by Michael Sullivan
Jokes about single women missionaries bother me. First, for what they reveal about the people who tell them – Christians should reject all humor made at other’s expense. Second, for what I fear is revealed about the women referred to – our failure to protect their dignity and personhood has helped produce characteristics that become the basis for those jokes.
Jokes about single women missionaries bother me. First, for what they reveal about the people who tell them—Christians should reject all humor made at other’s expense. Second, for what I fear is revealed about the women referred to—our failure to protect their dignity and personhood has helped produce characteristics that become the basis for those jokes.
The former is primarily a spiritual matter, and can be helped by confession and rejection of the practice, and by loving rebuke of others who participate in it.
Help for the latter is more an administrative matter, and leads to the subject of this article: career counseling for single women missionaries as part of the supportive ministry assumed by an organization when a new worker is signed on. Occasionally I hear discussion of whether the work or the worker has priority — perhaps we might agree at least that the responsibility of a mission toward a new worker is awesome.
I suggest, therefore, that the candidate secretary and/or personnel director develop a career orientation program for single women. This would be designed to guide women, from candidates to retirees, in a business-like manner, to a clear understanding of the unique problems and alternatives faced by single women.
This could begin with a candid discussion of restrictions on women in leadership positions, both in the mission structure, and the national affiliates. It could be that some, or all, of these restrictions could be removed. Regardless, this is a good way to get into the organization’s philosophy of women workers, and should be thoroughly understood.
The background of women candidates is changing rapidly, and they will increasingly expect to be regarded as equals, and respected for their personhood, gifts and calling. Yet, more than once, I have heard superintendents disparage the idea of women in the ministry, especially in leadership positions, in the hearing of single women serving under them. Certainly there are complex issues involved, but this sort of heavy-handedness is sad.
Next, the personnel director might draw a statistical picture — how many women, what types of ministries, drop-out rates according to ministry and length of service. Interviews with former members can be very fruitful. A good friend said when we first met, "I’m a mission field drop-out." It had been difficult, as her "confession" shows, but her mission had been supportive, and she continued good relationships with the leaders. She had since married and begun a new career – and she had lots of things to say about single women missionaries! Too often such rich potential is ignored, labeled "no longer with the mission," and dismissed.
After completing the statistical picture, a professional counselor should be retained for interviews (of both candidates and directors involved), and to aid in preparing and interpreting guidance material.
In the remainder of this article, I want to suggest first two areas that need special attention relative to the overall psychological health of single women. Then I shall list three categories as guidelines for clarifying career roles and tensions.
CAREER AND SELF-IMAGE
First is career image vis-a-vis self-image. I recall a discussion by two fellows planning careers. One insisted on an eight-hour-a-day job he could "leave at the office. " The other countered, "I don’t want to give one third of my life to anything not worth the rest," implying that his friend wanted a career, but he a life work.
This philosophy is common among missionaries, but its noble ring disguises some practical problems. Essentially, it blurs the distinction between what we are and what we do. If we overstress career as being rather than doing (notice we always talk about " being missionaries, " seldom that someone decided to "do mission"), any change threatens not only the single woman missionary’s career image, but her self-image as well.
This is complicated by the high value we attach to being missionaries, as in the appeal, "If God calls you to be a missionary, do not stoop to be a king" (attributed to Spurgeon). It becomes difficult to consider career alternatives, "I will be second best." Yet certainly a career continued under such circumstances cannot be healthy.
And it is easy to lose one’s private identity. Families maintain relationships on or off the field. But the single woman severs relationships going and coming. The leaders of her adopted family need to stress her independent worth, and know when to cut the apron strings.
In discussing career image, explore fully the gifts and training of the candidate, and the exercise of them both on the field and off. A total approach might include mid-career training. You cannot simply plan an entire life at once, but if she can get the right perspective on the inevitable changes that will touch her personally, the effects can be less threatening and more positive.
Another point to explore in career image is toleration, i.e., the feeling that her ministry is valid only as a substitute for the men who would not go. You can scarcely expect a person whose career is predicated thus to have a healthy ministry.
A second major area for special attention is interpersonal relationships. An instructor of mine announced, "Half of the women on the field are there because of disappointing love lives.I know of nothing to support this absurd statement, but many seem to share his opinion. I have listened to missionaries discuss a single woman’s problems, and declare, "She needs a husband."
The fact is singles are a conspicuous minority, and many people have difficulty relating to them, and difficulty in allowing them to relate aside from courtship. Missionaries may be the world’s most prolix gossips, and people who volunteer should be warned about this goldfish bowl before they’re thrown in.
The wife of a couple who married at Bible college told me, "I doubt we’d have married under normal conditions." The campus rules meant the only way to have privacy was to marry. Similarly, marriages on the mission field face peculiar problems owing to the lack of normal courtship patterns.
To get the total perspective, we should point out that a present desire for celibacy may continue, or it may simply be God’s way of guiding through a temporary formative period. At any rate, either alternative is not only "honorable, " but a good and healthy life style.
This matter of interpersonal relationships covers far more, of course. Most crucial is finding someone to implement the program drawn up by the home staff. It must be someone who can approach the problems of single women without giving the impression that the problem is single women. Such people are rare—pointing up the need for better counseling across the board. Study leaves for counseling, especially for field leaders, should be encouraged. Perhaps also several missions could finance a professional team to visit one field for intensive analysis.
GUIDELINES FOR CAREER CLARITY
Clearly, a major strain for missionaries is uncertainty; culture, job, partners, etc., are all in flux. Frustrations develop about career expectations, compounded by inability to state and measure goals. I suggest three categories as a framework for career clarity.
Category I: Ministry direction: inward; role concept: clear. Involved are secretaries, teachers of missionary children, mission home hostesses, etc., whose principal career orientation is toward those in the mission, and whose daily duties are reasonably clearcut and familiar.
Category II: Ministry direction: cross-cultural; role concept: clear. I include persons whose major ministry is with nationals (believers or unbelievers), but whose role is more or less familiar in terms of daily requirements. Examples might be physicians, translators, professors, educational workers loaned to the church. While there is constant cross-cultural contact, the day-to-day routine provides some reassuring familiarity.
Category III: Ministry direction: cross-cultural; role concept: unclear. This is the area of greatest potential uncertainty; women who have not only cross-cultural stress, but also unfamiliar roles. The prime example is church-planting (a fuzzy concept to many people anyway), where women who have likely never seen a church started, and almost certainly not by a woman, assume roles normally denied women in the host society.
Other divisions may serve you better. Regardless, set out the peculiar problems for each: e.g., in I, the lack of outlets of ministry among nationals may be frustrating. In II, one who assumes too much transferability of role activity may find her ministry frustrating and ineffective, but not understand why. In III, uncertainty may raise doubts about the worth of both self and ministry as we demand in a cross-cultural setting what we deny women at home: exercise of initiative and leadership.
Indeed, with the combined stresses of church-planting and role unfamiliarity, it is remarkable that any have survived, let alone having taken a lion’s share of pioneer evangelism. I suggest caution in assigning women to this third area.
To close: Be specific. Discuss the specific job opening, its characteristics and tensions; make these clear to the candidate in the context of image and interpersonal problems discussed above. She, and the director, ought to know the job, and herself. 1, believe that candid, thorough, systematic, career oriented counseling can help dispel vagueness and aid in developing healthy careers for single women missionaries.
The gap between rich and poor nations in food production and consumption is growing wider, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Studies by the FAO show that in all developing regions except Asia, food production decreased in the past two years. "Poorer countries will not be able to bridge their food deficit by commercial imports, and food aid on such a massive scale seems unlikely. The food outlook in low-income areas of the world, already precarious, appears likely to deteriorate further," said Maurice Williams, executive director of the World Food Council. The situation in Africa is particularly disturbing, he said. African food production in 1977 was 10 percent below what it was a decade earlier.
But Shanghai will not I be alone in its exposure to foreign infection if Chairman Hua’s modernization program goes forward at its planned Pace. Every day there is an announcement of a new delegation of foreign experts in agriculture or industry or medicine or physics or whatever who have been invited to exchange views with their Chinese counterparts. There is an almost equal outflow of Chinese technicians or intellectuals who have been sent abroad to study Western ways . . . What Chairman Mao’s successors seek is to move their country bodily and boldly into the Twentieth Century as rapidly as possible. But to do that they have had to unleash forces which could change China’s ways. – Vermont Royster, The Wall Street Journal, October 20, 1978
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