Life in cross-cultural service goes through many stages and seasons, and as a new year begins, you may be still focused on language learning or in the early days of active ministry. However, some who read this have years under their belt, and that may be your state as well. Today, I’m thinking of you—the married woman who’s been on the field a while. You’re as settled as you can be, have a routine with your kids, and are finding ways to serve your people group for the cause of Christ.
But maybe you find yourself doing it alone more often than not.
One of the many things I believe we are never prepared for as married women on the field is how to deal with the times we’re left alone, for sometimes long periods of time, while our husband is out “doing ministry.” If you’re single and reading this, don’t stop—it’s your chance to learn about something that may happen to you as well, but it also will hopefully teach you how to be empathetic to your married colleagues.
I’ve written before about how mission life challenges our marriages. We go from a society of independence and freedom to doing life 24/7 with our spouse. Sometimes we’re the only people on our team or the only ex-pats in our town or village. We are together ALL THE TIME as we learn language together and try to survive. Throw kids into that mix, and the fun just increases!
Then, just when you are used to having your husband around all the time and you have a grasp on language and life, something changes—he’s given duties or ministry that separates him from you and the kids. In most cases, this is a gradual progression. In cultures where the sexes are separated, your husband will need to go out on his own to reach the men of your village or city. It might not be safe for you or the children to go with him. Whatever the circumstance, your time together becomes limited.
If you’re homeschooling, you need to be with the kids. If you’re seeking to reach girls or women, you need to do that by yourself. There can be segregation in your strategy to reach this people group, and it sometimes leads to struggles at home.
Talk about how you will serve and what that means for everyone in your family.
When my late husband and I began service, we didn’t have children, so I was able to go with him more often than not to visit. Being together as a couple opened doors for families that neither of us could have achieved on our own. Talk about the need for a both/and approach in service. There will be times when you need to visit another woman on your own, as will your husband need to for the men he meets. However, there are also times when it’s important for him to have you with him to make deeper inroads into a home and family of a man he’s perhaps met in a coffee shop. You need each other in service, so don’t forget to acknowledge that and appreciate the role you each will play.
Also, talk about the need for purposeful family time. This happens in the homes of any kind of minister. The husband becomes so busy visiting and connecting with men outside the home, that he forgets there is a wife and children who also need his time. Balance is crucial, even when it feels the task is so urgent. Our Lord Jesus took time to heal Peter’s mother-in-law, enjoy a wedding, and visit friends, and he knew he only had three years to accomplish his mission. God gives us family for a reason, and we need not forget each other when ministry calls.
Long absences can be hard on both spouses.
As our roles changed over the years, we became mentors and trainers for others. This meant that sometimes my husband traveled to other countries for weeks at a time or I traveled to teach at a women’s conference, leaving him with our boys. Holding down the fort while a spouse is away for ministry can be a huge challenge, and thus, it requires planning and conversation on the front end.
I struggled sometimes due to worry over his security in traveling or mine at home. We developed code words to use on the phone, so we could know that each other was safe. Anytime one spouse travels, we need to activate our prayer groups and close encouragers to be in touch and lift us up. He may be traveling alone, but he’s not alone in what he does. If I needed to travel, I tried to make enough food to help him with the kids’ meals. National friends were also helpful during these times, so he wasn’t alone in caring for them without me. Don’t be afraid to ask for help—either of you. Just as we need prayer, we sometimes need physical help while a spouse travels.
Though it can be hard, try to plan for downtime between travels or ministry excursions. You need to see each other, catch up, love on one another, and also spend time with your kids as parents. Sometimes this means we have to say no to a national or colleague. Don’t let others pressure you when it means neglecting your spouse or family. Be firm and plan time together.
The more we talk and plan and work out the kinks together, the less likely bitterness will creep into our relationship. When ministry takes a spouse away for long periods of time, a wife can feel neglected and begin to get angry, not only at her spouse, but at God, her organization, ministry, and people group. Talk about this and also call on your accountability partner to pray with you through these struggles.
Serving at home while a spouse is away is still service. Don’t forget that. Being a parent is a ministry and an opportunity to steward a young soul for a very short period of time. Be content in your role as mother or father, when you’re both at home, but also when your spouse is away. Don’t think about what you’re missing by not being with them, focus on the opportunity you have to pour into your child in a special way.
Pray for your spouse.
Whether she’s away or he’s traveling, pray for each other. Have each other’s back in prayer and support, so you can serve in confidence that you’re going out with their seal of approval. Holding down the fort comes second to holding the ropes for each other in serving as only you can do.
Grace and Peace