Guidelines for World EvangelismGeorge Gurganus, editor
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The dictionary defines a missionary very simply, as one with a mission or one who undertakes or accepts a mission. A missionary woman, therefore, would be defined as a female who has a mission or who undertakes a mission.

The word missionary may be used in a very broad sense but in religious circles, it has come to indicate those who have accepted the challenge of preaching in a different culture and is used synonymously with dedication, religious sacrifice, adjustment and "purpose in life."

Outside religious circles, the word missionary may still mean one who preaches in a foreign culture but the synonyms are often quite different. Writers have tended to deal rather harshly with the missionary, ridiculing him, maligning him and poking fun at his way of life. He is often pictured either as a spineless misfit or an arrogant religious bigot. Always in the background is the missionary woman—long suffering, unattractive, meek, and obviously unhappy. Cartoonists have drawn the missionary as a milk-toast character, out of touch with reality, perhaps looking pious or self-righteous as he stands in the cannibal's cooking pot. Again in the background is the missionary woman, wearing out-of-date clothing, her hair in an unattractive bun, wringing her hands helplessly or singing a hymn as her husband prepares to meet his Maker. The single Missionary woman has fared no better and has often been pictured by the novelist as becoming a real woman only after she has forsaken her religious mission and rejoined the "real" world. (The missionary woman in the movie African Queen, for example.)

In reality, missionaries are very much like other Christians. They have the same weaknesses and strengths and in a group would probably not be distinguishable from anyone else. However, the missionary does face a different set of challenges and problems and must learn to cope with life in a foreign culture. This does serve to make him unique.

The woman who becomes a missionary whether as the wife in a missionary team or as a single woman who has accepted her own particular mission is still a woman. She will face the same problems, frustrations, and blessings as women everywhere but these will be compounded by the fact that she must meet these problems in a new and alien setting which will cause additional problems and add new challenges.

The fact that this present volume includes a single chapter on the missionary woman does not mean that the missionary woman is still a background figure. Rather, it indicates a realization that the missionary woman has a unique and important role to play in the success or failure of missionary endeavor.

The missionary man may face the difficulties of learning a new language and dealing with a different set of customs in a new culture. Although he may find it necessary to modify his techniques of preaching or teaching, basically his work remains the same. He is still doing that which he has been prepared to do. For the woman, however, her entire way of life may be completely reversed. She must make a home in a new style dwelling, cook strange foods, watch her children adapt to customs that are alien to her and, at the same time, adjust to the new role of "missionary," which she may discover demands much more than she had ever considered. The single missionary woman's adjustment may be less severe in that she does not have to care for a family but she may find her mission severely hampered by the fact that she is single and is a woman.

The success or failure of the missionary woman to adjust to her new life has important implications for mission work as a whole. If the single woman is not able to cope with her problems, she may return to the States and the work will lose a valuable worker. If the missionary wife is unable to adjust, the entire family may return to the States and two valuable workers will be lost. If the adjustment is only partial, the family or individual may remain on the field but the influence for good may be severely hampered and the welfare of a Christian family jeopardized.

This chapter cannot begin to answer all the questions and solve all the problems related to the missionary woman. It will, however, attempt to point out certain problem areas and suggest some solutions in the hope that prospective and missionaries may be forewarned and thus better able to prepare themselves to become more effective servants of the Lord.

Missionary Motives

"You're going to be a MISSIONARY? You're actually going to spend the rest of your life in a foreign country, teaching heathens? WHY?"

Probably the above questions have been asked, more than once, to every prospective missionary. The answers given will vary according to the individual, but basically they will follow a general trend. The missionary will answer that he has chosen his vocation "because of a desire to preach the gospel to a lost world."

However, if the missionary will look more closely into his or her inner self, he may discover other motives than just a desire to evangelize. These are not necessarily wrong, when combined with a true love for souls but it might be well for the missionary to fully know himself or herself. Basic motives will have a definite influence on the missionary's success or failure. If the true motive is love for souls, the missionary will be willing to do whatever is necessary to satisfy that need, but if the true motive is something else, the end result may be frustration and failure.

The list of motives for missionary women could be as varied as the women themselves. However, the following are perhaps the most pertinent, as related to the missionary woman:

1. Pioneer Spirit. Many a missionary woman has bee n moved to become a missionary because of the promise of adventure. There are no new lands to conquer but there are new cultures to learn. It sounds exciting to meet new peoples and venture into areas where few Christians have gone. Perhaps every missionary should have some of this motive, for entering a new culture will certainly be an adventure. However, adventure soon becomes old. The pioneer may tire of carrying water, living in a mud hut, or shopping in a local market. If the pioneer spirit is the only motive then it soon may not be enough.

2. Travel. Related to pioneer spirit is the desire to travel. Again it is exciting to travel to new and distant places. How ever, the tourist, who exclaims over the primitive life in Africa can take her pictures and return home. The missionary must stay and the primitive life becomes hers. Unless the desire to travel is combined with a desire to serve it will not be strong enough to overcome the obvious obstacles.

3. Obeying as a Form of Duty. The Christian who realizes that God has commanded that the world be reached may decide that she must accept this challenge in a foreign setting in order to have salvation herself. But there is obedience without a true love for souls, the mission may become mere form without real substance.

4. Can't Make It in the States. There is also the Christian who cannot seem to fit into any real niche in the home church. She is unable to find any real area of service, and so decides that being a missionary is her calling. The fallacy is, of course, that she will probably not find an area of service in the mission field, either. A misfit in one society is probably a misfit in another.

5. Resists Authority—Needs to Work on Her Own. This motive may apply to the woman who would like to do more than the home church allows and perhaps take more of a leadership role than the elders will permit. The mission fields offers to her an opportunity to make her own decisions and avoid the restraints of traditional authority.

6. Guilt. Another motive for becoming a missionary is guilt. Unable to accept God's forgiveness for past sins or to forgive herself, the Christian woman hopes that by sacrificing as a missionary and giving up home and friends, the guilt will be absolved. Unfortunately, instead, the guilt may be compounded by the problems met and unsolved on the field itself.

7. Group Hysterics. Often an individual or couple will decide to become missionaries because their friends are making the decision or because it is the "in" thing to do. Wives are sometimes reluctant to express their own feelings or misgivings because to do so would alienate them from the group. If the mission is accepted because others are accepting a similar mission, the new missionary may later be confronted with more difficulties than she is able to overcome.

8. I Married a Man. This may not be an actual motive but it is often the only reason that many missionary wives have for finding themselves in the mission field. They have given very little thought themselves to their own responsibilities and duties, and are merely following their husband's decision. When a woman does not share her husband's desire to serve, she may find it difficult to adjust to the life she must lead. This may lead to resentment, unhappiness, and an unwillingness to continue the mission.

9. My Parents Were Missionaries. Some missionary children feel an obligation to continue the work begun by their parents. Certainly this is commendable. It is also expedient, since cultural adjustments will be minor and language no difficulty. However, the mission must become theirs, not their parents. The desire must be to serve the Lord and not just to please parents.

The missionary woman needs to examine the real motives behind her decision to become a missionary. If there is no true love for souls, no real desire to evangelize a lost world, then the life of a missionary may be very difficult.

Missionary Qualifications

If a school principal interviews a prospective teacher, he begins by asking for teaching credentials. An executive wants to know how fast the secretary can type. The medical board carefully reviews the records of a new doctor. Even a high school student takes aptitude tests to determine whether he is more suited to be a mechanic or a lawyer. Likewise, there are certain qualifications or characteristics that should be present in the prospective missionary. The following list is by no means all inclusive, but is suggested merely as a beginning point for self-evaluation.

1. The missionary woman should be a strong Christian. This includes a knowledge of God's word as well as a deep spirituality which includes a dedication to service and a positive reliance on prayer. There is often a mistaken idea that becoming a missionary will increase spirituality and offer more time for prayer and study. Unfortunately, this is usually not the case. If anything, problems and frustrations may make it more difficult to later grow spiritually.

2. The missionary woman should be one who is more than usually resourceful and bouyant.1 Creativity and imagination are needed to make a home in a strange culture and to adjust to a new cultural frame of reference. Likewise, there will be disappointments and discouragements and the missionary will need to be able to resist depression and to turn failure into success.

3. The woman who has been exposed to many kinds of people at different levels of society tends to relate better to a new culture than one whose background and contacts have been limited to people of her own socio-economic background. Also, the individual who has had environmental mobility tends to adjust more rapidly to the environment of the new country.

4. The missionary woman must be educated, not necessarily academically, but rather she should have an intellectual curiosity that goes beyond that required for mere academic study. This would include an interest in people, places and ideas. Because the missionary woman usually demands of herself a particular service, it would also be wise to train for a particular mission. Education (teaching), home economics, nursing, nutrition, secretarial skills, language expertise, and anthropology are just a few areas that are of great value on the mission field.

5. The missionary woman should have a very minimum of racial prejudice. Feelings of prejudice toward any group of people will carry over in dealing with all other groups of people. Prejudice cannot be concealed and a missionary with feelings of superiority will have limited influence at best.

6. The missionary woman must have a talent for building. This includes not only building a home but being able to start classes, build congregations, and develop intimate relationships with people who speak a new language and live in a different culture.

7. The missionary woman must be healthy, both physically and mentally. In a new culture, the physical body will be beset by new germs and diseases, and mental health will be endangered by the frustrations and complications of culture shock. Even the very healthy will suffer, but poor mental or physical health will be a serious liability from the outset.

8. The missionary woman needs to be emotionally mature. She must be able to finally depend on God and herself. She cannot be emotionally tied to her mother, or her stateside life. She must be able to adapt to new social situations and to accept defeat as well as success. In addition, the single woman must be able to cope with the inevitable loneliness, and also be able to handle such matters as visas, bank transfers, household problems, etc., that she will encounter as she lives on her own.

10. As to age, the missionary woman must be young enough to learn a new language and adapt physically and mentally to a new culture, and old enough to be mature in thinking and acting.


The importance of missionary training and preparation is just beginning to come into its own. A mere "calling" is no longer considered the only prerequisite to becoming a successful missionary. Preparation is as vital for the missionary woman as for the man, and the reader is referred to the chapter on preparation in this volume. Suffice it to say that unless the woman also receives training, the mission team will be severely handicapped.

Cultural Adjustment

It has already been suggested that the woman may have a more difficult adjustment to make to life in a new culture. This is due to the fact that her sphere of service more often involves the home and the physical living situation. It is in these areas that cultural differences are most noticeable and most frustrating.

In order to overcome the inevitable culture shock, the missionary woman needs to have an understanding of customs and culture and a command of the native tongue. She must also develop an honest appreciation of the society in which she lives, and which will include a respect for the people of the nation and a desire to incorporate into her own life as much of the culture as possible.

Cultural adjustment or empathy can be fostered by a systematic study of the culture, beginning with an understanding of one's own cultural milieu and then moving into an anthropological study of the new culture itself. The acceptance and use of new customs, as well as becoming adept in the native tongue, will aid cultural adjustment. Finally, seeking and developing new relationships with people will provide avenues through which respect and genuine love can grow.

As the missionary woman conscientiously reaches out to the new culture and to the people of that culture she will find that adjustment will follow naturally and easily.

The Missionary Wife

It might seem that a special section on the missionary wife would be unnecessary since the responsibilities of being a wife and mother should remain the same, whether abroad or at home. However, there are two additional factors which have a strong effect on the Christian missionary family and particularly the missionary wife.

First, of course, is culture itself. The woman's responsibility to create a home becomes more difficult. Not only must she make adjustments in every phase of her life from child rearing to dishwashing, but she must also find the time to study language and learn about the new culture.2

Second, the missionary wife will find that she must meet new role expectations. Although her responsibilities should not be any different than the Christian wife at home, she will find that there are pressures to assume new roles, many outside the home. Her husband may want her to join him in his evangelistic activities. And, if the desire to preach to a lost world is hers as well as her husband's, she may feel that she must take an active part in the teaching program. The home church may even expect more of her than they do of other Christian women.

If the new duties are those with which the missionary wife is comfortable and there are no small children to suffer from a lack of maternal guidance, then there will be no difficulty. However, if the wife is, pressured to fit into positions for which she is not prepared, the results can be disastrous. Not everyone is suited to be a teacher or a social worker or a secretary.

A clear definition of roles will help the new missionary wife clarify her new life and help ease the initial adjustment. A constant reviewing of roles may be necessary for they may change as children grow older or as new talents are developed. Regardless of what other responsibilities she assumes, the missionary wife must not forget that her primary duty is to build a home.

Marriage Relationship

The marriage relationship of the missionary couple is of utmost importance to the success of the mission endeavor. If the marriage relationship is weak, the problems and difficulties of mission life will create even greater divisions, Not only will the family itself be emotionally unbalanced but the struggling new church will lose the living example of what a Christian family can and should be.

Prospective missionary couples are urged to strengthen their marriage relationship by whatever means available: reading the excellent books on marriage that are now available, visiting with marriage counselors, attending marriage seminars or encounter groups, and, certainly, praying and planning together.

There are many factors involved in a successful marriage relationship but the following are suggested as being particularly pertinent to cultural adjustment:

First, the missionary couple should be able to communicate. In some cases, there may be no others with whom to share ideas and thoughts. Communication involves not only a discussion of problems but also a sharing of joys and hopes.

Second, the missionary couple must be able to accept one another, to recognize problems that may be too deep to explain and to realize and accept without threat the irritations and emotions that may develop in the new culture.

Third, the missionary couple must provide mutual support. Culture shock often gives a feeling of being alone, but marriage should provide at least one other person to whom an individual can turn to for support and confidence.

Fourth, the marriage relationship must be characterized by intimacy. This is not merely sexual contact but a relationship characterized by transparency and authenticity, which permits each partner to be open, honest, and real.

Finally, the missionary couple must pray, study, and play together. The wife must never cease to be a wife and the husband must accept his role as the head of the family, spiritually as well as physically.

Missionary Children

Wherever American missionaries are found, one also finds missionary children and the myriad of child rearing problems multiplied by life in a different environment. Since children themselves adapt easily to new situations and new languages, such problems are more parent-problems than children-problems.

If children are allowed to develop in ways that encourage communication and intercourse among peoples of different cultures, not only will they mature naturally and easily in the new culture but they will also open the doors and hearts of the local people.

However, if parents communicate their own fears and prejudices to the children or if they attempt to isolate them from the local culture, the children can become a barrier to cultural adjustment and creatures of a quasi environment, living in the midst of a culture but not a part of it.

Parental responsibilities for child rearing are the same regardless of geographic location. The family is still the chief agent of the child's socialization process. Problems arise when parents are, too busy with other activities (preaching included!) to give children the love and attention they need. When servants are available, parents may be tempted to delegate too much of their responsibility to others and forget that children also suffer from culture shock but are without the abilities to communicate their uncertainties or to understand their emotions.

Child rearing in a new culture is often complicated by cultural differences. A Korean mother does things differently than her American counterpart. The missionary mother may wonder whether she should do things the "American way" or conform to local standards. The answer lies in deciding what is important and what is not. She must not endanger the health of her children but she should keep an open mind and be willing to learn from the new culture.

The dilemma of educating missionary children is a very real one and one that each family must solve for itself. Basically there are three solutions and each should be carefully reviewed before a decision is made:

First, the children may be taught at home by use of a correspondence course. Teachers do not need to be professional educators and the schooling is quite adequate. Obvious problems lie in keeping a definite schedule and the lack of give and take with other children.

Second, the children may be sent to an English language school, which is generally available in almost every country and major city of the world. Advantages of this solution include the absence of language difficulties and the similarity to a Stateside education. On the other hand, boarding children may be necessary and such schools may tend to isolate children from the real culture in which they are living.

Third, the children may be sent to a local school. Such a decision can help children and the entire family identify more closely with the local people. They learn to cope with many new situations and feel a part of their new country. However, local schools may be inferior in quality and the language may be a great disadvantage.

Every missionary family must evaluate its own situation and make a decision based upon its own needs. Children are definitely a part of the missionary team.

The Single Missionary Woman

The annals of missionary history chronicle the deeds, sacrifices and commitment of early single missionary women. These women were pioneers in every sense of the word.

Today, more than ever, single women are looking toward the mission field as an area of service. The amount of good they can do cannot be measured. They are needed as teachers, personal workers, secretaries, doctors, and in every field of Christian endeavor. Although they cannot preach publicly or assume church leadership, single missionary women can be a powerful influence for evangelism.

The fact that a missionary is single does not immunize her from the inevitable culture shock. She feels it just as forcibly as her married sister. It may actually be more difficult for her to overcome because she does not have a mate in whom she can confide and find support.3

An additional cultural problem comes as a result of the very fact of her single-ness. In many of the world's cultures there are no single women of marriageable age. Marriage is accepted as a matter of course for every woman. In the case of some Latin countries, there are only three kinds of adult women: wives, nuns and prostitutes.

The absence of a spouse may place the single woman in a sort of status limbo. The new culture may not quite know what to make of her and she may be frustrated by their attitudes and the barriers they present. She will need a very careful study of the local culture in order to determine where and how she might fit in.

The problem area that seems to affect most single missionary women the greatest is that of loneliness. This may be compounded by the cultural problems just mentioned. However, if she is willing to share her life with others, and, in turn, share theirs, she will find that she has little time to be lonely.

A special problem for the young single missionary may be in her relationship with the opposite sex. This would certainly be true if she is seeking to develop cultural empathy and be accepted by the local people. If she assumes the same freedom as she had in the States, she may find herself in embarrassing situations if local customs dictate a different behavior. Here again, a close study of the culture will help her clarify and modify her behavior in regards to dating and other relationships with the men with whom she has contact.

Another problem area faced by single missionaries involves their relationships with the missionary families. Being single places her somewhat outside the inner circle. She may be asked to assume duties such as typing, baby sitting or grading correspondence courses when she feels her ministry is personal evangelism or teaching. She may not be consulted in group decisions that involve her welfare as well as those of the families. If the single missionary woman is working with a group, it is recommended that she reach an agreement, beforehand, as to how she will fit into the group's plans and mission.

The single missionary woman must not forget that she is still a woman and her place in the work of the church is outlined in the Scriptures. Crossing oceans or borders does not give her a permit to usurp the authority given to men.

Since the single missionary woman does not have a family to care for, she has more time than her married counterpart for language and cultural study, Likewise, she has more time for evangelistic activities. Thus she has great potential for both cultural adjustment and Christian service.

Personal Adjustment and Identification

The success or failure of a missionary woman will depend largely on her ability to adjust to the local culture and become accepted by the local people. Language and cultural study will facilitate this end but in the final analysis, acceptance and adjustment is made on an individual basis and is directly related to the extent to which the individual is able to identify with the people with whom she is working.

Identification involves the totality of interhuman relationships. It is not cheap imitation or a loss of personal identity but rather the missionary becomes more of herself as she grows toward others.

Identification is possible only if one recognizes its limitations: first, that identification is made with individuals and not nations and, second, that it will be partial at best. An American can never lose her Americanism but only subdue and modify it. The process of identification begins with a genuine regard and respect for the people with whom the missionary is working. Feelings of superiority will not produce identification. The process grows through involvement in the lives of individuals, as the missionary makes an emotional commitment to others. It includes a willingness to give as well as to receive and to learn as well as to teach. Identification does not come automatically. The missionary must make an effort to adjust and to find her niche in the new society. This process is a very personal one and with possibilities as limitless as the missionaries themselves. Each woman is unique and will take with her into the field her own aptitudes, attitudes, talents and hobbies that will make her process of adjustment and identification equally unique. Each must develop her own strategy and plan for promoting and facilitating her own personal identification.

There are many ways in which the missionary may find and develop the interpersonal relationships from which identification evolves. The following list is suggested only as a small beginning:

1. Community Participation. The missionary must recognize that the new country is now her home. She must become involved whether at the village well or the large city civic center. She must be an interested participant in local affairs.

2. Local Politics. The missionary should be aware of local politics. This means knowledge, but not intervention. She is not in the field to create political change but certainly she should not be ignorant of what is happening, politically, in her adopted country.

2. Local Events. An awareness of local events will help the missionary become more a part of the new society. She should read the local newspaper, know about holidays and special events and be cognizant of important milestones in the lives of the people around her.

3. Hobbies. A hobby need not be left at home as the missionary packs her bags for overseas living. Not only does a hobby relieve pressures and tensions but it can also serve as a catalyst for many personal encounters with people of like interests. For best results, the hobby should be considered worthwhile by the local people. (Chess in primitive South America would probably not be as effective as a study of flower arrangement in Japan.) A hobby may develop on the field as the missionary becomes expert in local folk lore, antique pottery, music or the native religion.

4. Use of National Products. The use of products made on the local economy will not only foster identification but will help the missionary develop a pride in local achievements. As much as possible, food, clothing, and household furnishings should come from the host nation.

5. Local Club Work. Women's clubs and interest groups flourish in most cities of any size. Even primitive tribes have some sort of women's alliance. The missionary would do well to become a part of such groups. They will help her find friends with common interests, provide an outlet for service and give her countless opportunities for making contacts that could lead to new Christians.

6. Acceptance of Local Customs. The missionary's acceptance of local customs will help her become less foreign in her own eyes and in the eyes of the local people. Adopting local customs should be a natural outgrowth of respect and appreciation. That which may begin as a conscious imitation of something appreciated will evolve into a closer relationship with people of shared customs and ideas.

7. Special Talents and Interests. As each missionary looks at herself she will find new ways in which to increase relationships with local people which will develop into closer identification.

Planning and carrying out a strategy for personal identification will help result in a more enjoyable and profitable sojourn for the missionary woman. She becomes not only the bearer of "Good News" but the receiver and participant of a true learning experience which will create relationships through which Christ can be communicated.

The missionary woman has a multiple responsibility in world evangelism. As a wife and mother, she must help her family live successfully in a new culture. As a woman, she must develop her own talents and grow spiritually and mentally. And, as a Christian, she must find her own avenues of specific service and be fully committed to bringing others to Christ.


1Some of these qualifications have been paraphrased from: Cleveland, Harland, Mangone, Gerald J., and Adams, John C., The Overseas Americans. (New York: McGraw Hill Book Company, Inc., 1960), page 171.

2The reader is referred to the following volume which deals specifically with culture adjustment:

Hardin, Joyce. Sojourners: Women With a Mission. (Korea: Korea Consolidated Corp., 1973).

3It is often suggested that single women go in pairs to offset this problem.


Bawcom, Louanna M. Journey with Joy, Winona, Miss.: J. C. Choate Publications, 1968.

Butlar, Joyce Marie. "A Study of the Role of a Single Missionary Woman Functioning as Part of a Team Working in Buenos Aires, Argentina," unpublished Master's thesis, Abilene Christian University, 1976.

Hardin, Joyce. Sojourners: Women with a Mission. Inchon, Korea: Korean Consolidated Co., 1973.

Tuggy, Joy Turner. The Missionary Wife and Her Work. Chicago: Moody Press, 1966.

Williamson, Mabel. Have We No Rights? Chicago: Moody Press, 1957.

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