Married in Mission: A Handbook for Couples in Cross-Cultural Service– A Book Review

Book Cover-Final Draft

In the wake of the Bishops’ synod on the family, let me direct your attention to a document written for married people by a married person–more specifically–for married couples venturing into cross-cultural mission. Married in Mission: A Handbook for Couples in Cross-Cultural Service by Alexis C. Kenny is a thorough, intuitive and interactive resource for spouses who have decided to serve together overseas. Alexis Kenny, and her husband, Patrick Kenny, served as Padrinos (primary care-takers) for 49 children for one year in Honduras with Amigos de Jesus. Married in Mission is a compilation of her own experience, anecdotal data gathered from 90 other married missioners, and the psychology and theology behind marriage and mission.

From theology to practicalities, Alexis Kenny has truly thought of everything to prepare couples embarking upon international service. She has woven a coherent thread of theology throughout her book, articulating theological concepts around marriage and mission. Kenny’s approach to marriage theology is meant to foster a strong sense of intentionality for couples. She portrays marriage as a vocation and a ministry that influences the world around it, engaging in Catholic social teaching and building the kingdom of God: “By saying ‘yes’ to overseas mission work, you and your significant other are following Jesus’ lead in challenging your own prejudices, expectations, and life of First World comforts, in order to transcend those boundaries in making present God’s Kingdom here and now” (46). Kenny emphasizes the sacrament of marriage as a tangible, mutual act of love: “Married missioners have the unique opportunity to concretely witness the Gospel value of generative love in their daily lives as individuals devoted to service” (81).

IMG_0929Theology aside, Kenny prepares married missioners for all stages of their journey on every level, including the most practical. From tips about culture shock, to budgeting, to packing lists, Kenny has every detail about international mission covered. Her advice regarding ministry sites is comprehensive, informing the reader of the many factors to consider when choosing a service placement. She also delineates a list of logistics for missioners to keep in mind when preparing for their ministry including tidbits about snail mail, documentation, contingency plans, pregnancy, food, and even what to do with wedding rings while abroad. Kenny coaches couples on how to conceive of living in community with other volunteers and she also advises couples about the importance of time management during long-term cross-cultural service.

Married in Mission is an intuitive guide which grew out of Kenny’s own experience of volunteering and also incorporates the experience of many other missioners from a survey she has compiled. To this end, the handbook’s intuitive nature is almost uncanny. Kenny provides the reader with a graph charting the stages of transition within a cross-cultural experience so that couples know what they might expect from their time in mission. Every chapter contains relevant information about how each stage of mission effects the individual, as well as a couple’s relationship. For example, Kenny speaks about the reality of grief and loss often experienced by spouses who are still adjusting to their host country. She also confronts the likelihood of increased conflict between partners as a result of the strain of varied levels of cross-cultural adaptation.

DSCN3640Kenny does not leave readers hanging in exposing the realities of each stage of mission, whether positive or negative. In fact, she offers twenty-one interactive exercises for couples to engage in together. These exercises are marvelous. They make discussing difficult issues fun and inspiring. In Chapter 1: Discernment, Kenny offers an activity for couples to collaborate on and author a marriage mission statement. Chapter 3: Routinization includes an activity for goal creation, in order to remind couples to encourage one another in pursuing their own objectives as well as to nurture dreams held in common.The final chapter, Integration, is complete with instructions for creating a word cloud as an artistic expression of shared memories surrounding the mission experience.

As I read Married in Mission, I found it easy to relate to the material. My husband and I have started up a ministry in an under-served neighborhood in Chicago called the Hope House in conjunction with The Port Ministries, and, though our mission is not international, it is cross-cultural. I connected with the themes introduced by Kenny so much so that my husband often heard me exclaiming out loud from the other room, “Yes! Mm-hmm! Definitely!” I found that the book reinforced my own understanding of both marriage and mission.  It gave me a deep sense of dignity around my vocation, and it also provided my husband and I with resources to turn to when we are challenged in our work.

Alexis Kenny has truly thought of everything when it comes to preparing couples for each stage of international mission work. I highly recommend browsing the handbook’s website and perhaps even purchasing your own copy of Married in Mission!

Alexis and Patrick Kenny as married missioners in Honduras