Marriage is a very critical element in missions, much more than it is in most other careers. The marriage partner could either be the reason for a great success in the field or s/he could be the reason for frustration and eventual abandonment of the message bearer career.
It is therefore very critical that we carefully consider who becomes our life partner and eventually living with us “until death (do us part) separates.” In the old marriage celebration manuals, the exhortation goes that because marriage is holy and sanctified by God, it should not be entered into ‘unadvisedly.’
The notion here is that before marriage vows are taken, the would-be partners should seek enough godly counsel and be convinced about the will of God in the relationship. The bottom line is that “it is for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer etc.”
Given such brief background, we also need to understand that message bearer work is a lifetime affair and above all, it is a frontier ministry. Missionaries are normally operating out of the comfort zone of their life. They make a choice to be relocated in a region where the gospel is needed most, and they are acquainted with lots of sacrificial living on a daily basis.
Missions work is an abandonment of self to the will of the Father in the service of mankind -usually those who are deprived and unreached. It is therefore important to note that the message bearer marriage situation demands a little more strain beyond the normal ‘till death separates us’ affair. You have to go the extra mile with one another.
As a young unmarried person with the zeal for missions (life outside the comfort zone), who then qualifies to become my partner? It must be someone who can share the tough situations with me and also share my moments of joy and victory. Who is that lady or gentleman who will understand my situation and stand with me on the rainy day in the mission field? What qualities should I look for in that person?
The Potential spouse must have the clear spiritual disciplines of the Christian faith
Missions is a battle-front affair. Hence, it is important that the spouse must have a clear understanding of God’s leading and direction. The potential spouse must have a regular lifestyle of reading and studying the Word of God. This enables her to be in-tune with the Spirit of God and thereby know the mind of God for the message bearer family.
From day to day, it is important that message bearer families look to the Lord for direction. A spouse who therefore does not have a personal walk with God in His word will easily be lured by the pleasures of the world and become distracted from the goal of service.
She must be committed to PRAYER as well. A faithful praying spouse is one of the greatest supports to the message bearer in the field. It is said that “the family that prays together stays together.” If the spouse is grounded in his/her prayer life, there is an assurance that in the tough times, the family and the marriage will last – “tough times don’t last but tough people do.”
The potential spouse must also be seen to possess the quality of going the extra mile in prayer and fasting. In Africa, we are used to seeing the hand of God move in answer to fasting and night vigil prayers. As such when situations arise which are difficult, we run to the prayer and fasting closet to seek the verdict of God. A spouse of this essential caliber therefore assures you that in the times of challenge, your hand in his hand, sitting by her and both of you lifting up your voice together will draw heaven’s attention to the mission field and the Lord will respond.
That is enough confidence to walk into that marriage and march on to the field of calling. With this assurance from your prayer closet, you are assured of victory – companionship in dealing with all forms of human problems and attacks on the ministry. Message bearer retention results from Ghana indicates that a healthy family relationship produces high retention.
The Potential Spouse must have the spirit of complementing
When God called Adam and assigned him a role ‘to dress and to keep the garden of Eden.’ He (God) eventually called a “helper” to assist him (Adam) in carrying out the purpose of God. In the same way, when we are called into missions with specific directions from God, ‘the helper’ must add to what we do and not become competitors and complainers over the missions agenda.
Should the spouse become a “competitor” in the field, danger looms. Competition will breed disagreements. This will eventually affect the very fibre of the marriage and the family. If this marriage foundation breaks down, the mission suffers.
When you are looking for a potential partner in missions therefore, you need to find out whether your choice complements your strength or will want to fight with you over issues of ministry. This point however should not be confused with a healthy discussion over what is appropriate in a given context. A spouse may be concerned over certain issues and therefore ask for sober reflection before critical steps are taken in ministry.
I am specifically referring to the situation where the spouse holds out him/herself as competent enough to take over the roles of the assigned person. It is unhealthy and will ruin the family testimony and scare other co-workers. I glad to cite the example of Ghanaian missionaries whose spouses help in the field work. This was revealed in the WEA Message bearer Retention Survey conducted in 2003. “Their spouses also have a fair work role to play. (4.2 on a 6 point scale)”
The Potential spouse must be likeminded and suitable
We are searching for someone who can live and work with you in your message bearer call. And God did not make a mistake when He told Adam, “I will make a helper suitable for you.” (emphasis added) For somebody to be suitable means the person can fit into the mould of the message bearer calling, “She must have a clear understanding of what your message bearer calling is, and will be willing to adjust and adapt to the settings in which you work.
The message bearer calling demands that you are ready to change your mind from ‘home’ to fit ‘the field.’ This is what makes you a successful and surviving message bearer. Your spouse then must also exhibit clear signs of adaptability in her thinking and behavior. I will therefore recommend that as you muse over your message bearer career, your spouse to be must be alerted and helped to do the paradigm shift. She might have been musing over becoming a great professional in an elite environment. This means you are already poles apart.
If nothing is done, and you move into a marriage of convenience, there are dangers that the ‘old self,’ ‘the good old days,’ and the ‘had I known’ will emerge in the middle of the message bearer enterprise. In this light also, it is highly recommended that if the message bearer candidate is getting married the couple should have training/counseling/debriefing sessions together.
This training together especially for fresh couples on their way to the field helps to resolve future problems before they occur. The incoming spouse should be helped to adapt and fit into the message bearer understanding of the world. I must sound a note that this wouldn’t happen automatically.
It will take a conscious effort on the side of the message bearer and the agency involved. Through this effort, the incoming spouse gains understanding of the perspectives. Should there be disagreements over the tenets here, then the marriage should not be allowed to proceed at all – seeing the dangers involved.
Sometimes some think about exercising faith in times of trouble – but we must understand that faith is exercised by human beings based on the facts of the case known and understood by them. If the spouse already has problems with the message bearer enterprise or the agency principles and procedures, it will be difficult to exhibit mountain moving faith.
When your sources of information and instruction are alike, your behavior and attitudes tend to be alike. You will be suitable and enjoy both success and challenges of the work you do in missions.
The Co-Message Bearer Situation
For decades, we have practiced a system where one person is designated ‘message bearer’ and the other does not have a ‘real place’ in the scheme of things. As such, we are tempted to look for “a cook, a maid, money box or just a sex mate” in a spouse. The intention is for them to supply what we need to get going. This is referred to in my hey days as “help me finish my course” – a notion that the other person is just a means to an end. Message bearer statistics counts the staff and makes reference to the spouse as excess baggage.
For you the message bearer to find the right spouse, there is the need to look for a woman/man whose life counts towards making your vision stand. A spouse who knows and understands that my life as invested in the field will be reckoned in heaven will be willing to endure to the end.
A spouse who sees salvation of eternal souls as the outcome of his/her hours poured into message bearer work with you will be willing to give anything it takes for the vision to become a reality. Even if they serve in secular roles to support the work of missions, they will not be dissatisfied at home over the challenges of the work.
They see every uprising of the enemy as a collective attack on the integrity of the family and the work of God. They will stand together to fight. Then – you have a family you can count on – a spouse you can really say is with you. Attrition will drop to the lowest and retention rates will go high.
As you seek to find a woman/man to marry on your message bearer journey, look out for people who you can call co – missionaries (co-laborers). And you will be proud to see them invest their gifts and talents in the work you are called to. But again, watch out against the spirit of competition.
Again, please be warned against choosing a spouse just to feel satisfied or for financial or sordid gain. Some giants of the past related with spouses who only served them sexually, financially and took care of their babies (especially in the case of women spouses). The parties were never satisfied in the marriages and so became traumatized, and some died in awkward ways.
I may refer you to John Wesley and David Cook all of Methodism and William Carey of international fame. My assignment will be for you to research into what their marriages looked like. Be sure to send me what you have found out.
Sacrificial Living – the lost art of successful message bearer endeavors
I think an example will illustrate my point here. There was a young single message bearer who worked in the Upper East corner of Ghana in a village. His village is one of the remotest in the whole country. He cried for the salvation of the people group who were highly unreached.
After a few years of settling down in the field, he decided to pick a spouse who would be of assistance in his daily routine of message bearer work. After years of prayer and search, he finally agreed to marry a beautiful young girl from the popular city of Kumasi. Kumasi is in central Ghana and rich in resources. The northern sector has a large representation of families here and the southern people also travel for greener pastures in some vocational areas.
After Kwaku had performed his customary rites and blessed his marriage in church, he left with his beautiful city girl to his village in the Tumu area. He had high hopes of multiplied results from the field. But alas, he realized to his amazement that the countenance of the beautiful wife was not shiny. He had begun to wonder what his mistake was. Did he offend in any way?
When the situation was becoming too serious, Kwaku decided to have an intense conversation with his new wife. And Abena, his wife, spilled the beans, “How can you bring me to such a typical village? Do you really love me? How can I be myself here?
Kwaku was shocked to his bones but Abena made up her mind that she was not carved for the village life, especially when it involved sacrifices and no foreseeable change in the short run.
Kwaku eventually lost both Abena and his message bearer career. He became disillusioned when Abena packed her bags, would not listen to any more advice and came back to her ‘heaven.’ Kwaku, who did not have enough member care counseling nor trauma attention also left the field to try his luck in the south in another field of professionalism.
The above incidence could be avoided, if time was taken to give Abena adequate exposure and understanding on the gap between life in the city and village. A short term visit to the area and also teaching on the need for Christians to be willing to leave the comfort zone for the sake of the lost souls would have been a plus.
If you are entering into missions be sure not to go in for novices in mission exposure.
May God heal the many marriages that are hurting and give wisdom to those seeking spouses on their way to the mission n field or already in the field.
Sampson Dorkunor: Connections – A journal of the WEA Missions Commissions: Vol 3 No.2 June 2004. pp 59. www.wearesources.org