Unreached Network

Uniquely Placed: Single Overseas Part 1

Dan has been in a Middle Eastern context for over five years, having gone young and single. He desires to stay long term, really trying to make his journey healthy and sustainable.  A big part of this has led him to choose to study at University in the city he is in.

I’ve been in a Muslim majority context 5 years. I came young and single… now a bit older, I’m still single. Serving in this context is hard enough. Doing it while single presents a unique dynamic.

I thrive off having loads of time, face the biggest challenge of loneliness, and desire to get married in a place where there are not many ‘fish in the sea’. On reflection, expectations were blown out the water straight away, and over the years there have been huge learnings. There are no real regrets after pursuing something of obedience to a call over my life.

If you’re considering a similar heart desire to relocate, don’t let singleness be a stumbling block. I recommended the journey ahead. Here is some of my story.

For me it started in my teenage years, when it was like God put a particular people group on my heart. I pursued that call with my everything, and moved abroad in my early twenties. I was sent well from my community back home and had the support of a tight knit family and close friends. I came as part of a team, and spent the first 2 years of my time here doing full time language learning and adapting to culture. Over 5 years, I’ve pursued some level of sustainability. For now, it seems I have that. Though anything may change, my intention is to stay here.

In the early stages I felt particularly alone in the day to day cross cultural challenges; visa runs, opening bank accounts, enrolling in language courses. I envied couples around me working through those together…

But as I got out and about, running errands, asking people for help, shopping, or just sitting in cafes, I started meeting people. In their tens. In 5 years here, I’ve met hundreds of people. The most amazing, beautiful people. That part has been a real joy.

However getting to know them and pursuing friendship presents itself as a unique challenge. Here, relationship is so tight knit within the community, it can be hard for the outsider to get in. In a language spoken in this part of the world, the root of the word ‘foreigner’ is ‘wild.’ You’re wild to them. And you’re trying to be their friend while not speaking their language in that early stage! On a good day I can talk to anyone. On a not so good day any level of social anxiety may creep in and I’ll want to withdraw and it’s different. But it was on my best days that I couldn’t comprehend just what it may take to build any level of trust with people I wanted to call brother and sister amongst those cross cultural challenges relationally.

I persisted, pursued and was patient. And there has been some level of fruit. What served me so well in this area was capacity. I have so much time being single. (It’s time and capacity my married friends here can only dream of with date nights and child care needs…) Before I came, a friend who had served many years in a similar Middle Eastern context said to me flexibility is a stand out strength. Flexibility and capacity hand in hand aided my language and immersion, and continues to bless my friendships. It provides a huge amount of freedom that leads to a lifestyle of getting out and meeting people. I’ve spent hour upon hour with the most beautiful people here.

Though surrounded by good people however much of the time, would you believe that my biggest challenge is loneliness? So we know God, Emmanuel is with us. We’re part of a team. We’re well loved and supported. Yet we still feel so lonely! This level of loneliness can of course be felt by anyone in any situation, married or single.

What’s important here for the single serving away from home is how particular needs of affirmation, encouragement and approval are met when family and close friends are not just around you, but are on the other side of the globe. These needs seem to intensify as they are almost lost in the challenges of language and culture, and as you’re giving so much energy, you miss the part where you’re meant to receive!

The loneliness that follows is a vulnerable place, bringing more exposure. This context feels dark and oppressive regardless. It’s almost like Satan wants to make you feel more alone!

The hardest times are Christmas & birthdays as homesickness is rife where you’re missing friends and family. It gets so emotional.

As we touch on challenges for a second let’s consider marriage. It is something I desire and think about. Serving in a Muslim majority context you find that there are not many people that fit your number one criteria of being deeply in love with Jesus as their saviour. To be honest I thought I would have met someone by now – a natural expectation. It’s not happened. So it’s learning and fighting to be content in the singleness. (And continuing to thrive off capacity!)

It’s all part of the cost. The cost Jesus talked about, which is pretty big. When you move and live cross culturally, there are huge costs with everything given up. As well as leaving loved family and friends behind, I left a fun job and everything that was normal to me. These were massive sacrifices.

We’re called to be a living sacrifice. To die to self and lay ourselves down. You’ve given up everything to move overseas and be in a place where you invite others into THAT call.

And it’s all so worth it, to see some saved! That’s the drive and motivation. Yes sometimes you have to dig deep, but it keeps you going.

There’s some learning and application for surviving this context as a single. In the loneliness there’s a choice. To spend hours in withdrawal browsing social media platforms, or to overcome by surrounding yourself with people. In my life, mentors and mates who have opened up their houses to me have influenced me so much. I’ve friends here whose homes are open to me. It suits me and suits the context, and meets a need for me. We just hang out, eat together and chat. Phone calls home are perfect also; to family, friends, mentors, supporters. Finally, a decent house share is key, meeting certain needs in the home setting.

There have been big learnings as everything gets stripped back. Just trying to see Jesus in different situations and letting your character be nurtured and shaped.

Back home, we are taught it’s all about you as the individual. In an Eastern context it’s all about collectiveness and community. I feel the focus on the individual is so wrong! We have a need for community. We are made for it. And everything it comes with – affirmation… encouragement etc.

Where are you looking for that? And where’s it coming from?

Those needs can be met on the ground for a single serving in a Muslim majority context, for the sake of seeing some won.

In Part 2, listen to the podcast Dan and Gayle recorded at #Unreached22