Single women on the Mission Field
by Sandra Crawford
Amy Carmichael, Gladys Alward, Lottie Moon and Mary Slessor – these are just a few missionaries of long ago whose stories continue to challenge and motivate us today – particularly single women who aspire to follow in their footsteps. Statistics show that there is still a strong presence of singles on the mission field, with a surprisingly high number of women (of all ages) embarking on the adventure of missions. Overseas Missionary Fellowship reports, of their current Canadian missionaries traveling abroad, 93% of the singles are in fact women. Over the centuries, the obstacles of travel have been mitigated putting the world within our reach. However, women missionaries of today have their fair share of challenges – some that are remarkably similar to heroines of the past; others that have emerged from progressive times and changing cultures.
Verna Aspray, an octogenarian who continues to serve in many Asian nations, recalls that in her early years a woman over 30 was rarely accepted to be part of a mission, but thankfully, the sovereignty of God always prevails. Wisdom led one agency to make an exception in her case, welcoming her contributions, and today she continues to labor in the nations garnering a great harvest of souls for the Kingdom of God. Interestingly, another well-established mission organization, SIM, has noticed a trend of older women having an easier time transitioning onto the mission field due to their experience and maturity that lends to flexibility and contentment throughout the cross -cultural adjustment.
Trained as a nurse, it was Aspray’s medical background that opened doors for the Gospel in many nations. Tribal villages placed no value on what she sought to teach, believing that “a women’s teaching has no flavour (value).” Her messages fell on deaf ears…until they sought essential medical care. As she continued to help them with their physical needs, she witnessed countless spiritual breakthroughs including many who were set free from opium addictions. Nancy Gibson, a 23-year veteran of SIM remarked that age is no longer a barrier to serve in missions. In fact, life experience proves to be one of the most valuable commodities in a woman’s kit bag.
Although the numbers reflect a large percentage of women in the field today, how many have ignored the prompting from the Holy Spirit due to their age or their “single” status? Having read that Jesus sent His disciples out in twos, how many women have discounted themselves as candidates for long term missions choosing to “wait for their mate” who has yet to make an appearance? Lottie Moon was said to have remarked, “I pray that no missionary will ever be as lonely as I have been.” The transparency of her confession is refreshing—it is human nature to long for a companion. Some of the women I spoke to said they rarely experienced loneliness due to the constant needs of the people which acted as a distraction of sorts, and often there was a strong sense of community amongst the villagers. Others candidly admitted that there were often times they felt the tug of loneliness, feeling the burden of having to wear so many hats from being the keeper of the vision to attending to all the details along the way. With a woman’s natural ability to multi-task, it seems that personal care and rest often suffers when there is no one walking with her to say “take a break” or “let me help you with that.” So what is the verdict on singles going out alone?
Today we have the benefit of choosing to partner with ministries that have established infrastructure in foreign countries providing support to various degrees. This certainly makes the leap of faith less intimidating, but the most important considerations above all, are to know with certainty that you are called by God for the journey, and to wait for His command to go. An independent wanderlust heart may have the makings of a great missionary, but the season of preparation at the feet of the Lord is essential if one hopes to succeed on the mission field. It is in our daily life that we learn to discern and obey His voice, and where we will grow in wisdom and faith. As we delight ourselves in the Lord, His desires will become our own; yielding to His ways will become second nature and His love will compel us to carry on in the face of insurmountable odds. What seems like an endless season of waiting upon the Lord could actually be His divine providence in preparing us for what lies ahead.
Many books have been written about the adventures of great ‘single’ missionary women who, for generations, have braved turbulent times, wars, health issues and cultural barriers to carry the Gospel to the nations. God is empowering a new generation of single women to run with the baton, whose stories have yet to unfold. We are from a long line of courageous women, fully prepared to stand up for truth at any cost. As we look to the Lord, we dare to believe that He will use us for great exploits and that we may indeed be the next Corrie ten Boom.
In the words of Mother Teresa, we will choose to simply be the pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world.
Sandra Crawford is on staff with Missions Fest Vancouver. She is passionate about Christ’s mission and has participated on many short-term mission trips. Missions Fest Vancouver exists to encourage people to be more passionate about mission. For more info visit: www.missionsfestvancouver.ca