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Mind the Man Gap

in Blog, Cambodia, Current events, Disciple-making
Thoughts on singleness from a field worker in Asia.

I recently watched an interview with John Piper called, “Why are women more eager missionaries?” He highlights these facts: About two-thirds of the evangelical missions force is women, and a little under half of them are single. Within Crossworld’s ranks (counting field and home staff), we currently have 46 singles. A whopping two of those are dudes. Surrounded by this reality, it’s easy to get jaded into thinking that because this male-to-female ration is normal, it’s okay. But it’s not!

When I talked with one of my married teammates about this, she asked me, “Why does this even matter?” Excellent question! Even though I’m a single female missionary, I’m not interested in this topic because I want to find a spouse. So why does this ratio concern me?

I live in a small town in Cambodia and work at an anti-trafficking, non-government organization (NGO), which allows me to disciple a number of Khmer women. I also frequently run into Khmer men who are interested in Jesus or who are new believers; these men have no one to disciple them. These same young men frequent brothels because no one is discipling them to live differently. Some of these young men ask me to disciple them, but that’s tricky to do.

So to whom can I refer these young men? The majority of the married missionary men in my town don’t have enough availability to take on the volume of these fellas — these guys who will be the future husbands of the women with whom I work. Where the heck are all the single dudes who have the desire and time to invest in them? With a few exceptions, this is a serious man gap!

I wonder what this reality says to the Cambodian church. How does this lop-sided version of God’s body misrepresent the God we serve? I need my single brothers to come to the field, remain single, and work in the trenches with us.

Please don’t hear me hating on marriage. I equally need my married brothers and sisters to work alongside me — to model marriage and family in ways I can’t, and to show Khmer believers how to gracefully traverse the seasons of life with joy and contentment. Many families are doing some amazing things here.

On the other end of the spectrum, some single women are sadly wasting their availability because they are immobilized by the self-limiting belief that life only truly begins when you are married!

I don’t have the answer to the question of why there are so few single men on the field. I just have more questions. Is it some twisted perception of gender role expectations? Is it fear of loneliness? Is it sex drive? Is it a belief in the lie, “It’s easier to serve God when you’re married”?

What I do know for sure is this: Contentment is hard no matter what your life situation is, and working internationally will surely add another dimension to the difficulty.

Author Tim Keller said, “We should be neither overly elated by getting married nor overly disappointed by not being so — because Christ is the only spouse that can truly fulfill us and God’s family is the only family that will truly embrace and satisfy us” (The Meaning of Marriage).

Do we believe that? Do we live that? Really? Why, then, do we often act and speak in ways that show our beliefs are different? I’m regularly reminded in some way that I am single and that it’s not acceptable. True story: The other day I was in church and a well-meaning married sister came up to me and asked me if I knew that it is God’s best will for me that I find a husband. Hmmm.

What messages are we passing on to our disciples? What are we teaching that sounds like truth, yet draws single men away from going to the ends of the earth? Does it contribute to the man gap we are seeing in the mission world? In some way, we must have idolized marriage and demonized singleness. If I can feel it, imagine what my single brothers might feel.

Let’s reactivate our single young men — along with the rest of the church. It’s not too late.

Soteria makes disciples in Cambodia.
Listen to her tell a true story about discipleship.

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