The Importance of Missionary Work
The world is a beautiful place full of diverse cultures and rich history. People aspire to achieve their goals, work hard and enjoy themselves. Others live with various hardships, hoping they can find enough food to feed their families. As a Catholic, you know humankind’s purpose is to grow closer to God and help those in need, but not everyone has learned this.
People worldwide have yet to hear the Good News of Jesus. With so many people, groups and languages, how can people experience the truths of the Bible? Someone must tell them God loves them and show them what it means to be a follower of Christ. That’s why missionaries play such a crucial role in making the world a better place.
Who Are Missionaries?
What is a missionary? These service-minded people go into a community and live among the people there, with the ultimate goal of teaching them about the Good News of Jesus. Anyone can be a missionary, whether you have a seminary degree or you’re still in high school. Missionary work can happen anywhere, including your hometown. Each missionary brings unique gifts and talents to the field, which means someone without a college degree could reach people beyond the circles of a professionally trained missionary with a doctorate in theology.
People often associate missionaries with Bible experts who travel across the world into unknown cultures. Sometimes, missionary stories include tales of danger, hardships and victory. While some missionaries have experienced these movie-like characteristics, they are the minority. You can be a missionary in your neighborhood, telling people about the Gospel as you walk down the sidewalk or enjoy an afternoon in the park.
Be sure you understand the distinction between Catholic missionaries and those representing other religions. The foundation of Catholic mission work is to help more people come to know Jesus. Other types of missionaries may help communities worldwide in various ways, but they leave out a critical truth — the Good News of Jesus. Catholic missionaries provide essential physical help to communities while telling people about Jesus.
Why Is Missionary Work Important?
Why does missionary work matter? You can see the relevance when you look at the changed lives of the people reached. As a Catholic, you understand that everyone has a soul. God wants to have a closer relationship with His prized creation, the people of Earth. Yet, because of sin, humanity has experienced a separation from God. The purpose of Catholic service missionaries is to show people that God loves them and wants them to live a new life, following His will.
Missionary work matters because of its potential to change people spiritually and physically. On the spiritual side of things, people who would have lived their whole lives without the Gospel can come to know Jesus and share this Good News with the people in their sphere of influence. As more people come to know Christ, areas of violence can transform into places of peace. Spiritual renewal is fundamental to a community’s ability to improve its conditions and outlook.
The other side of missionary purpose is the improvement of physical conditions. While spiritual renewal can affect an individual’s long-term approach to life, physical renewal affects people much more intimately. Sometimes, helping people with their immediate needs opens the door to talk about spiritual matters later. That’s why many missionaries focus so much effort on improving people’s living conditions. Doing so can be lifesaving in some circumstances, and saving someone’s life is crucial if they have yet to hear about Jesus.
Here are some examples of what it means to improve living conditions.
- Fighting illnesses: Some communities are more prone to illness for various reasons. Whether they suffer from unclean living conditions or lack access to lifesaving medications, missionaries can help meet these needs. Helping someone overcome a sickness improves their quality of life to strengthen their physical and spiritual well-being.
- Combating hunger and thirst: Many communities around the world are unsure where they will get their next meal. Others deal with unclean drinking water that can be dangerous to ingest. Missionaries serving these communities do the invaluable work of helping them achieve lasting change by creating water filtration systems, planting crops and raising livestock. Healthy people with access to nutritious food and clean water can respond more openly to the Gospel of Jesus.
- Providing shelter: Many towns and villages worldwide experience less-than-ideal living conditions. People lack proper shelter, and others gather in buildings that are in dire need of repairs. Missionaries work with these communities to restore their buildings to experience better living situations.
Characteristics of a Missionary
It’s vital to make a proper distinction between missionaries and humanitarians. Humanitarians can help communities with their physical needs, but they neglect the spirituality of the people they’re investing in. As you read above, physical needs are fundamental, but a Catholic missionary’s purpose is to point the people they help toward Jesus. To do this, all Catholic missionaries should have the following characteristics.
- Charity: Missionaries display charity to those they meet. Charity is a pure, selfless kind of love. It’s the love that Jesus commands all Catholics to practice in Matthew 22:37 by loving your neighbor as yourself. That means feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, ministering to the sick and even sharing the Good News with prisoners.
- Virtue: Virtue is the combination of a person’s thoughts and behaviors. People can put on a facade in public, but how a person thinks and acts when they’re alone is the true measure of virtue. Missionaries must be pure in thought and deed, pleasing the Lord in all that they do.
- Patience: Patience is the ability to endure delays and accept timeframes that may be longer than what you had hoped for. Missionaries can toil for years without seeing a soul come to Jesus or an opportunity to arise. Catholic missionaries must keep the faith, waiting on God’s perfect timing.
- Humility: To be humble is to submit to the will of God and honor Him in all your accomplishments. Many missionaries live in conditions that are far outside their comfort zones. Whatever the circumstances, missionaries must remember they are servants of the Lord and that all glory belongs to God.
- Diligence: Being a missionary also demands a great deal of constancy. Missionaries could face seasons where they feel their work is futile, but they must remain steadfast in their calling. Often, God reveals His hand through your perseverance.
What Are Common Missionary Goals?
Missionaries must set realistic goals to guide their activity. Achieving goals is a way for missionaries to see how their work positively impacts the community. But goals also enable missionaries to manage their expectations. By setting achievable objectives, missionaries can reach their full potential and help the people around them do so, too.
Here are four missionary goals Catholic missionaries hope to help their communities achieve.
Many missionaries choose to leave their comfortable lives behind to help less prosperous people experience greater dignity in their living conditions. Both near and far, communities experience unclean conditions, dirty drinking water, hunger and a lack of resources. Often, mortality rates are higher as a result of these factors.
Catholic missionaries seek to change this. Before receiving the Gospel, one must have their basic needs fulfilled. James 2:14-17 talks about the importance of doing good works, including providing food and clothing. The passage states that you do little good by telling someone about blessings if you neglect them while they’re begging you for the necessities of life. Catholic missionaries step up to the plate and help communities achieve dignified living at the outset of their work.
Many people understand what it means to be physically impoverished. But Catholic missionaries also know that people can be spiritually poor. Many missionaries experienced this lack before getting to know Jesus drastically improved their lives. Catholic missionaries seek to spread the Gospel because they want others to experience Jesus’ life-changing power.
When someone hears good news, they want to share it. In essence, Catholic missionaries do this when they evangelize the people they’re serving. As you read above, this is one of the primary purposes separating Catholic missionaries from humanitarians and representatives of other religions. Spiritual renewal is the ultimate goal of Catholic mission work.
Physical poverty is a severe matter, but Catholic missionaries also devote themselves to addressing educational poverty. This term refers to a community’s inability to experience positive growth due to a lack of learning opportunities. Education helps people realize their God-given potential to reach new heights in their lives. Teaching people new skills and helping to increase their knowledge empowers them to take new paths, leaving behind lives of poverty, drugs or crime to experience all that life has to offer.
Of all common goals of missionaries listed here, education may have the longest-lasting effects. It can be generational, in which the positive impact continues far beyond the people initially reached. One generation of better-educated people can help families and communities experience a better life for generations to come.
How Have Missionaries Impacted the World?
The world is a much better place as a whole, thanks to the work of missionaries. Missionaries have improved education, health, and economic development worldwide. In some instances, missionaries’ work has been more effective and lasting than government aid and secular non-government organizations.
Some countries are experiencing better circumstances today because of missionaries’ efforts within the last century. Life expectancy can increase over time, as a community’s improved physical conditions contribute to healthier lives for the newer generations. Educational opportunities can increase, equipping people with the ability to escape and stay out of poverty. They can then teach their children and their children’s children these same skills and values.
And thanks to the spiritual renewal sparked by missionary work, many cultures come to know Jesus. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus shows His followers how to live in this world to make lasting change. That’s the beauty of evangelism. One person shares with another person, and that person shares with another. It’s a domino effect that has led to more and more people being more like Jesus, making the world a better place for everyone.
Another powerful example of missionaries impacting the world is the desire for the Bible to be available in more languages. Many missionaries and heroes of the faith have strived to print translations of the Bible so anyone could read it. But some of these countries lacked a cohesive written language to understand the text. Missionaries helped people in these situations learn to read, which is a mighty skill to wield to gain knowledge and understanding.
How Missionaries Work in Modern Society
Different types of missionary work have always existed, but modern technology has changed how missionaries approach their labors. If missionaries of the past had to move on to a new location, they could lose contact with the people they ministered to. They might wonder if the community they left was keeping the faith. They’d have to rely on national or international news to learn about current events in the place where they invested so much time and energy.
Today, missionaries can use the internet to continue their missionary work. Here are some modern missionary work examples that show how modern technology is changing how missionaries can minister to people.
- Stay in touch: Missionaries can continue investing in the friendships they make thanks to things like social media, instant messaging and video calling.
- Disciple new believers: New communication technologies open more opportunities for staying in touch. Now, missionaries can disciple new believers and encourage them to keep the faith, even if they’re hundreds or thousands of miles away.
- Encourage people safely: Long-distance communication allows missionaries to safely evangelize and uplift people who are suffering from illness or local violence.
Learn How You Can Support Missionary Work
Catholic missionaries help poor communities experience physical and spiritual renewal. Through this work, the underprivileged can pull themselves from their situations and enjoy a newfound purpose following Jesus and making better choices for themselves and their neighbors. Catholic World Mission seeks to help make this happen for communities around the world. Thanks to our donors’ generosity, we can accomplish our objectives, including the priority of sharing the Good News of Jesus to the spiritually needy, as seen in our Catholic Evangelization Pillar.
Learn More About Evangelization & Seminarian Formation
Deacon Rick Medina is the Former Executive Director of Catholic World Mission and for years oversaw 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.