It’s nine p.m. and ninety-five degrees in the jungle. The baby is burning up. We strip her down to her diaper and massage rubbing alcohol onto her delicate skin. She’s on fire. We dig through the medical bag by the dim light of our headlamps until, after what seems like an eternity of rummaging, we find the thermometer.
We pray while we check her temperature and administer the infant Tylenol. We hold the thermometer close to see the reading. Not good. Our six-month-old daughter has a fever of one hundred and four degrees, and we are a two-day boat ride away from the nearest medical care. Anxiety sets in. Should we try and wait the fever out, or should we call the medivac –– on our very first night in the jungle?
The Difficulties of Raising a Family Among the Unreached
Life in the jungle is hard. Animals want to eat you. Insects want to bite you and share all their tropical diseases. The heat is unrelenting. The labor is back-breaking. There are relatively few comforts and absolutely no amenities. And things don’t get any easier as we move beyond material matters.
Learning a new culture is an all-day every day exercise in patience and critical thinking. Language acquisition is tricky. Spiritual warfare is real. As I said, life in the jungle is hard. Now throw a sick baby into the mix.
The Great Value of Singleness
In 1 Corinthians 7:7–8, Paul wishes that everyone would have the gift of singleness. His rationale? Married Christians must necessarily have one eye on the kingdom and the other eye on their family (1 Corinthians 7:28).
While a single Christian is free to focus wholeheartedly on spiritual matters, the married Christian must focus on spiritual matters and his or her spouse and children (1 Corinthians 7:34). My experience in the jungle proved this to be true. While I was able to exercise great devotion to the Lord and our mission while on the field, the fact of the matter is that I was a man divided. I was “anxious about the things of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:32) and anxious for my family (1 Corinthians 7:33).
In contrast, the single Christian can give his undivided devotion to the kingdom. To be sure, Marriage is a gift and children are a blessing, and the Lord uses them both to shape us into the image of his Son. Nevertheless, we must admit, along with the Apostle Paul, that family will change the way we follow Jesus, and our capacity to serve as missionaries.
How the Great Commission Reshapes Our Mindset
Before going to the mission field, I spent five years in the U.S. Army. Thankfully, I was allowed to have my wife at my side for the entirety of my army career. But this is not typical in military life. The common refrain goes something like this, “If Uncle Sam wanted you to have a wife he would have issued you one.” The military relativizes the importance of marriage and family because of its chief objective: readiness and victory. Likewise, there is a sense in which the Great Commission relativizes the importance of marriage and family for the Christian.
The kingdom of God is breaking forth, and as glorious as the kingdom will be on the day of Christ’s arrival, the interim period is a time of great distress (1 Corinthians 7:26). This world is passing away, which means something for the way we relate to it. We don’t have the space to unpack the full significance of this truth here. For now, we can simply say, along with 1 Corinthians 7, that Christians must deal with this world as if we have no dealings with it. This means that some Christians should embrace their singleness as a uniquely useful gift for the cause of Christ among the nations.
Singleness is a Gift for the Sake of the Great Commission
This article is a loud and clear call for singles to recognize that their singleness is a gift given in love by Christ for the sake of the Great Commission, both at home and abroad. All single Christians are not called to the mission field, but far too often singleness is seen as a hindrance to missions rather than a unique opportunity to pursue missions with undivided focus and intensity. Such a view is surely out of line with a plain reading of 1 Corinthians 7.
Singles need to recognize that their singleness is a gift given in love by Christ for the sake of the Great Commission, both at home and abroad.
Can married missionaries be useful on the mission field? Of course. Married missionaries have been and will continue to be used mightily by the Lord for the glory of his name among the nations, but that doesn’t change the fact that single Christians are uniquely situated to serve the Lord with undivided devotion (1 Corinthians 7:34).
Take Advantage of Your Singleness
Our decision to come home from the mission field was largely due to concerns for the spiritual, physical, and emotional health of our family. We made the right decision, and I would do it again in a heartbeat. And yet, you should know that, were I a single man, I would most likely still be on the mission field. Life in the jungle is hard, but it’s next to impossible with a wife and two small children. So if you are single and want to serve the Lord on the mission field, don’t rush to get married right away (1 Corinthians 7:27).
It could be that you are single for a reason. Take advantage of your singleness. Pour yourself out for the sake of the nations with undivided devotion. I, like the Apostle Paul, “say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 7:35)
Editor’s note: At Radical, we pray that God would lead local churches to send godly men and women as missionaries to the unreached whether they are single or married. For another perspective on this topic, read Clyde Davidson’s article on Why We Should Send Families to the Unreached.