Accepting God’s salvation in our lives is one of the best things we can do. It breaks us from the chains that bind us to our sins. It gives us eternal life with God through Jesus Christ. However, this salvation is not only for our own sake but for others who don’t know God yet. When we become missionaries, we become an ambassador for God. We should reach out and preach the gospel so more people will get to know Jesus and accept him as their Lord and Saviour. In line with this, God has called all Christians to be missionaries, and to carry out the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20).
As a missionary, you need not go far, for there are many unbelievers around you. However, there are also missionaries who are called to foreign lands. Being a missionary is a life-long journey and a life of doing God’s work. Being a missionary is a unique calling from God. Understand this extraordinary ministry and answer the question, what is a missionary?
The Great Commission
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Before we understand the question of what is a missionary, we have to first learn about the Great Commission. This is because the Great Commission plays a vital role in why there are Christians who dedicate their lives to being missionaries. Found in Matthew 28:16-20, this is Jesus’ instruction to his disciples to spread the gospel to all nations. God gave Jesus authority over heaven and earth. Based on that authority, Jesus told them to make disciples in every nation as they preached, baptized, and taught the gospel.
Jesus commands us to tell the people the good news and make them disciples of God’s kingdom. We are to go, whether around or area or in other nations, to make disciples. It is a commandment given to all Christians. Although not all of us are formal evangelists, we have received spiritual gifts that we can use to help fulfill the great commission. Additionally, Jesus has also given us the assurance that he’ll be with us, always.
What is a Missionary?
So what is a missionary? In the English dictionary, a missionary is a person sent by a church into an area to carry on evangelism. He or she can also do other activities such as educational or hospital work. Another definition given is that a missionary is a person who is sent on a mission. They are sent to preach God’s message and truth no matter how hard or unpopular it may be.
And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?”
In the Biblical context, we can find the definition in Romans 10:14-16, which means “One who is sent”. The Apostle Paul tells us that the preaching of the word happens when one is sent to do it. The word missionary is derived from the Latin word Apostolos, which means to send. It conveys the centrality of God’s authority and action. Missionaries themselves are not the authority, they simply represent God, who is greater. With God’s fortified authority, they are to make disciples through teaching the gospel. In simple terms, a missionary is a messenger or envoy who is sent out on a special mission. The authority of a missionary comes from God himself.
All Christians are Missionaries
As Christians, we will have a desire to let the world know about God. And it is our responsibility to carry out the great commission whenever or wherever we are. We can use all our talents and abilities for God’s kingdom and reach out to more people. As we go on in our daily lives, we are also missionaries that fulfill this calling along the way.
Some people are called and gifted by God for cross-cultural missions. In the book, When Everything is Missions, a missionary is defined as someone who is sent out to plant the gospel within a target culture. Missionaries do it until it expands throughout the culture and beyond.
Some people, however, only do missions for social causes, while others do both preaching the gospel and social works. Being a missionary is a unique and distinct calling from God. It sets us apart from the others. Nonetheless, everyone is a missionary, and our end goal is to do everything for the glory of God. Our calling is to go and make disciples of all nations.
The Journey Of A Missionary
Knowing the places of where to conduct a mission is an important part of being a missionary. God often calls missionaries to different parts of the world with a primary purpose of evangelizing to largely unreached nations. Missionaries journey to places where most people have never heard the name of Jesus. In the Book of Acts, Jesus tells his disciples to go to Jerusalem, to all Judea, and Samaria, and to the end of the earth to preach God’s word. So what does this mean for modern missionaries?
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.
Missionaries are called to journey into spiritually dark, often hostile places of the world. They leave the comforts of their homes behind for the sake of bringing salvation for people who have never heard the gospel. With only their faith and assurance in Christ, they step out from their comfort zones with the hope that God will touch the hearts of these people. A missionary is a light in the darkness, for when they preach, they light a small flame in the hearts of those who hear the Gospel. And over time, this small flame will grow and the good news will spread like wildfire in that nation.
The Three Mission Fields
The three mission fields described in Acts can be seen in three categories today. The Jerusalem ministry is for those who live nearby and have a common culture and socioeconomic status. Judea is those people who seem similar in culture, but live far away. On the other hand, Samaria is identified as those people who are very different in culture or socioeconomic status but live nearby. And the end of the earth is for those who live far away and have nothing in common.
Characteristics of a Missionary
After understanding the question of what is a missionary, some of us wonder about the characteristics that they have. Acts 1:8 tells us that all believers will receive power from the Holy Spirit. This includes the characteristics of courage and boldness. Believers are also blessed with confidence, insight, ability, and authority. These spiritual gifts will help us fulfill the mission of preaching the Gospel. There’s no personality type or skill sets needed to be a missionary. The only particular thing you must have is a heart to serve God.
A successful missionary is teachable.
Being teachable is a must-have trait all missionaries should have. Of course, God will lead and mold him to be a disciple that he’ll send to every nation to preach the gospel. Aside from hearing and learning from God, he should also seek inputs, advice, perspectives from others. It is important to value others’ opinions and perspectives so you can receive instruction, input, or correction from them. A missionary should also learn about the people to whom they will be preaching the Gospel to.
Missionary prepares to rely on God’s strength to do the most impossible.
Having an unshaken faith is one trait not only a missionary but every disciple must-have. With a lot of unpredicted circumstances along the way, missionaries need to hold on to a firm foundation. We heard a lot of stories of faith from people in the Bible like Abraham, Joseph, Moses, and many more. Their extraordinary faith guided them as they stepped into the unknown and faced unexpected circumstances. Yet, they were also weak, broken, vulnerable, sinful, and ordinary like the rest of us. These people didn’t rely on their strength, instead, they trust God’s sovereign power. Missionaries are called to do the same. And these characteristics mark them: faith, teachability, humility, effectiveness, availability, and weakness.
God will mold missionaries into who they need to be.
Maybe some of you are thinking, what if I don’t have the characteristics of what is a missionary? You feel like you don’t qualify in the criteria. The only required characteristic of a missionary is having utter and complete faith in God. He doesn’t choose someone who is equipped, but he equips the chosen. Allow God to work in your life and let Him mold you to fit the calling he has for you. He can make you into who you need to be.
Popular Missionaries in the Bible
Though we may not see it, during Biblical times, there were missionaries whom God called to preach his word to different nations. From the Old Testament to the New Testament, we encounter various stories of missionaries who preached by faith. For decades, they have become an inspiration for people who God has called to be part of the Missions Ministry. Here are some of the popular missionaries from the Bible to give you encouragement and inspiration.
In Genesis 12:1-3, Abraham was the first man that God called to leave his country with his family, and his people. He tasked Abraham to go to God’s promised land. Although he lived and died generations before the birth of Jesus, it is through his bloodline that we received salvation through Jesus. When he said yes to God’s call and went out to follow him, his righteousness counted to him as faith.
God called Jonah to preach to the Assyrians in the city of Nineveh, a people known to be hated by the Jews. Nineveh, the city in which the Assyrians dwelled. However, he tried to run away from God, and this responsibility God wanted to bestow on him. This then led Jonah to be swallowed by a great fish where he uttered one of the most powerful prayers in the Bible. God sent him to preach only the message that he told him to, a message of destruction to the city (Jonah 3:2). In the end, the people listened to Jonah and repented.
In the New Testament, one of the known missionaries is Philip. He carried the gospel to the marginalized Samaritans. He preached to the large crowds in the city of Samaria, bringing many to Christ. The Holy Spirit also led him out into the wilderness to reach out to a single person – an Ethiopian eunuch. Philip showed him from the Scriptures how he could be saved. Once he led the eunuch to God and baptized him, Philip continued on his trip to the coast and eventually to the city of Caesarea. There, he then established a church (Acts 6 and 8).
Paul is the greatest missionary in the Bible. He traveled and helped establish churches in many places. In Acts 9:15, God called him to go as his chosen instrument to carry his name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. Paul went to proclaim the way of Christ and assembled a group of believers and churches. Timothy, his protege, and others stayed behind to build and grow what he had started. He moved on to continue to spread the gospel.
Inspiring Modern Missionaries Around the World
There are also modern missionaries that have made a revolutionary movement in reaching out to many nations to preach the gospel. They didn’t hesitate to leave the comfort of their homes to pursue God’s calling for them. By faith, they willingly stepped into the unknown, trusting God’s sovereignty. Their life testimonies open a different perspective to other people who have the same calling. This also encourages and inspires other believers to pray for them as they fulfill their calling. Here are some modern missionaries that created an impact as they answered God’s calling to go and make disciples.
Known as the Father of Modern Missions, William Carey is recognized for his missionary works in India with his family. In 1792, he founded the Baptist Missionary Society. In one of his preachings he said one of his famous quotes, “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.” However, his mission journey wasn’t easy. He traveled to India with his family, but he saw no conversions for seven years. During this time, his son, Peter, died of dysentery, and his wife’s mental health deteriorated rapidly. But all was not in vain, for in 1800, he baptized his first Indian convert. He is also known to have translated the Bible into dozens of major Indian languages and dialects for 20 years.
Mary Slessor, born in Aberdeen in 1848, became a missionary to Nigeria under the United Presbyterian Church’s Foreign Mission Board. At the age of 28, she sailed to West Africa in August 1876 and was later assigned to the Calabar region. The region was where the Efik people lived, a community that believed in traditional West African religions. They also had a particular superstition of twins, who were often killed or abandoned. During her stay in Nigeria, she was able to save hundreds of children. She even adopted one young girl as her daughter.
Mary Slessor also traveled to various dangerous regions, where previous male missionaries were killed. She fought for women’s rights and built a mission hospital for the local people. Additionally, her pragmatic personality and sense of humor made her one remarkable woman.
Amy Wilson Carmichael
Born in 1867 in Ireland, Amy Carmichael was famous for her work with orphans in India. She is the founder of the Dohnavur Fellowship which has been a sanctuary for over one thousand children. Still in operation today, the Fellowship now supports approximately 500 people. Amy’s ministry aimed to take care of children who were orphaned or forced into prostitution. She wrote inspirational books and is famous for her answer to the question of “what is missionary life like?”. Her answer was, “Missionary life is simply a chance to die”. Her example as a missionary inspired others, including Jim and Elizabeth Elliot.
Known as a famous English cricketer, Charles Thomas Studd went to missions in China, Africa, and India. He was the youngest of the Studd Brothers then later converted to Christianity along with his brothers in Eton. He decided to give up sport to pursue a career as a missionary. During his twenties, he served in the China Inland Mission for ten years. It is in the same place where he married missionary, Priscilla Livingstone Stewart. They moved back to the UK due to ill health, before moving to India, serving at a church in Ootacamund.
Jim and Elisabeth Elliot
Jim Elliot’s story is one of the missionary stories that impacted Christians around the world. He was one of the US missionaries who felt called to preach the gospel in the Waodani tribe in Ecuador in the 1950s. The Waodani tribe was known as one of the most violent people who practiced homicide to fiercely defend their territory. They did this to protect their land against those who exploited the Amazonian land. Elliot and other missionaries initiated contact with the tribe after learning their languages. Their first move was by dropping gifts down from a plane and establishing a camp not far from the Waodani settlement.
However, in January 1956, the five men were killed by members of the tribe as they approached them in person. It was supposedly their first time sharing the gospel with hopes that they may come to know God. This news generated worldwide news coverage.
Elisabeth, his wife, wrote a bestselling book entitled ‘Through the Gates of Splendor’ about her husband’s journey. It features one quote from Jim’s journal, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep gaining that which he cannot lose”. Thousands of believers around the world read the book. Later, Elisabeth and Rachel, the sister of another missionary who died, were introduced to the Waodani two years after the murder incident. They were invited to live among the tribe, then many of them came to faith.
Interesting Facts You Should Know About Missionaries
Being part of a Christian community gives us exposure to the works of missionaries. And maybe some of us know Jesus and have experienced salvation because of missionary works. But now that we understand what it’s like to be a missionary, it is also good to know more information about them. Here are some of the interesting facts that you should know about missionaries.
Facts about Missionaries and Unreached People Groups
- Today, there are over 400,000 missionaries that said yes to God’s call worldwide.
- However, there are still over 40% or 6,700 unreached groups of people in the world. This means that there are still around 3.19 Billion people who haven’t heard the gospel.
- Statistics are that 1 of 30 missionaries preach to an unreached group of people. There are around 13,315 missionaries to unreached groups today.
- For Tribal religion: 1 missionary for every 60,000; Hindus religion: 1 missionary every 79,000, Unreligious missions: 1 missionary for every 71,000, Muslims: 1 missionary for every 405,000; and Buddhists: 1 missionary for 260,000.
- Muslim unreached people groups need more missionaries.
- Indonesia has the most Muslim population in the world, with 238,000,000.
- In China, 351 people groups do not have a Bible in their dialects.
- 25 people groups in Afghanistan do not have a Bible in their language.
- 81% of the world’s Hindu, Muslims, and Buddhists do not know a Christian personally.
Facts about Financial Support for Missions
- Many people give around 45 billion dollars for mission support.
- Churches give 6.4% of the money given for cause to missions.
- Around $450 million of money for missions goes towards the unreached people groups.
- $20.3 billion is given to Christian nations.
- The church has 3,000 times the financial resources needed to reach every nation to advance God’s kingdom.
Anticipated Trends for Missions
- In the years to come, Christians from China will be a powerful mission force.
- Missionaries will focus on both rural and inner-city missions. Before, they mostly focused on rural areas.
- Some unreached countries are closing to missionaries, but opening for business people.
- There is a significant rise in missionaries from the Global South.
- Many missionaries who go on missions today were formerly part of unreached groups. An example of this, Western and Korean Christians.
- Audio and video resources allow missionaries to reach people who do not have a Bible in their language or can’t read in any way.
Preaching the Gospel in Every Nation
With unwavering faith, missionaries leave their homes, friends, church, choices for their families, and other comforts to do God’s work. Undeniably, this calling has various costs, burdens, and sacrifices. Missionaries stepped out in faith without assurance of what might happen along the way. They go to different places across the world to preach the gospel.
If God is currently touching your heart to be a missionary, the more you have to seek him. You have to also rely on his word and pray for guidance. If you think that you’re not fit to the criteria, then don’t fret as he can mold you into the person he wants you to be. Don’t hesitate to say yes in advancing God’s kingdom to all nations. Remember, we are all ambassadors of God. We have a responsibility to reach out to those people who don’t know God, wherever and whenever we are. Let’s also pray for our missionaries because we can also find strength and encouragement when we pray for one another. And, in all that we do, let’s give God all the glory and honor.