Throughout the history of Christian missions, women have played a very important role. Some have been single, but most have gone to the foreign field with their husbands. We would all agree that a married woman’s first responsibility on the mission field, or anywhere else, is to her husband and children. However, if her ministry stops there, the missionary husband is missing half of his team. In many cases the wives have been overlooked, and their contribution has not been properly recognized. (If you enjoy this publication, it is due to the tireless efforts of a missionary wife!) This article is dedicated to the other missionary—the wife who never clamors for praise.
Her Ministry: At least half of the world’s population is female. Jesus died for every one of them and desires that they all come to Him and be saved. A good, well-adjusted missionary wife serves in many ways. In the Muslim world, for example, it is totally inappropriate for a male missionary to speak to a woman or minister to her in any way. Only another female Christian can reach her. Also, people all over the world need to see what a good Christian family is. Love and respect between spouses may not exist. Child discipline may consist of screaming at the unruly child or throwing a stick at him. The missionary wife’s instruction and godly example are needed to teach women to be good wives and mothers (Titus 2:4-5). Churches on the foreign field often know nothing of ministry to children. Children run in and out of the church service and learn absolutely nothing! Mr. Missionary cannot deal with them; he’s busy teaching the big folks. But Mrs. Missionary certainly can reach them!
Her Language Learning: The above mentioned ministry will be non-existent if the missionary wife cannot speak the local language. If she doesn’t, she unintentionally sends a negative message. Women in the community expect the missionary wife to speak to them and will feel her to be stand-offish or unapproachable if she doesn’t. They will not be drawn to her influence. We all understand a woman’s need to talk. If she doesn’t talk with the women around her, who can she talk to? (We recently heard of a missionary wife who Skypes to her mother back in the states eight times a day!) If a missionary wife’s social needs are not being met by the people around her, she does not bond with them and her heart remains back home in the good old USA.
We know men are more intelligent than women—I’m just kidding—but for some unknown reason, women are usually better language learners. But they must be given a chance to learn. Sometimes financial support is lacking, and the man decides to attend language school alone. Brother, stay on deputation a little longer. Raise or save enough money for your wife to either attend classes with you or to hire a tutor. Pay someone to help care for the children and perform household duties. (God is not broke!) Your wife needs to learn the language just as much as you do. Learn it together; help one another. Then effectively minister for many years together!
Her Cultural Adaptation: Her language acquisition must include culture learning. Just as she needs to recognize and use new sounds, she must also adapt to a new set of cultural norms. For some missionaries, the cultural adaptation comes fairly easy; for others there is a struggle to adjust. We call this struggle “culture stress.” It is a mixture of irritation, fear, uneasiness, and uncertainty. It may cause a missionary wife to withdraw to her house. (Her husband may be going through the same stress, but he’s a missionary; he must get out and act like one. She, however, may use her role as mother and wife as justification to stay inside and avoid people.) If not overcome, culture stress can develop into culture shock, causing or exacerbating physical or emotional ailment. It can result in early departure from the field or a very miserable and unfruitful existence on the field. Understanding the culture is the first line of defense against a culture crisis.
Her Pre-field Preparation: The couple’s preparation for the field may consist only of a class or two of missionary theory in Bible college and perhaps a week or two of candidate school. Although helpful, these can hardly be considered sufficient preparation. Since the number one missionary activity is talking, specialized training is needed. Communication in the new language doesn’t just happen because the missionaries are spiritual—God is not giving the gift of tongues today. Failure to prepare is preparation for failure! It is regrettable when a missionary does not know about helpful training programs available to him such as BBTI’s Advanced Missionary Training. It is inexcusable when he knows but thinks he doesn’t have time for it! At BBTI, the missionary wife receives exactly the same specialized training as her husband. Her children, regardless of age, are well cared for just down the hall during school hours. Is it difficult for a mother to be in class when her heart wants to be home with her children? Yes, it is. Regardless, more than one of our student wives has been heard to say that she can’t imagine going to the field without knowing the things she is learning. Every possible consideration is made to ensure that she graduates with all the linguistic and culture-learning skills available to her, giving her a much better chance of a fruitful ministry on the foreign field.
The missionary and the other missionary, his wife, are a team. “Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour” (Ecc. 4:9). Together with the Lord, they are “a threefold” team that “is not quickly broken” (v 12).