“You live in Kenya?”
“And you’re 24?”
“So you don’t want to get married then?”
This is a conversation I seem to have a lot at the moment. Maybe I missed the memo that said missionaries have been kicked off of the ‘eligible singles’ list. Sure, I spend most of my days in a rural village where I’m more likely to pick up typhoid than a man, but I can walk whilst balancing stuff on my head, and that has to count for something right?
Earlier this year, after years of travelling back and forth, I moved to Kenya to launch an organisation. We (meaning me and my absolute babe of a social worker) work to keep families together, in a rural village badly hit by HIV. Most days it is as wild and rewarding as it sounds. Other days I feel like no amount of coffee in the world could even touch my level of exhaustion and I wonder whether God really thought through the idea of choosing me to do this. Some days God opens deaf ears and we see miraculous provision. Other days I have to look at 10 desperate families and decide who would go to an orphanage first without our help. And it is often those hard days that the singleness hurts.
Sometimes it is the loneliness that triggers those feelings; lying alone in a hospital bed with no one to tell you “it will be ok”, or simply the dreaded homesickness. Homesickness is a funny thing, and hard to explain to someone who hasn’t lived far away from their culture. On one hand, you desperately want to connect with the people you love, and have a taste of normality. On the other hand, to hear it and see it whilst not being able to be there is almost more painful than cutting yourself off completely. A couple of times my mum’s face finally loaded on skype, tears filled my eyes, and then a power-cut turned off the wifi. The stab of loneliness in those moments can feel almost like physical sickness to me. It is then that I long to have my own family, on my side of the world.
Other times it is a desire for protection that makes the singleness very real. A few months ago someone described me as ‘the bravest person they’d met’ and seemed surprised when I almost snorted my tea out of my nose (note: what not to do at your own fundraiser). I know why she said that. She sees the petite woman in the church hall describing snakes and talking about witchdoctors. But what she doesn’t see is how I carried on running and screaming 5 minutes after the snake had gone back into the bush. And she doesn’t see the days when I ask my social worker if we can go the long way home (away from the witchdoctor’s house) because ‘I just can’t today.’ It’s in those moments when I wonder what life would be like to not have to do those things alone.
Sometimes it would just be lovely to have someone to discuss things with. Let’s be real here: I don’t know what on earth I am doing 99% of the time. Sometimes having to carry the weight of decision-making alone feels heavy. I have had to comfort mamas who are so malnourished that they can barely breastfeed their starving babies. And I often just don’t have the words. I desperately wish someone could step in in those moments and tell me what to do, or give me the words to say.
So no, being a missionary, let alone a single one, isn’t easy. If you know a missionary, ask them how their day has been (not how the ministry is going) or tell them that you’ve got their back. Often that has been enough to pull me out of a ‘I’m so lonely and single’ sulk. There are times when having a partner to keep me company, protect me and give me advice would be wonderful, and there’s nothing wrong with having that desire. The problem comes when you look for a person to satisfy those needs, instead of looking to God. He designed men and women to love and help each other, but He is ultimately the only one who can fulfil our heart’s desires. It is Him who is our comforter (Psalm 119:76), our protector (Deutoronomy 31:6) and our source of wisdom (James 1:5). And He is more than enough.