So what do you do? Aren’t there already churches there? Why are you involved in social work? Isn’t the job of a missionary only to share the Gospel and plant churches? Like any missionary, these are questions that I get asked from time to time. It’s not surprising as the historical missionary was typically a western man or woman, who leaves their job to evangelize and plant churches in a nation where the Gospel is unknown.
With that in mind, we can understand why it is often puzzling to people when missionaries explain the scope and depth of their ministry and many aspects focus on seemingly “humanitarian” projects.
Have missionaries that engage in such activities lost their way? Are they confused as to what the job of a missionary is? By focusing their energy and resources on meeting physical needs have they merely become humanitarian aid workers? Or is there a Biblical basis for it?
As an MK (Missionary Kid) who, 12 years ago embraced his calling to serve as a missionary in a foreign country (Guatemala). It’s an issue that I have grappled with many times. I have committed my life to my calling, and you know what? My life is important to me. I want my time, efforts, energy and resources to be used in the greatest way possible. I want the projects I do and the ministry I am engaged in, to revolve around the things that are most important in life.
So why then has my ministry pulled me into what some have called “non-missionary” activities?
While doing research on creating a board of directors for an orphanage where I serve, I came across a quote by Henry Merritt Wriston on the qualities non-profit board members should have; “work, wealth, and wisdom, preferably all three, but at least two of the three.” In the professional world this has become a filter which many nonprofits use to screen their candidates.
Wealth, Wisdom and Work, the 3 W’s as they are known, encompass much of what missionaries do, with one important addition, the Word of God.
Word of God – This is the defining “W” for a missionary. The primary job of a missionary is to proclaim Jesus as Lord and Savior, to bring the Gospel, which is the Good News that Christ has come to provide forgiveness for our sins, to redeem us and restore us to God. 1 Corinthians 15:1-4. Christians are called to reach “all the nations” Mathew 28:19, to bring the Gospel to those people who have not yet heard it, and an essential part of that calling is to “make disciples of all nations”.
So we can see that the calling of a missionary extends beyond merely sharing the Gospel, salvation is merely the first step in the life of a Christian, but growing in knowledge and faith in Christ to become His disciples is a process and one where missionaries play an important role. Christ also calls on Christians to care physically for those in need, James 1:27 is one example, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.“
As Christians we are specifically called to care for the orphans and widows, but what about others in need?
In the following chapter of James verses 15 and 16 we read, “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?”
From this verse we can clearly see that God expects Christians to go beyond sharing the wonderful news of the Gospel, to assisting those in need in a very real and physical manner.
Going beyond the Bible, we can find many examples in history of missionaries serving in a physical capacity in addition to their primary role of spiritual guidance. David Livingston and Hudson Taylor were both amazing, world changing missionaries that used their skills as doctors, amongst other things, to serve those in the countries to which they were called.
Work – Missionaries are called to do the work. Day in and day out, teaching, preaching, discipling. They are the first to volunteer and the last to leave. There is no job too simple or too humbling. As a missionary I have cleaned toilets and mopped floors, painted walls and picked up trash. Matthew 23:11 says “The greatest among you shall be your servant.” Christ laid out the example for us in John 13 when he washed his disciples feet and told them that they should follow His example. If washing the feet of those He was discipling was not beneath our Lord and Savior, is there any job that is beneath us in the service of those we are called to disciple?
Wisdom – Missionaries should have a solid knowledge of Scripture and be grounded in true doctrine. Historically missionaries were seminary grads. I believe that it’s the knowledge that matters more than the degree. But regardless, a missionary should have a working knowledge of scripture, the wisdom to understand it and the ability to share it with those he is called to reach.
Wealth – This one kind of makes me laugh. Most of my years as a missionary have been spent working with limited resources, scrounging for support and donations. All the projects we have done and ministries we started were begun with no funding and limited resources. The funds always came after we had begun the work.
Missionaries often start ministries by faith, going ahead where God is leading, regardless of whether or not it makes sense from a “logical” standpoint. But, regardless of how limited our resources, we do have connections with churches, family, friends and donors in our home country which, when connected to ministries on the mission field, can have a huge impact.
Perhaps more than wealth of finances what we have is a wealth of faith, the belief and knowledge that if God has called us to do something, then He will provide, and our job is simply to obey.
While not comprehensive, I hope that this overview will give you a better grasp of the how and why, we, as missionaries do what we do so that you can pray, support and encourage us where we need it most.