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Suddenly Significant Others

Romance on the Field

By Ted Bulicek and Linda Olson

Editor's Note: See also Trial by Team.

Never before had Janice experienced such spiritual intimacy as she had with her teammate Tom. The beauty of Kenya along with the excitement of God’s work in the Kenyan church seemed to help kindle a special warmth between them. After a few late-night conversations, they began to realize that a special relationship was developing. They seemed so perfect together. But they had agreed to the mission board’s policy that they would not use this short-term experience to pursue any kind of dating relationship. What should they do?

Tom and Janice’s experience is not unusual. Short-term experiences seem to encourage intimate relationships. Among a team of short-term missionaries, friendships are often intensified by culture shock, by the narrowed field of relational options, by the long and erratic schedule, and by the bit of loneliness everyone feels. Infatuation can strike with other missionaries, and certainly with people of the host country.

Most mission agencies discourage dating relationships during a summer or year-long venture. Here’s why:

  1. Romance ruins team life. The relationship is exclusive, leaving you cut off from the normal rhythm of team dynamics.
  2. A romantic relationship diverts you from the work. When you are distracted from what God has called you to do, the host church or team can’t accomplish what it hoped to.
  3. You’re the loser in terms of the personal growth you might have experienced during your short term.
  4. Special relationships often wreck the witness of the entire mission to the community, Christian or otherwise. Most short-termers would be horrified to discover what assumptions are made in most other cultures about “small” public displays of affection.

The short-term experience is just that – short and intense, lacking a broad “homeside” experience needed to develop and prove solid relationships. Although God could use a short-term experience to introduce you to a mate, in all likelihood it is the intensity of the experience which heightens the need for closeness and bonding.

Keep in mind these guidelines:

  1. Avoid exclusive relationships. Build relationships in the context of your entire team.
  2. Know the cultural rules in male/female relationships. Steer clear of every potentially questionable situation with the opposite sex, regardless of their nationality.
  3. Seek a leader’s counsel immediately if something develops. Talk about things honestly and frankly.
  4. If, through others’ counsel, God seems to be directing your lives together, resolve to wait until you have fulfilled your commitment overseas to pursue the relationship at home.

Reprinted with permission from Stepping Out: A Guide to Short-Term Missions. Copyright 1992, 2010 by Short-Term Missions Advocates, Inc. Updated and Expanded edition 2010. Published by YWAM Publishing.

Teri Bulicek served as Assistant Dean of the Chapel at Gordon College and Linda Olson was National Director of STIM Resources for InterVarsity. Both have been involved in short-terms as singles and marrieds and advised singles before, during, and after short terms.