“Do missionaries get married?”
It has not always been worded so directly, but the question has been asked of me many times. Finding a spouse while serving on the mission field seems like such a daunting task. Doesn’t becoming a missionary mean giving up any hope of married life?
(Originally posted on The Sounding)
Well, it does mean surrendering the right to be married. For that matter, our life in Christ means surrendering every right, and relying instead on his abundant grace. Sure, you might not get married. But God knows what you need. And some missionaries do find their spouse on the mission field.
When I made the decision to move to Tanzania as a long-term missionary, I had to come to terms with the idea of marriage. Finding an Orthodox Christian woman of my culture who a) wanted to spend her life serving God in Africa and b) was interested in me seemed far beyond impossible. By following God to Africa, I knew that I might be giving up any hope of married life.
That wasn’t an easy decision to make, but it was the only decision. The call in my life was clear. I had recently read Archbishop Anastasios of Albania’s reflections on his decision, at age 33, to follow God’s call to Africa. He was apprehensive about the dangers, as I was worried about the idea of never being married. And then
The question formed in my mind: “What about the dangers will you face?” Then came the response: “Is God enough for you? If God is enough for you, go! If not, stay where you are.” Then a second question followed: “If God is not enough for you, then in what God do you believe?”
– A Candle In Front of the Savior, from incommunion.org
So I went. God has been more than enough. But I have certainly been lonesome. The toughest aspects of my very good life in Western Tanzania have been loneliness and not having companionship of someone from my own culture.
And our God, who knows “it is not good for man to be alone,” was watching out for me.
In 2009, when I was visiting parishes in British Columbia in preparation for missionary service in Tanzania, I met a woman named Daphne Cunningham. Daphne had served as a Protestant missionary in North Africa, and then returned to Canada to get her nursing degree. After becoming a nurse, she intended to return to Africa as a missionary. In the midst of this, she came into the Orthodox Church. As good and right as it was for Daphne to become an Orthodox Christian, she was not aware of Orthodox Christian involvement in missionary work. She thought she had to give up the dream of following God back to Africa.
But then I came along, talking about Orthodox Christian missionary work in Africa. Daphne and I stayed in touch. In 2011, she joined a short-term OCMC Team conducting clinics in various villages of our Archdiocese. Along with fellow missionaries, I helped to host this team.
It was a stressful time to say the least. But Daphne saw her calling, and within two days had determined to return to Tanzania as a long-term missionary. On the last day of clinics, she announced this decision to the whole group.
I was very happy to hear it. In the past two weeks, Daphne and I had worked side-by-side in very trying circumstances, under great stress. Working beside her was pure joy. I liked the idea of being around her for a very long time. Forever, even. And she seemed to like the idea of being around me.
We decided to pursue a relationship, and our love has grown from there. On Sunday March 25th 2012, the feast of the Annunciation, I asked Daphne to marry me. She said yes. We’re planning for a wedding in May, and a return to the mission field together later in the summer.
I don’t know what’s ahead. Of course married life in Africa will be tough. But it is clear that God has been with both of us, all along in these past decades, guiding us to seek his face. We have both striven to follow his call, affirming Archbishop Anastasios’ statement that because God is enough for us, we are free to go where he sends us.
He has sent us to each other. He knows what we need. God is good like that.