What Do Missionaries Do?

Child reading the Bible

When you think of a missionary, what do you picture?

Most people imagine going to a distant land to tell people about Jesus. That’s certainly true, but did you know that missionaries not only travel abroad to proclaim the Gospel, but some even work domestically to evangelize?

Missionary helping a family

Within the Catholic Church, there is a very rich history of missionary activity. Many religious orders, including the Franciscans, Ursulines, and Jesuits (Society of Jesus) have sent brothers, priests, and sisters to remote locations all over the world to spread the faith.

In recent decades, after Pope St. John Paul II first introduced the “New Evangelization” to the world in the 80s, missionary activity has been taken up by lay people as well. Numerous missionary organizations have cropped up in recent decades, including NET MinistriesFamily Missions CompanySt. Paul’s OutreachLife Teen MissionsEvangelizadores de Tiempo CompletoRegnum Christi Mission Corps, and FOCUS, among others.

So if priests, religious brothers and sisters, and lay people can all be missionaries, what exactly do missionaries do?

No matter where a missionary serves, he or she works to build the church, form disciples, and ultimately help every person they meet encounter the person of Christ. At the core of all missionary work is the Great Commission, which Jesus gives us in Matthew 28:19 when he says, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”

In many cases, missionary outreach includes helping the poor, too.

At Catholic World Mission, several of our staff members have served as full-time lay missionaries with various organizations. Some have been on several short-term mission trips as well. Who better to tell you about what missionaries do than former missionaries themselves?

Stephanie Quinlan, CWM Operations Manager, on full-time domestic missionary work:

missionary group trip

Above all, missionaries love and serve. I will never forget the day I realized what love and service of another truly meant. I realized that though I was frustrated with one of my teammates, my love for them was greater and I couldn’t stay mad or upset. Love and service is 1) a daily choice and 2) willing the good of the other. I knew those things in my head, but that day, toward the end of my first mission year, that knowledge reached my heart. That lesson, the true meaning of love and service, is one we all need to not only know, but also live. I strive every day to continue to live authentic love and service towards my neighbor. I am forever grateful for the call the Lord placed on my life to serve him through NET Ministries and Saint Paul’s Outreach.


Deacon Rick Medina, CWM Executive Director, on Catholic foreign mission trips:

Deacon Rick Medina with missionary kids

On foreign mission trips, most days are spent getting to know the people of the community. Being a missionary, working with people, can show someone the “goodness” of people as they say in the creation narrative of the Bible: “God looked at everything He had made and found it very good” (Genesis 1:31). I highly recommend to people to go out and be a missionary, meet other people, experience their culture, and see that we have so much in common with people all over the world. Many times, all we hear from the news is the bad things people do. We need to also hear and experience what is good about people and have our faith in humanity restored, which ultimately renews our faith in God, the creator of the universe.


Carrie Miller, CWM Marketing Communications Specialist, on full-time domestic missionary work:

Carrie Miller missionary group It may sound cliché, but the most important thing we did as Life Teen missionaries was to pray. Part of our Rule of Life was to develop a deep rhythm of prayer. We had a holy our every day before the Blessed Sacrament, as well as morning and night prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours. We also went to daily Mass as often as possible. Prayer time, both personal and communal, was vital to our ministry because it rooted us in God’s love for us. How can I evangelize and share Christ’s love with others if I don’t experience His love for me? The focus of our outreach was the faith formation of teens and young people in parishes and Catholic schools in the US. Being grounded in personal prayer was crucial for this work!


Have you ever considered being a missionary?

Even though a missionary’s outreach and daily schedule will vary from organization to organization, at the heart of every missionary’s life is the desire to bring all of humanity face to face with God’s love, specifically through the person of Jesus Christ. Have you ever considered serving as a full-time missionary or going on a short-term mission trip to spread the Gospel? Why or why not? Maybe today’s the day God is asking you to pray about serving as a missionary! How will you respond?

Learn More About Catholic Evangelization