As a student at Bethany Global University, I am being taught intercultural studies and Montessori education. This university focuses on cross-cultural mission work. Therefore, my studies apply not only to where I live now but wherever I may live in the future. For many, missionary work is not a common pursuit. For this reason, I have decided to explain missionary work and its history.
What is the definition of missionary work? Missionary work occurs when an individual of faith, who is typically associated with a religion, crosses a culture to share his or her belief with others. Missionaries work to influence, and eventually, convert individuals to their religion or belief system. They also do humanitarian work. Missionaries may start or run schools, hospitals, churches, community housing, and refuge centers. They also work with economic improvements and social justice issues.
In the next sections of this blog, I will be explaining missionary work from an overall perspective. I will explain the history of mission work, and why many individuals choose this type of life. Furthermore, I will explain the various groups who send missionaries.
- Missionary Work as a Whole
- History of Missionary Work
- The Work of a Missionary
- Religions that Send Missionaries
- Why Be a Missionary?
- How to be a Missionary
- Where to Get Trained for Missions
Missionary Work as a Whole
Missionary work is done in a different culture than an individual’s native culture. This work is done to reach individuals who do not know of God or Jesus. Other religions, besides Christianity, send missionaries to preach their beliefs about their gods or spirituality.
Alongside the sharing of faith usually comes humanitarian work. It is common for missionaries to care for others in a holistic manner. This may involve schools, hospitals, housing, social justice, and refugee centers. Economics and trade may also be developed.
Typically, people associate missionaries with overseas travel. People believe that in order to be a missionary they must leave their own country or city. While for many, this may be the case, it is not the case for all individuals.
The key thing to note is that missionaries cross a culture. This indicates that mission work can be closer to home than many may believe. Yes, overseas mission work is important. It is especially important when you consider the lack of resources and knowledge that is present in many areas in the world.
Despite this, there are opportunities in immigrant communities around the world. For example, in Minneapolis, MN, there is a large population of immigrants who are Somali, Hispanic, African, and German. By working with these individuals, an American citizen would be crossing cultural barriers.
In addition to the crossing of cultures, missionaries tend to go where their faith is least known. A crucial part of a missionary’s journey is to share their faith. For these reasons, people may have many cultural opportunities but few spiritual opportunities in an area. Some areas of the world are already reached by a specific faith. There are already enough opportunities in one area for the people within it to know and follow the faith.
For instance, in many parts of the United States of America, the gospel of Christianity is readily available. It is either portrayed through numerous churches, Christians, media, websites, and books. Christian missionaries tend to go to areas that haven’t heard the gospel and do not have access to it in one or another form.
History of Missionary Work
The term “mission” originated in 1598. The Jesuit group sent individuals overseas and used this word to describe the act. The term “mission” is derived from the Latin word, “missionem”. In the Latin translation of the Bible, this term is used by Jesus in the Great Commission.
Proselytization has occurred for thousands of years from various religions. Within Judaism, it was common for teachers to travel and share their faith. The apostle Paul was the first Christian missionary. His work began in roughly 37 AD.
The Catholic Church (a variation of Christianity) sent missionaries as early as 563 AD. Protestant missions began in 1517 after the Reformation led by Martin Luther. The earliest missionary activities of the Muslim faith occurred in 750 AD. Buddist missions gained its official term in 1830. The act of mission work may have occurred before this.
Since these missionary beginnings, all of these religions have continued their missionary work throughout the world.
The Work of a Missionary
Missionaries do wholistic work. They focus on the spiritual well-being of individuals and they also value physical, mental, and emotional health. For many missionaries, spiritual health is of the most importance. Missionaries often believe that the spiritual transcends all that is within this world since it is eternal.
Missionaries will also focus on the physical elements of an individual while they are on earth. They do this for two main reasons. The first reason is that there is a great need. In Christianity, believers are told to care for the oppressed, orphaned, and the “least of these”. Other religions have similar beliefs about caring for those in need.
Secondly, by caring for physical needs, people are more receptive to hear about spiritual matters. Often, the action of caring for physical needs portrays genuine love. This can create an opportunity for a missionary to share his or her faith and to make converts.
The Spiritual work done includes bringing an individual to a new revelation. In Christianity, the term, “born again” is used. This describes how an individual begins dead in sin and transgression and is transformed to newness of life through forgiveness, and a rebirth. This spiritual rebirth occurs when a person places their faith in Jesus Christ as the atonement, redemption, and reconciliation needed for their sin.
By acknowledging Jesus’ perfect life, death on the cross, and resurrection, anyone is able to have this newness of life. This is the Christian gospel. All have sinned. All have broken the law of a holy God. This has also broken relationship with God because His perfect goodness and justice will not allow sin, evil and destruction. Jesus physically and spiritually took the place of every individual. He took the punishment that was meant to be ours. Now, through Him, we can live, in this life and the next.
Christian missionaries bring spiritual revelation through the teaching of scripture, prayer, worship, spiritual gifts, and the proclamation of the gospel. They disciple individuals and teach them all they need to know about Christianity, God, and their role in God’s plan.
Missionaries typically care for physical needs in the following ways. This is not an exhaustive list, rather, it is a highlight of common work done by missionaries.
- Health Centers, Doctors’ offices, hospitals, and birthing centers are common among Christian missionaries.
- Schools and education programs reduce child slavery and poverty.
- Economic development transforms a poverty-stricken area to support and care for its people.
- Trade school teaches individuals a trade or business idea that is sustainable in their area to support their physical needs.
- Social Justice work supports individuals who have been enslaved in labor or human trafficking. It also works to give equal rights to all people, including women, children, the poor, and individuals of a different race.
- Refugee relief houses, feeds, and cares for the basic human needs of refugees.
- Orphanages house and care for the motherless and fatherless.
Mental / Emotional
Missionaries also focus on the mental and emotional health of individuals. This can be done through counseling, prayer ministry, support groups, friendship, and specific curriculum. Those who are trained professionals do work to relieve issues caused by trauma, injury, abuse, and poor physical development as a child.
Much of the healing work done by missionaries in this area is through deep love. Missionaries display genuine love to those in need. By loving those who have been mistreated, they are already contributing to the healing process.
Religions that Send Missionaries
There are various religions that send missionaries. They vary in how they proclaim their message. Yet, their overall purpose remains the same. Missionaries want others to know what they believe and to accept it as their own. For missionaries that believe in heaven and hell, their ultimate goal is saving people from eternal suffering.
- Christianity – Christians often do their mission work through evangelism, large gatherings similar to a concert, house churches, and through relationship building. Relationship building may occur with native peoples who are in a specific community. Missionaries will immerse themselves in the culture to reach the peoples through economics, education, relief programs, and daily life.
- Isalm – Muslims bring other individuals to Islam through dawah, which means “to invite”. They can do so through prison ministry in the United States. Some Muslims will share their faith through street preaching, which was originally most popular in Christianity. Throughout history, Muslims have traveled cross-culturally and assumed trade jobs that allowed them to speak with other individuals.
- Buddism – Buddist support missionary work because Budda trained many individuals and directed them to train more. He said, “Go ye forth for the good of the many, for the welfare of the many, out of compassion for the world.” Buddist missionary work is unobtrusive and gentle. Missionaries share the Dhamma with those who are willing to listen. They respond to needs that are pre-existing.
- Mormonism – The most common type of proselytizing is done door-to-door. The Mormons follow a guideline for how to share their faith that is written out in The Uniform System for Teaching the Gospel.
- Jehova Witness – Jehova Witnesses are most known for their door-to-door preaching. They give out pamphlets, books, and magazines. They have a conversation with as many people as possible in order to convert them.
Why Be a Missionary?
It is no doubt that missionary work is difficult. Cultural barriers are hard enough on their own. Add on specific goals and purposes while in another culture and it becomes even more difficult. At times, individuals are not receptive to the message of a missionary. Other issues include language, culture, finance, travel, and other dangers that some countries posses.
Why then be a missionary? To start, a missionary must be 100% confident and sure in his or her belief. Since there is so much change, challenge, and potential struggles, missionaries should have experience and credibility to what they proclaim. A missionary should do intensive research and soul searching to be sure that he or she is living in truth.
Once a missionary is unwavering in his or her faith, it is difficult not to feel the pull towards missions. Many individuals, especially those of the early church of Christianity experienced profound and supernatural things. They walked with Jesus. They saw Him crucified. After He rose from the dead they saw Him in the flesh. Then, the Holy Spirit came upon them. They spoke in new tongues and had various supernatural gifts come upon them.
They were changed and so was the world. Their lives before Jesus Christ was characterized by sin and the destruction that comes with it. After experiencing and gaining knowledge about Jesus Christ, they were transformed. Most early Christians sacrificed their lives willingly, even though they were brutally killed. The only explanation for this is that they were wholeheartedly convinced that God and Jesus are real.
Their knowledge of scriptures, the fulfilled prophecies, and experiences proved to them that Jesus was in fact the Son of God and the Messiah. They recognized that Jesus came to seek and save the lost. Jesus came to set the captives free and to forgive the sins of man through His willing sacrifice.
The Stakes are High
Continuing with the concept of unwavering faith comes the next reason to become a missionary. After experiencing the power of God that transforms and renews people’s lives, there is deep compassion to see others gain that same type of freedom and healing.
In my own life, I have experienced freedom and healing from various things. This only came when I placed my trust in Jesus as my Savior and redeemer. I had tried self-help. I had looked deeply into other religions and spirituality. The professionals of the world and the pursuits of the world did me nothing.
Jesus was the only thing. He still is. For this reason, I cannot help but share my story with others. I cannot help but tell others about Jesus, the Bible, and God. The work of God has been visible in the lives of those around me. I have experienced too much to sit idly by while others struggle with what I once struggled with. There is now compassion and desire to see wholeness in others. I am not perfect, yet I do have a solution to offer others that is well beyond myself.
Furthermore, the teachings of the Bible, as well as many religions include an afterlife. Heaven and hell are very real concepts. For those of faith, the stakes are high to share with others how they can enter heaven and escape hell. The most loving thing for a Christian to do is to share with the world the concept of heaven and hell. A non-loving Christian would refrain from speaking of these things because its inconvenient and often offensive.
However, a loving Christian would know the reality and desire that no one perish. Therefore, Christians would risk the anger, resentment, and persecution of the world to share a life-saving message.
How to Be a Missionary
To be a missionary you must first have faith. Faith that has withstood testing. Faith that you are confident in. Second, you must know the scriptures and what you will be sharing with others. You do not have to know the whole Bible to be a missionary, yet you should have an overall understanding of it. You should continue learning and studying it. Third, you should have a plan on how to reach other cultures.
The following list is not required to be a missionary. However, this list is extremely beneficial to prepare you for mission work. I would highly recommend getting some type of training before you go out on the mission field.
- Study scripture and build your own faith first.
- Take intercultural classes that teach you about the culture you will be entering.
- Read about missionaries in the past to see their short-comings and success.
- Pray frequently and ask God to lead you and teach you all things.
- Attend a missionary training program or university.
- Connect with a local church in your area. Receive support from the church financially, spiritually, physically, mentally, and emotionally.
- Practice sharing the gospel with people who are already around you.
- Volunteer or work in a service position where you learn how to help others in practical ways.
- Cross cultural barriers with a team of believers. Don’t try to do missions alone.
Learn more about the benefit of Missionary Education Before Going Overseas. Refer to my blog, here.
Where to Get Trained for Missions
As I stated earlier, I am a student at Bethany Global University. I did significant research before I attended this university because I am personally investing myself, my time, and my finances into this school. I looked at various Bible colleges, Chrisitan schools, and mission training agencies. After my search, I realized that Bethany Global University provides what I and so many other individuals need for missionary training.
Below, I have listed Bethany Global University and YWAM, but there are many other universities and training sites for missions.
Bethany Global University
This University is unique because it focuses on overseas missions. Most Christian colleges offer a short term trip or program for missions, at best. At Bethany Global, the overarching purpose is to learn another culture and successfully serve as a Christian missionary. The University is fully accredited. It provides practical degrees on top of Biblical training.
There are degree programs for Bachelor, Master, and Associate levels. There is also a one-year gap program. Studies include Bible and theology, intercultural studies, business, Montessori education, early childhood education, social justice and English as a second language.
Additionally, the school follows a tuition paid model. This means that students pay $0 out of pocket for tuition. The only costs to students include room and board, and fees. Furthermore, the student body ranges in age. That means, no one is too old or too young (graduation from High School is required) to become a missionary.
Learn more and apply at Bethany Global University, here.
YWAM, or Youth with Mission, is also a good program to gain experience with Christian missions. It is not as extensive or as long as Bethany Global University. There are training programs for various areas of study and intent. It not currently accredited and does not offer a degree program.
I personally know over a dozen individuals who have attended a YWAM school. They said they greatly benefitted it. Some individuals continue ministry right after. Many of the individuals I know decided to go back to school for more training. While at Bethany Global University, I have met numerous individuals who left the mission field, either through YWAM or another program to get further training.
YWAM may be a great option to get acquainted to mission work. Some individuals may need additional training if they desire to work on the mission field long term.
Learn more about YWAM, here.