Expectations and reality do not always meet when a person commits to cross-cultural ministry, because for the majority of us, we start from a place, country, social status, and even marital status that is in sharp contrast to the people or place we serve.
We can’t help that our current position in life affects what we expect ministry to look like.
Simply the fact that I could, as a single 23-year-old woman, travel by myself to the other side of the world and live on my own in an apartment was completely foreign to the girls and women among whom I served in Ivory Coast, West Africa. Not only did I leave my family to spend two years in this far-away land, but I also helped run the publication house. My boss was also a single woman!
So, how could I, as this independent, strong woman, humble myself to serve women and girls who were getting pregnant in their teens to prove they were good for marriage?
I couldn’t, but God did—humble me, that is.
The best thing to burst the expectation bubble is a face-to-face with reality. I got it in two ways:
- First, by realizing that my Sunday School answers weren’t enough to handle the issues Ivorian girls and women were facing.
- Second, by falling prey to sexual temptation and being disciplined for it.
As singles, we need to face the fact that God protects us by serving people of the same sex and keeping a distance from those of the opposite.
I think it was probably a good thing that I only had two years to handle the trials of service as a single. God knew my weaknesses and limitations. By the time I left, I knew that I wanted to continue in service and also that I needed a man who was also called to serve. Again, in his grace and mercy, God provided for my need while I was attending an Arabic-language church during my seminary years.
However, a change of marital status does not mean that issues of sex go away.
I also realized that expectations could still throw me for a loop. Thankfully, I was able to deal with some of those while serving as a pastor’s wife to Arabic speakers in the United States. By the time we reached our first field of overseas service, I knew that I had two roles as a woman:
- Support my husband in ministry, which included visiting families as a couple, serving coffee or tea, and then leaving him alone with male visitors, and ultimately providing him a calm and safe home in which to unwind when the stress of his own ministry grew.
- Focus on the women God brought into my life, whether they were the wives of couples we visited, young women seeking to grow in their new faith, or children and girls who needed a Christian influence.
I’m not including motherhood here, because that is a ministry in and of itself. No, today, I share about our distinct gender roles because they do matter in serving cross-culturally. God created us male and female for a reason, and as a woman, I can safely speak into the needs of other women better than a man, whose words might be misinterpreted, or his intentions misconstrued.
While there are cultures where these lines are more blurred or nuanced, as believers of Christ, we show the world that we set a higher standard by focusing our witness on those of the same sex. It shows that we have integrity and respect another person’s sense of comfort.
Do you struggle with gender roles or expectations in your place of service? Ask the Lord to reveal hidden selfish motivations that are hindering you from yielding to the cultural norms for the sake of the gospel. In the end, be willing to recognize that there are plenty of people of your own gender with whom to share. Once you have them covered, feel free to share Jesus with those of the opposite sex—you would have earned it!
Grace and Peace