and they do not want an older single woman tagging along with them. How sad!
Some concerns were the same whether they served on a team or not. Wondering if they will ever marry, loneliness, feeling isolated with no one as a sounding board, concerns about how to develop close relationships with other women and meeting their social needs were common. In addition they fear for their own safety. They don’t feel they have the same protection and covering as married women. Another common concern was dealing with what their singleness means in their host culture. In the USA, singleness is often celebrated as independence, but overseas it is often seen as a curse.
Depending on the nature of their calling, some always have to do their work on their own. For these women, loneliness and having to make decisions on their own were additional stresses.
There is much that can be done to help the single women. The number one thing churches and sending organizations could do to help is in the area of communication. What these women expressed would help anyone serving in another culture.
A point person that would keep close contact, yet understand that it is not always possible, when overseas, to keep in touch. They should know enough about the worker’s situation to be able to ask appropriate questions and show concern. They should share the SW’s needs with the church and then share news from home with the SW. Phone calls and emails would all help them feel not so isolated. Mostly SW don’t want to be a name and picture on the wall, but a friend and sister remembered often.
Occasional “goodie” packages and to be pampered a little and made to feel special would go a long way to helping relieve their special stresses.
A visit from someone from home would help so much. Experiencing is the key to understanding, and understanding is the key to caring. SW want to be able to share their home, their work, and their burden with someone from home. A pastoral visit or one from the overseas director or another woman who could share her concerns would be most appreciated.
Finally, the home church should be their primary prayer support. They should know enough about the field that they can pray specifically and diligently. Recognizing that many of the battles SW face are spiritual in nature can help them persevere in prayer even when they don’t know specific details.
There are specific ways sending organizations can help. When SW contact their home office, they want their communications to be taken seriously.
Like anyone serving overseas, they would like their sending organizations to provide training materials and worship CDs. They would like conferences and seminars so they can grow and stay connected with others doing similar work in their part of the world. They want encouragement, coaching, and someone with whom to be accountable.
The kind of field visits that would be most helpful would be with someone who will take time to talk and get down to deeper issues, with more experienced or retired workers, particularly women who can share what they went through and how they resolved their struggles.
PWs on the field are the most immediate help for SW feeling the stress of singleness. If you have a SW on your team, remember to include her in extended family style, whenever possible. Help her find someone she can bounce ideas off of and help her present her ideas to the team. Having regular times of prayer and worship together that is not just work related would be a great source of strength and encouragement to SW on the team. Planning some “girls’ time off” could go along way to meeting her social needs. Just being aware of her special stresses and letting her know you understand will help her cope. Looking out for her safety should be part of the team’s responsibility to her.
The final part of the survey had to do with the challenges SW face on home leave. The suggestions they had for their home churches would help anyone returning from overseas service. A couple months before they are due to go home, they would like someone to tell them the current styles and cultural trivia so they don’t feel so “foreign” when they start meeting people at home. It would be so helpful if they could be provided with a car, a place to stay and help getting things done. Many need additional financial support to be able to pay rent, travel to see family and supporters, and merely “live” in their home country. What they can live on overseas will not meet their needs when on home leave.
To have someone host an open house in their honor so they can make contact with lots of folks quickly, would conserve their time and strength when they first return home. To have someone help organize speaking engagements and support raising events would be invaluable. They want to be able to tell their story and have times of prayer for them and their work.
Many mentioned that they didn’t want to be put on a pedestal. They wanted people to be real with them, talk to them about what is going on in their lives, seek them out while they’re home, act interested in what they have been doing. They want to be encouraged and loved. They also wanted people to understand that they need rest when they feel overwhelmed and time to adjust to being home.
Perhaps with better understanding of what single women serving outside their home culture need, we all can do our part to support and encourage them. Hopefully some of these suggestions will make their way back to home churches and sending organizations. Feel free to pass along this newsletter to any you think would appreciate these insights.
Thank you, Allyson, for sharing the results of your survey.