Missionary Singles Issues
Missionary Single Issues: Arranged Marriage
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The picture of an 8-year-old wife posing beside her 27-year-old husband appears
at the beginning of an article in the June 2011 issue of National Geographic.
The caption of the picture begins by quoting her memory of what it was like two
years before, shortly after they married: “Whenever I saw him, I hid. I hated to
Unfortunately, this is what many people think of when they hear the words,
“arranged marriage.” Of course, the marriage described above was arranged, but
it was also forced and illegal! Arranged marriages, but not forced marriages,
were the norm in many cultures for thousands of years.
Arranged marriages are ones in which someone other than the couple marrying
selects the spouses, curtailing the process of courtship. This is done with the
consent of those getting married. It becomes a forced marriage if the singles
are required to marry against their will. Following is a description of a system
of arranged (but not forced) marriage that lasted 500 years.
Japan until mid 20th Century
Arranged marriage was very common in Japan from the 16th century until the last
half of the 20th century and still exists today. The following information comes
not only from available written sources but also from missionaries who have
served scores of years in Japan observing and participating as go-betweens. The
typical procedure was (and is) as follows.
- Parents. When the parents think it is time, usually when their son or daughter
is 20-30 years old, they contact “go-betweens” (nakodo) to begin the process.
Singles wanting to marry may contact nakodos themselves.
- Go-betweens. Go-betweens may be older individuals or couples who are highly
respected people of integrity with many contacts. They may be family, friends,
or professional nakodo. From the people they know who are considering marriage
the go-betweens select several portfolios, each having a brief personal history
(name, age, health, education, social status, etc) and photographs.
- Preliminary Selection. The parents and prospective mates sit down with the
go-betweens and eliminate people in which they have no interest. They order the
remaining portfolios in terms of desirability, and then they ask the go-betweens
to investigate their top choice.
- Full Investigation. The go-betweens then check out “everything” about the
chosen person including family lineage, social status, religion, medical and
mental illness in the family, criminal records in the family etc. They use
everything from available legal records to detective agencies, to neighbors and
shopkeepers. Of course, this may cost much money, but the family believes it is
worth it to find the best mate.
- Meeting. After both sets of prospective mates and their families have studied
the reports and give their approval, the go-between arranges a meeting (miai)
between both families. This is usually in a large hotel where they can eat and
engage in small talk for a while. Near the end of the meeting, the potential
couple move off to spend some time together to get better acquainted.
- Decision. If all goes well at the first meeting, the potential couples
continue to meet until they reach a decision. If either the potential bride or
groom or one of their families does not think the first meeting or any of the
following meetings went well, they can tell the go-betweens later. The
go-betweens then let the other family know; both families have saved face, and
they go back to preliminary selection.
- Engagement and wedding. If the couples choose to marry, they go through formal
betrothal ceremonies, and later weddings. At the weddings the go-betweens walk
both bride and groom down the aisle and are part of the ceremony, including
standing next to the bride and groom in the family pictures.
- During the marriage. The go-betweens are available to help mediate differences
between the husbands and wives if marital disputes arise during the marriages.
Much more information about the whole process is available at
Christian Workers in Japan late 20th Century
During the last half of the 20th century, the Japanese increasingly adopted the
Western pattern of courtship with many of the young people choosing their mates
on the basis of romance and “love.” However, some of the marriages are still
Young men and women who convert to Christianity sometimes find their parents are
quite unhappy when they become Christian workers. In fact, the parents may
refuse to get go-betweens to find spouses for their offspring. These singles
then may ask others to be their go-betweens.
Denominational leaders, pastors, and missionaries who teach in Bible schools or
seminaries may then be asked to serve as go-betweens. Knowing that they may be
asked to do this, professors and administrators at such institutions may observe
singles at their institutions thinking about which ones may make good couples.
When asked to be go-betweens, these missionaries are usually willing to serve.
Since asked by the students themselves, the professors usually discuss with both
the males and females who they may be matched with. At that point, either of the
prospective singles can end the process. If they continue with the relationship,
no one else knows. At their first annual conference, the couple’s names are read
as being assigned to serve in the same city. That is the announcement to the
other students and faculty that they are getting married. Everyone listens
intently to assignments!
Arranged Marriages Today
In the 21st century, another type of arranged marriage has been developed,
online dating services. Hundreds of such websites exist, and they have many
millions of singles from all over the world. Consumer-Rankings.com has rated the
top five sites http://www.consumer-rankings.com/dating/, and they report that
the first month costs $40-$60, but the cost per month decreases the longer
people continue as members. Criteria for matching vary widely. Their top-rated
one was match.com which has 29 million singles.
eHarmony.com, also in the top five, seems to be the most popular among
missionaries. This is probably because it emphasizes long-term relationships,
was developed by a Christian psychologist teaching at a Christian graduate
school, and matches singles on the basis of their answers to several hundred
questions on 29 dimensions of compatibility in a research-validated
questionnaire . eHarmony has 20 million singles from 200 countries and results
in 44,000 weddings each year (120 every day).
Remembering that “arranged marriages are ones in which someone (or something)
other than the couple marrying selects the spouses, curtailing the process of
courtship,” here are the corresponding steps.
- Parents. Single missionaries wanting to marry usually contact the go-between
themselves. Parents are often not involved.
- Go-betweens. The go-between is a computer program with a database of millions
of singles from all over the world who would like to get married.
- Preliminary Selection. All selection is made by the go-between (computer
program) with no consultation with either singles or parents.
- Full Investigation. No further investigation is made by the go-between
(computer program). All matches are made on the basis of information supplied by
the singles themselves when they joined. This information may be biased or even
- Meeting. The prospective mates usually make first contact through email or
telephone. This may be followed by a Skype conversation before actually meeting
- Decision. If the first communication is positive, the potential couple
continues to communicate, to meet, and to date. If the communications do not go
well, one or both of the singles stop the process.
- Engagement and Wedding. These events are the responsibility of the couple.
Here are some similarities and differences when using people or computer
programs as go-betweens. Some similarities are as follows.
- A wide variety of both people and online dating services are available.
- Both people and websites suggest people who would be a good match.
- Both people and websites provide information.
- Both methods involve payment for services.
- Both methods suggest other possibilities if the first ones do not work out.
- Some differences are as follows.
- Human go-betweens are usually hired by parents, but online dating services
usually do not involve parents at all.
- Human go-betweens select from a rather small population in a local area, but
online dating services have databases of millions of people from around the
- Human go-betweens get additional information from a wide variety of sources,
but online dating services have only information provided by the persons
- Human go-betweens initiate and facilitate initial face-to-face meetings, but
online services leave those first meetings to singles to make using email,
telephone or Skype.
- Human go-betweens have a continuing relationship into the engagement, wedding
and marriage, but online dating services provide only the selection.
God uses many means to bring single missionaries who want to marry together. One
of those means is arranged marriages whether by people or by websites.
Member Care Consultant