A missionary is a member of a religious group sent into an area to do evangelism or ministries of service, such as education, literacy, 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”. The word was used in light of its biblical usage; in the Latin translation of the Bible, Christ uses the word when sending the disciples to preach in his name. The term is most commonly used for Christian missions, but can be used for any creed or ideology.
Missionaries by religion
Main articles: Mission (Christian) and List of Christian Missionaries
See also: Jesuit reduction
A Christian missionary can be defined as “one who is 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”. Missionaries can be found in many countries around the world.
Jesus instructed the apostles to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19–20, Mark 16:15–18). This verse is referred to by Christian missionaries as the Great Commission and inspires missionary work.
Village of Christianized Tapuyos Indians, Brazil c. 1820
The New Testament-era missionary outreach of the Christian church from the time of St Paul expanded throughout the Roman Empire and beyond to Persia (Church of the East) and to India (Saint Thomas Christians). During the Middle Ages the Christian monasteries and missionaries such as Saint Patrick (5th century), and Adalbert of Prague (ca 956-997) propagated learning and religion beyond the European boundaries of the old Roman Empire. In 596 Pope Gregory the Great (in office 590-604) sent the Gregorian Mission (including Augustine of Canterbury) into England. In their turn, Christians from Ireland (the Hiberno-Scottish mission) and from Britain (Saint Boniface (ca 675-754) and the Anglo-Saxon mission, for example) became prominent in converting the inhabitants of central Europe.
During the Age of Discovery, the Roman Catholic Church established a number of missions in the Americas and in other colonies through the Augustinians, Franciscans and Dominicans in order to spread Christianity in the New World and[clarification needed] to convert the Native Americans and other indigenous people. About the same time, missionaries such as Francis Xavier (1506-1552) as well as other Jesuits, Augustinians, Franciscans and Dominicans started 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 missions accompanied imperialism and oppression (the Baltic Crusades of the 12th and 13th centuries, for example), others (notably Matteo Ricci’s Jesuit mission to China from 1582) were relatively peaceful and focused on integration rather than on cultural imperialism.
English missionary John Williams, active in the South Pacific
Much contemporary Catholic missionary work has undergone profound change since the Second Vatican Council of 1962-1965, 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 forms a constitutive part of preaching the Gospel, and observe the principles of inculturation in their missionary work.
As the Catholic 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 post-Roman Empire era. Over time the vatican gradually established a normalised church structure in the mission areas, 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 actuality.
The Eastern Orthodox Church, under the Orthodox Church of Constantinople undertook vigorous missionary outreach under the Roman Empire and the 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 traditionally 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 9th-century saints Cyril and Methodius had extensive missionary success in central 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.
Jesuits who were martyred by the Araucanian Indians in Elicura in 1612
Under the Russian Empire of the 19th century, missionaries such as Nicholas Ilminsky (1822–1891) moved into the subject lands and propagated Orthodoxy, including through Belarus, Latvia, Moldova, Finland, Estonia, Ukraine, and China. The Russian St. Nicholas of Japan (1836-1912) took Eastern Orthodoxy to Japan in the 19th century. The Russian Orthodox Church also sent missionaries to Alaska beginning in the 18th century, including Saint Herman of Alaska (died 1836), 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.
Early Protestant missionaries included 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 began the first organized Protestant mission work through its College of Missions, established in 1714. This funded and directed Lutheran missionaries such as Bartholomaeus Ziegenbalg in Tranquebar, India, and Hans Egede in Greenland. In 1732, while on a visit in 1732 to Copenhagen for the coronation of his cousin King Christian VI, the Moravian Church’s patron Nicolas Ludwig, Count von Zinzendorf, was very struck by its effects, and particularly by two visiting Inuit children converted by Hans Egede. He also got to know a slave from the Danish colony in the West Indies. When he returned to Herrnhut in Saxony, he inspired the inhabitants of the village – it had fewer than 30 houses then – to send out “messengers” to the slaves in the West Indies and to the Moravian missions in Greenland. Within 30 years, Moravian missionaries had become 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 is in Tanzania in Eastern Africa. The Moravian work in South Africa inspired William Carey and the founders of the British Baptist missions. As of 2014, 7 of every 10 Moravians live in a former mission field and belong to a race other than Caucasian.
Much Anglican mission work came about under the auspices of the Church Missionary Society (CMS, founded 1799) and of the Intercontinental Church Society (formerly the Commonwealth and Continental Church Society, originating in 1823).