How to Become a Catholic Missionary
At the conclusion of the book of Matthew, Jesus tells his apostles, “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, until the end of the age.” This call, known as the Great Commission, has served as a central mission for the church for two millennia.
Missionaries serve the spiritual and material needs of people whose lives are often very different from their own. It’s easy to become wrapped up in our lives and neglect to think of people in other countries or perhaps those living nearby who are dealing with serious problems like hunger and poverty. Many people are also struggling with spiritual poverty. Missionaries sacrifice their own comfort to compassionately serve these people, near and far.
If you believe God is calling you to become a missionary, you can consider this calling and take steps to identify what shape mission work should take in your own life.
What Do Catholic Missionaries Do?
What a Catholic missionary does differs depending on the person, since not all missionary work looks the same. For example, many missionaries answer the Psalmist’s appeal to “Tell his glory among the nations; among all peoples, his marvelous deeds” by traveling, but not all missionaries travel far from home. There are some activities that are central to nearly all mission work. Missionaries complete the following:
- Pray: Missionaries pour themselves out for others, so they must keep returning to the spring of living water to renew their strength and sense of purpose. One way they do this is through silence and prayer. In 1 Thessalonians 5:17, we’re instructed to, “Pray without ceasing.” Missionaries who have traveled far from home may especially feel the need to pray as a reminder that Christ is always with us, as he states in the Great Commission. Missionaries also pray for the people they’re serving and evangelizing.
- Evangelize: Evangelism, or the preaching of the Gospel, is central to the missionary’s mission. Romans 10 reminds us of the importance of evangelism to fulfilling the promise that, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Paul asks a series of rhetorical questions to make the point that a person must hear the message before they can believe, and they can only hear if someone preaches. Preaching doesn’t have to be speaking to a crowd — it can also look like sharing the Gospel one-on-one.
- Sacrifice: One of the hallmarks of a missionary’s life is sacrifice. You likely won’t find a missionary living in a mansion or spending time and money on frivolous pursuits. Missionaries often live among the people they’re ministering to, experiencing many of the same material struggles they do. Missionaries sacrifice their own comforts — and in some cases, their very lives — to answer God’s call. As Christ says in Matthew 10:39, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
- Serve others: Missionaries also serve people’s physical needs. Across the world, people experience a lack of access to essentials like food and water, a reliable source of income, education, shelter and infrastructure, and quality health care. Missionaries work to alleviate these struggles and demonstrate Christ’s love in a material way. Christ himself modeled what it means to be a servant, as Mark 10 says, “For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
- Have a love for Mary: Catholic missionaries look to the example of the Virgin Mary who, when told she would miraculously conceive and birth the Son of God, said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” In addition to following Mary’s example of dedicated service to our Lord, Catholic missionaries have a love and devotion for Mary as a spiritual mother and ask her to intercede on their behalf to help them on their spiritual mission.
Who Can Be a Catholic Missionary?
Maybe you’re interested in missionary activities, but you don’t see yourself as a missionary because you feel you’re an ordinary person. In reality, any Catholic can be a Catholic missionary. In addition to priests and religious brothers and sisters, laypeople can also become missionaries and share their faith with people all over the world.
In a sense, all Christians are called to be missionaries. In some cases, that simply means evangelizing family members, co-workers and other people in our lives. While all Christians should let their light shine to those around them, some people may feel a particular call to mission work that goes beyond the call all of us share. When we refer to a missionary in the church, we typically mean a person who has dedicated a great deal of their time to serving and sharing the Gospel with others.
A missionary’s life is one of dedicated service, but it doesn’t have to mean full-time ministry. Some people may hold an ordinary job and also work as a volunteer for a Catholic charity in their free time. Others may take a break from their usual routine to go on short-term mission trips. Anyone who has faith in Jesus Christ can feel a calling to missions and can answer that call.
Some people may choose to become full-time missionaries. This is a significant commitment, but it’s one that is so vital to bringing the good news of Christ to the nations. Throughout history, many have chosen to pursue missions, leaving behind the comforts of home to share the Gospel with those who need to hear it.
Determining the Type of Mission Work You Want to Take Part In
Mission work comes in many varieties. Laypeople considering taking part in mission work should pray about and think through a few key factors. Determine what modes of service you want to take part in, as well as how long, where, and who you want to serve.
1. What Type of Ministry You’re Best Equipped For
Anyone can do mission work, even if they may feel unqualified. God uses willing vessels, regardless of what’s on their resume. That said, each of us has certain skills or gifts we can use when we serve. 1 Peter 4:10 says, “As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” Consider what abilities or giftings you have that you may be able to use to help others.
For example, a nurse who feels called to missions could help serve in a clinic overseas for people who need access to quality health care. A person with construction experience could use their skills to help build new homes, schools or churches for communities in need. Even if you’re not preaching the Gospel, you can be the hands and feet of Jesus to many people by serving in tangible ways.
2. How Long You Plan to Serve
Another thing to prayerfully consider is how long you want to serve as a missionary. Some people may avoid missions because they don’t feel called to give their whole lives to mission work. But this is based on a misconception. Not all missionary commitment calls are to full-time, lifelong missions — though that is certainly the case for some. Some people may give up everything to move across the world with no plans of returning.
If you don’t feel called to long-term missions, you can instead focus on Catholic short-term mission trips. A missions trip can be an enriching experience for any Christian as they take a break from their usual job and life to focus fully on volunteering. A short-term trip can also be a great way to discover your call for longer-term missions, if that call is there.
3. Where You Want to Serve
Another thing to think through is where you want to serve. Maybe there’s a specific country or community you feel drawn to or a location where you can use your foreign language skills. Keep in mind that while most people picture missionaries as serving in remote areas, not all mission work looks like this or is even international.
Domestic mission work is also an option. Most of us don’t have to look far to find people who need to experience the love and care of Christ. Consider looking for opportunities for Catholic volunteering near you. Maybe it’s a food bank, shelter or women’s center in your city. Catholic charities all over the U.S. have volunteer opportunities where you can serve disadvantaged communities in impactful ways.
4. Who You Feel Called to Serve
In addition to where you serve, you should also consider who you want to serve. In some cases, the “who” and “where” of your calling may be one in the same. Perhaps you want to be a missionary to a particular village in the Congo, for instance. In some cases, you may need to focus your efforts more specifically on a particular demographic of people.
If you feel a special level of compassion for a certain group, consider whether God is calling you to focus on ministering to this group. Scripture calls us to care for those who are marginalized in some way, such as orphans, widows and the poor. Other groups you may want to serve include people experiencing homelessness, expectant mothers, victims of domestic abuse, prison inmates or international college students, for example.
Finding Catholic Missionary Jobs
Today, most missionaries partner with other people and organizations for their work. This allows Christians to remain in fellowship with other believers while on mission and maximize their impact together. There are a few options to consider if you’re looking for Catholic missions opportunities with a group.
1. Your Local Church
Many missionaries start out by serving in their local church or parish. Maybe your church supports a national or international ministry that you want to learn more about and get involved in. Or, there may be plenty of opportunities to serve locally. Local churches understand the needs that are present in their communities and should be able to direct congregants toward volunteer opportunities within the church or with local charities.
Some churches organize short-term mission trips to other states or countries. If you’re interested in mission work, going on one of these trips can be an excellent introduction to mission work. You may even want to help organize a future trip back to the same place or make a long-term commitment to serve if you feel called.
2. National or Regional Charities
You can also look for volunteer positions with local or national organizations. Your church may be able to connect you with Catholic organizations in your area where you can serve. If you’re open to opportunities beyond your local community, consider searching online or talking to friends in other cities to see if there are any opportunities that seem to fit your calling.
The Catholic Volunteer Network is a great resource for finding volunteer positions and job ads from nonprofit organizations. Search by categories, keywords or locations to see if any Catholic Volunteer Network jobs fit your interests and goals. Some positions are part-time volunteer positions, while others are full-time paid positions.
3. International Organizations
If you’re interested in international mission work, you can partner with a church in the area where you plan to serve or seek out an agency you can partner with. Missions agencies can help guide you through the process of relocating, provide training and give ongoing support. Before partnering with an organization, you should take time to learn about the organization and make sure their philosophy on missions and the work they do align with your personal beliefs and goals.
Some organizations are international, with teams doing work in various places across the world. Catholic World Mission, for example, does work in countries across Africa, Asia, Europe, North America and Central and South America. These mission efforts across the world typically involve ongoing support from local parishes and people who have in-roads in their communities. For example, through the Evangelizadores de Tiempo Completo (ETC) program, Catholic laypeople assist priests and bishops in parishes where help is needed to evangelize and serve the local community. Consider giving to this valuable missionary work.
Donate to Missionary Efforts Around the World
At Catholic World Mission, the work we do across the world helps raise people out of material and spiritual poverty. Missionaries depend on the generosity of people like you to meet their own material needs and the needs of those they’re serving. When you give to Catholic World Mission, you can be sure your gift is going directly to communities in need and will improve people’s lives and help many come to faith.
Consider designating your gift to a current project Catholic World Mission and partners are undertaking in Cuatro Ciniegas, Mexico. Your financial gift will help with the creation of a spiritual pilgrimage opportunity involving desert travel, a stop at a water oasis and Mass at the St. Joseph parish church. In the future, you may even want to attend this pilgrimage, which will provide opportunities to reflect on the life and virtues of St. Joseph, do corporal works of mercy and spend some time relaxing.
If you want to give to support these efforts, you can make a secure donation on our site.
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Deacon Rick Medina is the Executive Director of Catholic World Mission and oversees the management of all of Catholic World Mission's projects in over 35 countries. He was ordained a deacon of the archdiocese of Atlanta in 2013. He currently serves at All Saints Catholic Church in Dunwoody, Georgia, and is active in several ministries, including RCIA, baptism preparation, Life Teen, Altar Server group, Grief Share, and Adult Faith Formation.