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A missionary is a member of a religious group sent into an area to carry on ministries of the word, such as evangelism and literacy, or ministries of service, such as education, social justice, health care and economic development. The word "mission" originates from 1598 when the Jesuits sent members abroad, derived from the Latin missionem (nom. missio), meaning "act of sending" or mittere, meaning "to send".

In Christian cultures the term is most commonly used for Christian missions, but it applies equally to any creed or ideology. Buddhism launched 'the first large-scale missionary effort in the history of the world's religions' in the 3rd c. BCE.

Christian missions

A Christian missionary can be defined as "one who is sent to witness across cultures." The Lausanne Congress of 1974, defined the term, related to Christian mission as, "to form a viable indigenous church-planting movement." Recognizing justice as being at the heart of the Gospels, some modern missionaries now promote the development of western government , education and economic structure in the place of pre-existing local systems and tradition. Missionaries can be found in many countries around the world.

Biblical mandate

Jesus instructed the apostles to make disciples ( ). This reference is understood by Christian missionaries as the Great Commission to engage in missionary work.

Catholic missions

The New Testament missionary outreach of the Christian church from the time of St Paul was extensive throughout the Roman Empire. During the Middle Ages the Christian monasteries and missionaries such as Saint Patrick, and Adalbert of Prague propagated learning and religion beyond the boundaries of the old Roman Empire. In the 7th century Gregory the Great sent missionaries including Augustine of Canterbury into England. During the Age of Discovery, the Roman Catholic Church established a number of Missions in the Americas and other colonies through the Augustinians, Franciscans and Dominicans in order to spread Christianity in the New World and to convert the Native Americans and other indigenous people. At the same time, missionaries such as Francis Xavier as well as other Jesuits, Augustinians, Franciscans and Dominicans were moving into Asia and the far East. The Portuguese sent missions into Africa. These are some of the most well-known missions in history. While some of these missions were associated with imperialism and oppression, others (notably Matteo Ricci's Jesuit mission to China) were relatively peaceful and focused on integration rather than cultural imperialism.

Much contemporary Catholic missionary work has undergone profound change since the Second Vatican Council, and has become explicitly conscious of Social Justice issues and the dangers of cultural imperialism or economic exploitation disguised as religious conversion. Contemporary Christian missionaries argue that working for justice is a constitutive part of preaching the Gospel, and observe the principles of inculturation in their missionary work.

As the church normally organizes itself along territorial lines, and because they had the human and material resources, religious orders--some even specializing in it--undertook most missionary work, especially in the early phases. Over time a normalised church structure was gradually established in the mission area, often starting with special jurisdictions known as apostolic prefectures and apostolic vicariates. These developing churches eventually intended 'graduating' to regular diocesan status with a local episcopacy appointed, especially after decolonization, as the church structures often reflect the political-administrative reality.

Orthodox missions

The Eastern Orthodox Church, under the Orthodox Church of Constantinoplemarker was vigorous in its missionary outreach under the Roman Empire and continuing Byzantine Empire, and its missionary outreach had lasting effect, either founding, influencing or establishing formal relations with some 16 Orthodox national churches including the Romanian Orthodox Church, the Georgian Orthodox and Apostolic Church and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (both said to have been founded by the missionary Apostle Andrew), the Bulgarian Orthodox Church (said to have been founded by the missionary Apostle Paul). The two ninth century saint Cyril and Methodius had extensive missionary success in Eastern Europe. The Byzantines expanded their missionary work in Ukraine after a mass baptism in Kiev in 988. The Serbian Orthodox Church had its origins in the conversion by Byzantine missionaries of the Serb tribes when they arrived in the Balkans in the 7th century. Orthodox missionaries also worked successfully among the Estonians from the 10th to the 12th centuries founding the Estonian Orthodox Church.

Under the Russian Empiremarker of the 19th century, missionaries such as Nicholas Ilminsky moved into the subject lands and propagated Orthodoxy, including through Belarusmarker, Latvia, Moldovamarker, Finland, Estonia, Ukraine, and China. The Russian St. Nicholas of Japan took Eastern Orthodoxy to Japan in the 19th century. The Russian Orthodox Church also sent missionaries to Alaskamarker beginning in the 18th century, including Saint Herman of Alaska, to minister to the Native Americans. The Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia continued missionary work outside Russia after the 1917 Russian Revolution, resulting in the establishment of many new dioceses in the diaspora, from which numerous converts have been made in Eastern Europe, North America and Oceania.

First Protestant missions

Among the first Protestant missionaries were John Eliot and contemporary ministers including John Cotton and Richard Bourne, who ministered to the Algonquin natives who lived in lands claimed by representatives of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the early 17th century. Quaker "publishers of truth" visited Boston and other mid-17th century colonies but were not always well-received.

The Danish government included Lutheran missionaries among the colonists in many of its colonies, Bartholomaeus Ziegenbalg in Tranquebar Indiamarker in the late 17th century. But the first organized Protestant mission work was carried out beginning in 1732 by the Moravian Brethren of Herrnhutmarker in Saxonymarker Germanymarker(die evangelische Brüdergemeine). While on a visit in 1732 to Copenhagenmarker for the coronation of his cousin King Christian VI the Moravian Church's patron, Nicolas Ludwig, Count von Zinzendorf got to know a slave from the Danish colony in the West Indiesmarker. When he returned to Herrnhut with the slave, he inspired the inhabitants of the village--it was fewer than 30 houses then---to send out "messengers" to the slaves in the West Indies. The first missionaries landed in St. Thomasmarker in December, 1732. Work soon was started in another Danish colony, Greenland. Within 30 years there were Moravian missionaries active on every continent, and this at a time when there were fewer than 300 people in Herrnhut. They are famous for their selfless work, living as slaves among the slaves and together with the native Americans, the Delaware (i.e. Lenni Lenape) and Cherokee Indian tribes. Today the work in the former mission provinces of the worldwide Moravian Church is carried on by native workers. The fastest growing area of the work in Tanzania in Eastern Africa. The Moravian work in South Africa inspired William Carey and the founders of the British Baptist missions. Today 7 of every 10 Moravians are in a former mission field and belong to a race other than Caucasian. Like other missionary denominations, Protestant missionaries have been accused of cultural imperialism and have often been associated with a colonial power. (See Americanization .)

Evangelical Church missions

With a dramatic increase in efforts since the 1900s, and a strong push since the Lausanne I: The International Congress on World Evangelization in Switzerland in 1974, [8614] evangelical groups have focused efforts on sending missionaries to every ethnic group in the world. While this effort has not been completed, increased attention has brought larger numbers of people distributing Bibles, Jesus videos, and establishing evangelical churches in more remote, less Christianized areas.

Internationally, the focus for many years in the later 20th century was on reaching every "people group" with Christianity by the year 2000. Bill Bright's leadership with Campus Crusade, the Southern Baptist International Mission Board, The Joshua Project, and others brought about the need to know who these "unreached people groups" are and how those wanting to tell about a Christian God and share a Christian Bible could reach them. The focus for these organizations transitioned from a "country focus" to a "people group focus." (From "What is a People Group?" by Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins: A "people group" is an ethnolinguistic group with a common self-identity that is shared by the various members. There are two parts to that word: ethno and linguistic. Language is a primary and dominant identifying factor of a people group. But there are other factors that determine or are associated with ethnicity.)

What can be viewed as a success by those inside and outside the church from this focus is a higher level of cooperation and friendliness among churches and denominations. It is very common for those working on international fields to not only cooperate in efforts to share their gospel message but view the work of their groups in a similar light. Also, with the increased study and awareness of different people groups, western mission efforts have become far more sensitive to the cultural nuances of those they are going to and those they are working with in the effort.

Over the years, as indigenous churches have matured, the church of the "Global South" (Africa, Asia and Latin America) has become the driving force in missions. Korean and African missionaries can now be found all over the world. These missionaries represent a major shift in Church history.

Brazil, Nigeria, and other countries have had large numbers of their Christian adherents go to other countries and start churches. These non-western missionaries often have unparalleled success because they need few western resources and comforts to sustain their livelihood while doing the work they have chosen among a new culture and people.

The British Missionary Societies

The London Missionary Society was an extensive Anglican and Nonconformist missionary society formed in England in 1795 with missions in the islands of the South Pacific and Africa. It now forms part of the Council for World Mission. The Anglican Church Missionary Society was also founded in England in 1799, and continues its work today. In 1809 the London Society for Promoting Christianity Amongst the Jews was founded, which pioneered mission amongst the Jewish people. It continues today as the Church's Ministry Among Jewish People. All these organisations spread through the extensive 18th and 19th century colonial British Empire, establishing the network of churches that largely became the modern Anglican Communion.

Jehovah's Witnesses missionaries

Jehovah's Witnesses are known for their missionary activities. Typically, all adult Witnesses are expected to spend time every week "witnessing" in their area. Depending on the civil law in the respective country, this may take the form of proselytizing door to door, distribution of magazines and other literature such as The Watchtower and Awake! or responding to the questions of passersby. They also conduct home Bible studies with interested persons.While all baptized Jehovah's Witnesses engage in missionary work, the branch office of the Christian Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses, will appoint fulltime missionaries. Regular Pioneers are appointed to serve in a local congregation and spend an average of 70 hours a month preaching. Special pioneers are appointed to serve in isolated areas where preaching might be limited. Foreign missionaries are appointed to serve in another country after they have completed a 5 month course at the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead in Patterson, New York. They devote an average of 130 hours a month.They consider this activity as obedience to the teachings of Jesus Christ in ( )

Latter-day Saint missionaries

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is one of the most active modern practitioners of missionary work. Young men between the ages of 19 and 25 (usually beginning at the age of 19) are encouraged to prepare themselves to serve a two-year, partially self-funded (the LDS Church pays for transportation, health and dental care, the MTC stay, leadership, etc. the missionary pays a monthly amount), full-time proselytizing mission. Young women and retired couples may serve missions as well. Young women who desire to serve as missionaries serve at an older age, 21 or older, and often for only one and a half years. Missionaries typically spend one to three months in a Missionary Training Center where they study the scriptures, learn new languages, and otherwise prepare themselves to teach the Gospel and understand the culture in which and the people among whom they will be living. The LDS Church has about 53,000 missionaries worldwide.

Islamic missions

Dawah means to "invite" (in Arabic, literally "calling") to Islam, estimated to be the second largest religion next to Christianity. From the 7th century it spread rapidly from the Arabian Peninsula to the rest of the world through the initial Arabic conquests, and subsequently with traders and explorers after the death of the Prophet Muhammad.

Initially, the spread of Islam came through the dawah efforts of Muhammad and those who followed him. After his death in 632 CE, much of the expansion of the empire came through conquest, such as that of North Africa and later Spainmarker (Al-Andalusmarker), and the Islamic conquest of Persia putting an end to the Sassanid Empire and spreading the reach of Islam to as far East as Khorasan, which would later become the cradle of Islamic civilization during the Islamic Golden Age and a stepping-stone towards the introduction of Islam to the Turkic tribes living in and bordering the area.

The missionary movements peaked during the Islamic Golden Age, with the expansion of foreign trade routes, primarily into the Indo-Pacific and as far South as the isle of Zanzibarmarker and the South-Eastern shores of Africa.

With the coming about of the tradition of Sufism, Islamic missionary activities have increased considerably. The mystical nature of the tradition had an all-encompassing aspect, a property many societies in Asia could relate to. Later, with the conquest of Anatoliamarker by the Seljuk Turks, missionaries would find easier passage to the lands then formerly belonging to the Byzantine Empire.

In the earlier stages of the Ottoman Empire, a Turkic form of Shamanism was still widely practiced in Anatolia, which soon started to give in to the mysticism offered by Sufism.

The teachings of Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, who migrated from Khorasan to Anatoliamarker, are good examples to the mystical aspect of Sufism.

During the Ottoman presence in the Balkans, missionary movements were also taken up by people from aristocratic families hailing from the region, who had been educated in Constantinoplemarker or any other major city within the Empire, in famed madrassahs and kulliyes. Most of the time, such individuals were sent back to the place of their origin, being appointed important positions in the local governing body. This approach often resulted in the building of mosques and local kulliyes for future generations to benefit from, as well as spreading the teachings of Islam.

The spread of Islam towards Central and West Africa has been prominent but slow, until the early 19th century. Previously, the only connection was through Transsaharan trade, of which the Mali Empire, consisting predominantly of African and Berber tribes, stands as a strong proof of the early Islamization of the Sub-Saharan region. The gateways prominently expanded to include the aforementioned trade routes through the Eastern shores of the African continent. With the European colonization of Africa, missionaries were almost in competition with the European Christian missionaries operating in the colonies.

The Muslim population of the US has increased greatly in the last one hundred years, with much of the growth driven by widespread conversion. Up to one-third of American Muslims are African Americans who have converted to Islam during the last seventy years. Conversion to Islam in prisons, and in large urban areas has also contributed to its growth over the years.

Missionaries and Judaism

Despite some inter-Testamental Jewish missionary activity, contemporary Judaism states clearly that missionary activities are not a priority.

Modern Jewish teachers repudiate proselytization of Gentiles in order to convert them. The reason for this is that Gentiles already have a complete relationship with God via the Noahidic covenant (See Noahide Laws); there is therefore no need for them to become Jewish, which requires more work of them. In addition, Judaism espouses a concept of "quality" not "quantity". It is more important in the eyes of Jews to have converts who are completely committed to observing Jewish law, than to have converts who will violate the Abrahamic covenant into which they have been initiated.

On the other hand, most Jewish religious groups encourage "Outreach" to Jews alienated from their own heritage owing to assimilation and intermarriage. Some movements encourage Jews to become more observant of Jewish religious law (known as halakha). Those people who do become religious are known as baalei teshuva. The large Hasidic group known as Chabad Lubavitch has internationally promoted such "outreach." Others, such as the National Jewish Outreach Program do the same in North America.

In recent times, members of the American Reform movement began a program to convert to Judaism the non-Jewish spouses of its intermarried members and non-Jews who have an interest in Judaism. Their rationale is that so many Jews were lost during the Holocaust that newcomers must be sought out and welcomed. This approach has been repudiated by Orthodox and Conservative Jews as unrealistic and posing a danger. They say that these efforts make Judaism seem an easy religion to join and observe when in reality being Jewish involves many difficulties and sacrifices.

Eastern religions

The first missions were sent by the Indian religions, in particular Buddhism.

Buddhist missions

The first Buddhist missionaries were called "Dharma Bhanaks".The Emperor Ashoka was a significant early Buddhist missioner. In the 3rd century BC, Dharmaraksita - among others - was sent out by emperor Ashoka to proselytize the Buddhist tradition through the Indian Maurya Empire, but also into the Mediterranean as far as Greece. Buddhism was spread among the Turkic people during the 2nd and 3rd centuries BC into modern-day Pakistanmarker, Kashmirmarker, Afghanistanmarker, eastern and coastal Iranmarker, Uzbekistanmarker, Turkmenistanmarker and Tajikistanmarker. It was also taken into Chinamarker brought by An Shigao in the 2nd century BC.

The use of missions, formation of councils and monastic institutions influenced the emergence of Christian missions and organizations which had similar structures formed in places which were formerly Buddhist missions.

During the 19th and 20th centuries, Western intellectuals such as Schopenhauer, Henry David Thoreau, Max Müller and esoteric societies such as the Theosophical Society of H.P. Blavatsky and the Buddhist Society, London spread interest in Buddhism. Writers such as Hermann Hesse and Jack Kerouac, in the West, and the hippie generation of the late 1960s and early 1970s led to a re-discovery of Buddhism. During the 20th and 21st centuries Buddhism has again been propagated by missionaries into the West such as the Dalai Lama and monks including Lama Surya Das (Tibetan Buddhism). Tibetan Buddhism has been significantly active and successful in the West since the Chinese takeover of Tibet in 1959.

See also


  2. Thomas Hale 'On Being a Missionary' 2003, William Carey Library Pub, ISBN 0878082557
  4. Foltz, R.C.; Religions of the silk road; 1999; p.37
  5. Thomas Hale 'On Being a Missionary' 2003, William Carey Library Pub, ISBN 0878082557
  6. Robert Woodberry- the Social Impact of Missionary Higher Education
  7. Selleck, D., discussed throughout Chapter 1, Quakers in Boston: 1656-1964, Fleming & Son, Somerville, 1980.
  8. LDS Newsroom - Statistical Information
  9. A NATION CHALLENGED: AMERICAN MUSLIMS; Islam Attracts Converts By the Thousand, Drawn Before and After Attacks
  11. Ranks of Latinos Turning to Islam Are Increasing; Many in City Were Catholics Seeking Old Muslim Roots

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