Since Paul the Apostle, the unmarried have served a central role in Christ’s missionary movement. Although marriage and families are not prohibited and certainly can provide unique ministry opportunities, there are good reasons why the Bible teaches us not to marry if possible. In 1 Corinthians 7 Paul infers that singleness is actually the higher state when it comes to serving God as long as He has gifted us to live abundantly in it. That certainly wasn’t my gifting, but I praise God for those who have it and honor many of them as heroes of the faith with more spiritual offspring than I’ll ever have.
One of my Wycliffe aunts, Mariana Slocumb, lost her fiancé to a heart attack just six days before their wedding. The young man had already begun to work among the Tzeltal people and rather than lick her wounds at home, Mariana took up the torch of the Tzeltal translation. There was great opposition to the Gospel. Chapels were burned, converts were killed but the Lord of the Harvest had a plan.
My Aunt Florence Gerdel and her partner Eunice attended “Camp Wycliffe,” a six-week cross-cultural ministry training, in the summer of 1936. Most mission leaders opposed the deployment of single women to translate native languages. The danger and difficulty made this seem like men’s work.
But Uncle Cam Townsend, the founder of Wycliffe Bible Translators, saw things differently as usual. People even told him these young ladies were, “too pretty to be missionaries” but he trusted their call and the One who gave it. By the end of 1941, just six years after beginning their work with the Mazatec people, they finished the first draft of the New Testament. There were also five other pairs of single women working in Bible translation throughout Mexico.
Then Eunice fell in love and married Dr. Wentworth Pike leaving Florence Gerdel without a translation partner. In 1947 she joined Mariana among the Tzeltal. As a nurse, Florence brought modern health education along with the life-giving message of the gospel. Just two years later there were 400 Tzeltal believers and the New Testament had been completely translated into their language. But that was just the beginning.
Here’s a helpful article about unmarried believers finding intimacy in the church: The Single Person’s Search for Intimacy
The baby Tzeltal church agreed to send Mariana and Florence to yet another language group that didn’t have God’s Word in their heart language. Eight years later they completed the translation of the New Testament in the Bachajon language in the Mexican state of Chiapas.
For most of us, completing three New Testament translations and effectively planting churches among three of the world’s unreached people groups is more than we’ll ever hope to accomplish. But this dynamic duo didn’t stop. They heard of a need in Colombia and moved to Lomalinda, the SIL base where I lived as a boy, in the mid sixties to begin the Paez translation. Growing up, I thought they were just a couple of old spinsters. But oh how proud I am today to have lived in the shadow of such heavenly heroes!
Single members of the body of Christ remind us that we are all members of one family under God the Father. They can connect more freely and fully with those God is using them to reach simply because they don’t have to care as much for the home front. In fact, single disciples are like Christ in their singleness, fully anticipating the wedding supper of the Lamb when there will be no more marriage except that of Christ and his church.
The world around us has gone crazy over sex. If we don’t stay alert and resistant, it presses us into its mold of sexualized definitions for everybody. In the haze, the beauty and power of the divine gift of celibacy can be twisted into a thousand sexual perversions since sex is synonymous with the so called successful life.
This past week I told our 23 year old daughter that I would not be disappointed if she never married. She’s a senior in college with no prospects and no hurry. I was surprised to see her wipe away tears of relief after I told her that. I had to apologize for making her feel pressured to “find someone.”
About one out of every three ACTION units is a single and I bet they do more than their share of the work. How can we care for these precious members of our ministry family? When was the last time we who are married included them in one of our kids’ birthday parties or holiday celebrations? Have you asked a single brother or sister lately if they need anything? We married folks always have somebody to bounce things off of. Let’s make sure they do too.
But whatever we do, let’s neither press them into the world’s mold nor our own. If the Lord of the harvest and giver of all good gifts has enabled them to serve Him single-heartedly, they will have great peace and joy in doing so in this life and great reward in the next.