From biblical accounts to modern-day missionaries, many marriages have been profoundly impacted by the unique calling of God that leads people into missions. The richness of the developing relationship, with all its risks and the struggle of grappling with the questions as a team, builds layers in the marriage. For some, missions conversations began before the vows; for others, they happened at mid-point in marriage.
You’ve followed Bobby and Brianna Brown through the last two online events (How to Walk Faithfully Forward and Difficult Transitions). They met at fifteen and sixteen years old while on a three-month international mission trip.
“Serving a ministry was always a foundation for our relationship, even as friends,” said Bobby. The conversation of missions happened before the vows and colored their relationship. After they married and before having kids, Bobby and Brianna quit their jobs, sold all their belongings, and served in Southeast Asia for a while. “It was what we got married to do together…to glorify God.”
Mark Slone defines marriage as “…a beautiful testimony that honors God, the Author of marriage. When a husband and wife serve together in missions, God continues to use their covenant relationship as an example for others to follow.”
Looking at the Bible, we might think of Priscilla and Aquila (Acts 18; 2 Tim. 4:19). Aquila was Jewish. Both fled Italy together. Persecution led them to a new life that eventually involved church planting. This couple settled in Corinth, working as tent makers. It’s where Paul found them, and together they planted a church. After a year and a half, Paul took Priscilla and Aquila with him to Ephesus, where they continued to spread the Gospel. Hospitality was a trademark of Aquila and Priscilla’s work. However, little is said of what conversations transpired to change their direction from mere tent makers to church planters.
Mark Slone adds, “In the marriage relationship, God’s unconditional love, grace, mercy, forgiveness, comfort, and encouragement are visibly and verbally demonstrated. In serving together, you grow closer to each other and God.” This is true in Bobby and Brianna’s case and confirmed in other stories within WorldVenture.
Engaging the World for Gospel Impact Together
Eleven years into their marriage, Nikole Hahn talked to her husband, Tony, about her desire to serve in social media with a missions organization. His response was to express shock. “It’s like she took a sudden left turn after going along the same trajectory for a long time,” Tony said of their marriage. Eventually, God began changing his heart.
When Nikole asked him years later, “What made you agree to this path?” Tony responded, “Why would I get in the way of what God called you to do?” Not every married couple is called together, but the importance of a praying spouse cannot be underestimated. This couple forms a bridge between missions organization and church, each with their own callings—one with WorldVenture and the other as a deacon in a local church.
Gary Shogren said, “I am used to seeing missionaries come to the church and hearing, ‘here is our missionary So-and-So. And this is his wife.’ I always insist on this: ‘I am Gary, your missionary. And this is Karen, my fellow missionary. And she has her own distinct work.’ It’s like we are both enlisted in the armed services; we are fellow soldiers.”
Jim and Corrine Thorp discerned a call to missions at an early age.
“When God brought us together,” said Jim, “it was based on our common calling to work cross-culturally. That was the foundation of our relationship. We realized that we would need to find life partners that shared the same goal in missions.” Most of their decisions throughout their married life were based on that calling. They went to Brazil.
“The decision to do church planting in North Brazil was through our common sense of God’s direction in life. When we moved from Brazil to Mozambique, it was an agreed recognition that God was opening up a new door of ministry in a place of greater need. When we became directors of the Americas with WorldVenture, it was a shared process of discerning the potential to use what we had learned in life, ministry, and leadership to encourage others in their missional journey. We were in total agreement that this was the direction God wanted us to follow as a couple,” Jim explained.
Didymus in West Africa quotes Philippians 1:27,
“Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the Gospel.”
He explains the above verse. “Missions in a marriage means implementing Philippians 1:27 with one heart and so working as one to advance the cause of Christ in tangible, God-honoring ways and ministries.”
Didymus and his wife have served together for many years in West Africa. “In expressing our love for Christ having missions as part of marriage gives a common enriching purpose and goal for life together. It is part of the glue that binds our hearts to one another.”
Missions’ history reminds us of the difficulty of serving. John Livingstone started missions in 1838 and married in 1846. His wife, Mary, who would be called a third culture kid today, being the daughter of a missionary, accompanied John to Africa. She was such a part of his calling that his mission began to lack heart when she passed away in 1862 from Malaria.
“The man was so disheartened by the tragedy that his ambition suffered greatly. The Royal Geographical Society called him home due to the lack of progress.” (from here) John would recover and redirect his focus to England.
When Bobby and Brianna returned from Taiwan and began to get to a healthy place after much help from counselors and Paraclete (WorldVenture), they, too, refocused and began to dream about what God would have them do in Nashville, Tennessee.
Bobby and Brianna now serve in Nashville, Tennessee helping the nations experience the love of God through holistic care by assisting in resettling displaced families, offering spiritual companionship, and forming meaningful relationships with diaspora people. “The scales were lifted from our eyes,” the Browns said, “and we saw the nations in our backyard.”
Your Calling is Not Based on Geography
Engaging the world for Gospel impact as a couple is guaranteed to meet challenges. Through this article, you might have discerned some common themes with the couples mentioned:
- They communicated well with each other, often having many discussions.
- They prayed together.
- They obeyed God.
- Their definition of a marriage relationship was steeped in Scripture.
- Their marriage was a ministry in itself.
- They sought outside help (WorldVenture has an excellent Paraclete department).
- They recognized that their marriage was teamwork, but husband and wife have distinct callings.
- God first, each other second, and ministry third is a good formula.
- Striving together as one for the faith of the Gospel is imperative.
A Global Worker who serves in a sensitive area says additionally, “My husband likes to talk about Master, Mate, Mission. When we are submitted to the same Master, the marriage mate relationship leads them together to find the mission God has for them as a unit. Master, Mate, Mission come in that order.”
On your social media or in the comments, answer the following question:
- How did God call you and your spouse to missions? What were the conversations that ensued before going? Is this a current conversation?
- From Focus on the Family: Social Media and Marriage
- Explore opportunities together as a married couple by clicking here.
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Join the discussion 2 Comments
Glenn and I began dating in the spring of 1970; he was in college, I was a senior in high school. That December my parents (Dwight and Barbara Slaters, missionaries with CBFMS, now WorldVenture) were asked to go to Urbana ’70 to represent the mission there. Glenn and I rode from Michigan down to Urbana IL with them. We were both deeply stirred by the messages, but the key one was Paul Little’s on finding the will of God. Glenn and I were not sharing how deeply we had been impacted by this with each other. What happened was that at the last meeting, students were given an opportunity to stand in response to a series of topics, beginning with having discovered Jesus as Savior, to general dedication to whatever he would ask, and ending with affirming God’s call of that person to missions. Glenn and I both popped from our seats — not wanting the other to think that, if they stood, we were following them. Three years later we were married, and in 1977 were appointed by CBFMS to go serve in Côte d’Ivoire. Now retired, we are immensely grateful to the Lord for leading us together into this ministry of taking the Good News to an unreached people group there. His will is the one to affirm!