Reformed Women Speak: Single Missionaries

Miss Johanna Timmer, departmental editor of Reformed Women Speak writes: “Miss Elzinga is one of the first graduates of the RBC [Reformed Bible College of Grand Rapids, Michigan]. Because they had no room for her in the CRC in Japan, she is teaching in a Junior College in Shimonoseki under the auspices of the RCA.”

A single missionary! By this I mean a missionary who is not married—single. This bit of information needs to be given, because, when the exclamation is made: “. . . there is not a single missionary in that town . . .”, our thoughts arc not directed to a missionary without a spouse, but rather to the fact that the Gospel of our Lord is not proclaimed in that particular town. And there are many such towns in Japan.

A single missionary! Eleven years in Surinam, (formerly called, Dutch Guiana), five-anda-half years in New Jersey and now sixteen years in Japan, about 1000 miles southwest of Tokyo. Admittedly, this is only a thin slice in the whole outreach program of the church, yet one thing that keeps irking me is, while certain mission boards are feeling the effects of economic pressures and are withdrawing missionary families from the “fields,” why such mission boards are not considering sending out more single missionaries. They must have their reasons.

In the July-August issue, 1976, of Missionary Monthly, the Rev. Harvey Hoekstra of the Reformed Church in America, shared with its readers some of the “factors underlying reduced missionary sending by mainline denominations.” The twelve underlying factors given by Rev. Hoekstra demand our attention. Also his “suggestions toward a new commitment to worldwide cross-cultural evangelization,” in the same issue.

And in Missionary Monthly, December, 1975, the Rev. Samuel Hofman draws our attention to the fact that today the costs for sending out missionary families has risen so high that some denominations feel compelled to reduce their missionary staff.

In other words, whatever the reasons, “mainline denominations” seem to withdraw missionary personnel and are not replacing the vacancies. This is tragic.

A few weeks ago I had a single missionary stay with me for a few days at my small Japanese style home. She is about 55 years old. For nineteen years she labored for her Lord on a small island, south from Kagoshimn, Japan. She was the only foreigner on the island. She had enjoyed the privilege of studying the Japanese language for two-and-n-half years before sailing for the island. “But the islanders have their own brand of Japanese, I had to learn the language all over,” she said smilingly. She had no social life, no communication with fellow missionaries for those years. Twice she went home for short furloughs. But a small cottage church was established.

“Only sixteen members and about a dozen inquirers,” she said, “but one of the sixteen is a leader . . . and how he dug into the Scriptures . . . he will continue. There are not even 1000 people on the island . . . they have the precious Word. Other islands around Japan are still waiting for someone to bring the Word.”

Do we dare to ask the question: “Only sixteen members in nineteen years . . . is it worth all the effort, the loneliness?” I tell you, there will be joy in heaven over one sinner who repents . . .” the Greatest Teacher said.

Mary Dillard, for that is her name—a graduate of Three Hills Bible College in Alberta, Canada, a master’s degree in Social Science from an American University—served where no missionary family could serve very well. And how many single missionaries are serving in isolated places? Many. Their names will not appear in Who’s Who, but in the Great Book of Life.

My thoughts go back to Surinam, about 1944. Miss Aafke Wezeman and I were cycling through the rice fields. Aafke pointed to a man (about 50) and a young girl (about 10–12 years old). “They were married last week,” she said. “Married,” I exclaimed. “Yes, and this is what bas to be changed,” was the determined answer. Miss Wezeman was the main force behind the adoption of a law forbidding the marriage of a girl before her 15th birthday, in that country.

To gain entrance to the women of the Hindustani families was through a single woman. Through the consistent and tireless efforts of Miss Wezeman many homes were opened to the Gospel of Jesus Christ in Surinam.

There is no need to write at length about how the Lord has used the single missionaries in His service. Mission records bear out this fact.

Here in Japan, according to a mission survey, there are about 2000 towns, averaging about 14,000 people, with no resident witness proclaiming the Gospel of Christ. About eighty percent of Japan‘s villages are unoccupied; the countryside is glaringly devoid of a Christian witness. These facts should grip our hearts.

If missionary families find it difficult to leave metropolitan areas because of education for the children and other family circumstances, how about assigning single missionaries to the towns! Remote areas are often not suitable for families; yet these arcas need to be evangelized.

Ah yes, it can be lonely in an out-of-the-way place for a single missionary, especially in a country where the foreigner remains the “yoso mono” (the other thing) or as the Rev. Timothy Pietsch said in an interview for the Japan Times (August, 1976), “. . . we’re still outsiders.” (Rev. Pietsch has been in Japan since 1936, except for the war years.)

I never felt the loneliness, the lack of communication in Surinam, but here . . . yes, very much so. But have we not experienced again and again that God’s amazing grace is sufficient indeed! And did we not experience what we sang so lustily back home:

I’ll answer, dear Lord, with my hand in Thine . . . I’ll go where you wont me to go, dear Lord, O’er mountain, or plain, or sea, I’ll say what you wont me to say, dear Lord, I’ll be what you want me to be.

And if, for financial reasons, denominations must withdraw missionary families from the foreign fields, would it not be possible to have some of these vacancies filled by single missionaries? Three single missionaries would not entail more cost than one missionary family with two or three children. Just consider travel expenses, housing, education and so on.

The Rev. Hoekstra wrote in the article we mentioned before, “We need to be flexible and creative enough to find new ways to release the energy and resources of people within the old mainline denominations committed to the historic, Biblical goals that have always characterized the missionary movement.”

As long as doors remain open we have the responsibility to continue mission outreach at home and abroad. And if. due to financial reasons, some mission board feels compelled to withdraw missionary families from foreign fields, maybe such mission boards could be more “flexible and creative . . . to release the energy and resources of people,” by sendingout more single lifetime missionaries. The advantages of single missionaries certainly outweigh the disadvantages, if there are such.