“Love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction”
– Antoine de Saint-Exupery
My husband and I just celebrated our 13th wedding anniversary this year. Just over a year after we first got married, my husband and I took unpaid leave for 11 months to travel to 10 different Asian countries to visit various NGO works. We must have slept in more than 50 beds during that time!
On one of our travels, we were in a car on a 12- hour ride along mostly pot-holed dirt roads, headed into the jungles of Borneo to visit a children’s home set up by a European missionary couple. The children’s home turned out to be an impressive village, with schools and houses that gave tribal children an opportunity to receive quality care and education. During our stay, we were hosted by a lovely American couple with two young children. The man was in charge of overseeing the construction of the village, while his wife was a teacher. They inspired us, showing us that it was possible to move countries and live in a cross-cultural setting with young children, even in the middle of the jungles of Borneo. Four years later, this eye-opening experience was one of the motivating factors for us to move to Thailand when our daughter was only two and a half years old to start up social enterprises to help the Thai community.
Why would this American couple move thousands of miles to live among people they did not know with their young children? What prompted the European missionary and his wife to give up everything to realise a dream of providing quality care and education to tribal children? These were not isolated cases, as we saw again and again over our 11-month travel, people who gave up the comforts of the developed world to embrace a life of service in under-developed places, all so that they can give a leg up to those who are born with less privileges. What made us give up a year’s salary to visit all these places as newlyweds, and then later, to leave the comforts of life in New Zealand and move permanently with our two and a half year old to a provincial town in Thailand for 6 years?
The answer to all the above is love.
“Love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction”. I came across this quote by Antoine de Saint-Exupery many years ago, and it has stuck with me since. As an individual, we can accomplish much. But imagine how much more can be accomplished when we put our hands together with another person who shares the same heart.
I am blessed to be married to a man who shares this same value. From the start of our relationship, we knew that God brought us together, not just for each other, but to bless those around us. For our wedding, we had a bible verse from Psalm 34:3 inscribed on our rings to remind us of this calling, “Come magnify the Lord with me, let us exalt His name together”. We have discovered that our shared experiences in reaching out to others allowed us to grow as individuals and as a couple. It has brought depth to our relationship and given us a greater appreciation for each other.
Not all of us are called to leave our home countries or give up all of life’s comforts to make a difference. However, your relationship with your spouse will only be richer as you share a common purpose and look beyond yourselves.
If you don’t know where to start, here are some ideas:
1. FIND A COMMON PROJECT OR CAUSE
I’m not talking about your children here… 😉 A common project or cause isn’t exactly just a hobby either. It is something you can do together as a couple or family that has a higher purpose, one that will eventually change the lives of others for the better.
In our early years of marriage, we sponsored two children. One from India, and another from Indonesia. In addition to contributing a monthly donation to the organisation that ran the child sponsorship programme, we also wrote to these children and sent them gifts on their birthdays.
When I was studying in New Zealand, I met several couples that opened their homes to international students like myself. They would organise activities for these international students, introducing us to the local culture and places of interest.
You could consider volunteering some time serving meals to the homeless, teaching English to refugees, or work on a community garden together. You could open your home to international students or sponsor a child. There are even organisations where you can volunteer your time to build houses for the poor. You can choose whether to do a one-off project or commit to a longer term cause. These are all projects we can do voluntarily while maintaining our day jobs and living where we are.
2. GO ON A SHORT VOLUNTEER TRIP TOGETHER
There is nothing like being on the ground and actually experiencing the sight, sound and smell of a different culture. This is not so much a typical holiday, but rather, a trip with a purpose.
Before we left for Thailand, my husband and I brought teams to refugee camps along the Thai-Myanmar border, a medical team to villages in Cambodia, and relief teams to Tsunami-hit areas of Phuket. On each trip, our eyes were open again to the vast needs in this world. While we were only able to provide limited relief like a drop in the bucket, we know that what we did in our short time at these places blessed the lives of those we met. In return, we learned what it means to love in an outward manner.
3. PRAY TOGETHER, FOR OTHERS
You have all probably heard of the saying: “A couple that prays together, stays together”. I’d like to take the challenge further for you to pray not just for each other, but for others in need. Praying for those in need helps take the focus off ourselves, and puts the problems in our own lives into perspective. It also grows our empathy for others around us, beyond our nuclear family unit and immediate circle.
If you are married, love is more than just the two of you. You have been brought together for a higher calling, a greater purpose. Love needs to be intentional. It requires constant work and perseverance. As you invest your love in the people and things that matter, you can be assured to know that your love for each other love will grow deeper and richer as a result of working together and sharing meaningful experiences as a couple.
About the Author: Jess Chan is married with two young daughters. Aside from being full-time “minister of home affairs” and “transport minister” to her little family, she also serves as the Field Administrator for World Outreach International, a Christian mission organisation that has a presence in 70 countries. Jess and her family moved back to Malaysia in 2017, after spending 10 years in New Zealand and 6 years in Thailand.