I have been blessed with fruitful and rewarding work in theological education, which is very much needed in a church only founded after the fall of the Soviet Union. I often thank God for sending me to Central Asia. I came here as a single woman. It is quite a different challenge to move continents and serve across cultures as a single than as a family, but it also presents different opportunities. I’d like to share some of these.
Being single allows me to fit in easily in relationships with local families. It is often easier to host and relate to one person than a whole family.
A single woman can be a great encouragement to local believers. When I first arrived someone said, “You will be a great encouragement to the women pastors”. I had my doubts as I could not even speak the language. But now, praise God, it seems to be true, and local friends and colleagues, male and female, single and married, younger and older, are an encouragement to me as well.
A single woman can provide an example of a contented and worthwhile life in a culture where single women are often denigrated. They face pressure to be married, yet have difficulty finding a suitable Christian husband. Many women are divorced after unsuitable marriages (sometimes being “bride kidnapped”)¹. People think it is better to have been married and to have a child than to be single. Many young women have found a man to give them a child with no thought of marriage. Christian women have had to learn that this practice is not for them.
I have been blessed here with rich relationships with friends, younger and older, from many nationalities in our international fellowship. Children here, away from close family members, also benefit from a surrogate aunt or grandmother.
When you are single you have opportunity to rely on the Lord, perhaps in a different way to those who have the support of a spouse. Finding space for time with the Lord each morning is not always easy for women with children.
You are not superwoman! Sometimes it is assumed that a single person has more time for ministry than married partners. So, we need to set boundaries. There is only one person (not two) to do what needs to be done, and many things take longer and are more complicated here. The danger that work can become all-consuming is not confined to single people. Rest and relaxation are important.
Living arrangements can be a problem. Many single people share happily together. I’m busy during the week and, being an introvert, I need time to recharge so I prefer to live alone. But I have a spare room for guests and I have a study where I often work with local colleagues. It was once suggested that single people only needed a one-bedroom apartment. Thankfully Interserve Australia supported me in my living arrangements, which are important for what I am doing here.
Loneliness can be more acute on arrival and Interserve has a great “buddy” system. I am glad to offer hospitality to new arrivals as I know how much help I needed. Although it takes time and energy, it can be mutually enriching.
Close friends leaving is always a loss and nourishing new friendships need to be developed. Sometimes people are tempted not to become involved with newcomers because you put time and energy into friendships and then people leave. Friendships are important to all of us, whether we are single or married.
Serving as a single woman presents many challenges and opportunities and I thank God for the privilege He has given me here.
Gwen has been working alongside the church in Central Asia for the past 13 years.
Names have been changed.
¹“Bride kidnapping” refers to a practice in which a man abducts the woman he wishes to marry. Though it is illegal, law enforcement remains lax in parts of Central Asia.