Several prominent religious colleges in the country encourage students to work as a missionary, but those students need to know what a missionary does before signing up. Some of those colleges even allow students to take up to two years off to devote to missionary work before coming back to finish their studies, and students can often gain course credit for the work that they do. Missionary work is difficult, but many people find the work rewarding.
What is a Religious Missionary?
A religious missionary is someone who travels and works on behalf of a religious institution or organization. They work in underdeveloped areas and areas that do not have a strong religious institution in place. Missionaries spread the word of Jesus Christ and encourage others to learn more about the religion they represent. Most missionaries spend a large portion of time working in the field and living in a new community, and they may spend months or even years away from home to complete their work.
That being said, there are a variety of jobs that missionaries do while they’re on their missions. This makes the work interesting. It also allows them to hone important skills, and given that many missionary positions are volunteer positions, these skills-building activities can help them with employment down the road.
For those wondering what does a missionary do in the field, the short answer to that question is many things. That being said, the work of the missionary usually falls into a couple of broad categories, which are discussed below.
Medical missionaries work in locations where finding medical help is difficult. This could be places in Africa, Eastern Europe or even here in the US in locations, like Appalachia. Missionaries who undertake medical missions possess the medical skills and training required to administer vaccines and other medicines.
Medical missionaries also educate people about measures they can take to improve their health. They teach people about the importance of clean water and personal hygiene. What’s rewarding about this type of missionary work is that it allows missionaries to make a very real impact on people’s lives. In many cases, they save the lives of the people they come to help.
English teachers count among the most common types of missionaries that people encounter in the mission field. These missionaries teach their students an important skill: the English language. With that skill comes job opportunities, including ones outside of the person’s home country.
What many non-teachers don’t realize is that learning English requires more than just learning to put English words together in a sentence. It also requires learning the cultural background behind the English language. This teaches students of English about the various cultures in the world who speak English as their native language.
English teachers may work in tandem with missionaries who work in early childhood education. Children represent the world’s best hope for the future and providing them with a solid foundation in education is an excellent place to start. More importantly, teaching people English and other skills provides missionaries with a very real opportunity to spread the Gospel in a tangible and useful way.
Some missionaries bring business opportunities to a place. A business mission allows the local people to improve their financial prospects and at the same time, learn about God’s love. These missions often combine several sub-missions, which can include providing jobs for local residents, offering skills training, including English and building lasting the lasting relationships that make businesses thrive over the long haul.
Church building and evangelism count as some of the most common and popular types of missions. These types of missions deal directly with the spread of a religion and the Gospel.
Many times, these outreach programs are part of a church’s long-term foreign missions plan. For example, a church in the US might have sister churches in the Philippines and regularly send missionaries to the sister churches for training, church-building and other activities.
In fact, for those who want to do long-term ministry work, foreign missions may provide more opportunities than are available at home. For the person who dreams of pastoring a church, the mission field might be the springboard to a long career.
These evangelizing efforts may also work in tandem with social justice programs, which may include prison ministries, help for human trafficking victims and racial justice programs.
Training for Missionaries
In order to work successfully in the mission field, missionaries must undergo intensive training. This training includes religious instruction, but that’s only the beginning. This training begins long before the missionary even steps foot in the mission field.
Most people who become missionaries feel called to do God’s work. This requires them to spend many hours in prayer and doing work in their local churches, like teaching Bible classes, working with youth groups or volunteering at the visitors’ desk of the church. This portion of the preparation can go on for many years before the missionary is ready to go into the field.
Depending on what kind of mission work a person wants to do, extensive religious training may be required. This can involve getting a degree in religion or ministry. Training may also include learning a “side skill,” like medicine or business, which allows the missionary to take a hands-on approach to his or her mission work.
Additionally, given that many missionaries work in foreign countries, language and cultural training can be necessary for the missionary who has long-term plans for field work. Many churches have immersive language and culture programs. For missionaries who belong to churches who aren’t as well-equipped to deal with this issue, it may be necessary to study a foreign language or do a foreign exchange in school in order to prepare.
It’s vital that aspiring missionaries remember that it can take many years to truly prepare for missionary work. This type of work is rewarding, but requires a certain amount of mental toughness. It also requires the future missionary to be willing to submit to guidance from church elders and to spend a great deal of time in Bible study and prayer.
Things to Keep In Mind
Being successful as a missionary depends on a number of factors. Some of these factors are purely related to the religious aspect of mission work. Others are not. The key that separates a good mission trip from one that isn’t so successful often comes down to having the right expectations.
For example, some people believe that being a missionary is all about becoming a preacher somewhere in a remote village in a faraway country. While this may be true, being a preacher isn’t the only kind of mission work there is. If a person is better suited to doing medical missionary work or to helping local people build businesses, then that’s the best missionary work for that person to do.
It’s important to remember that there are all kinds of jobs that need to be done and all can be part of God’s work. Trying to fit a square peg in a round hole in the mission field is just asking for unnecessary challenges.
Additionally, many people believe that missionaries are highly spiritual and not prone to everyday issues, like interpersonal conflict. However, this isn’t the case.
Missionaries are people, too. They come with their own personalities and challenges. Many in this position find that training in counseling and mediation or interpersonal communication helps to alleviate some of the conflicts that arise in the field. This kind of training can truly help people when they feel stressed out and are living in places where they are out of their element.
It also helps if a missionary remains flexible. Being able to adapt to ever-changing conditions allows people in the field to go with the flow. This is particularly helpful when things get difficult, either between people or in the world the missionaries find themselves living in. Many times, missionaries go to places that are rife with conflict. Knowing how to adapt in these situations is crucial for survival.
It’s also important for missionaries to learn how to use technology to their advantage in the field. Smartphones allow them to gain access to the Internet if necessary and to keep up on the local news. This technology also allow the missionaries to connect with people back home and on social media.
While a smartphone may not seem like such a necessity during a missionary’s pre-mission days, it can become an emotional lifeline when life in the field gets lonely. Some missionaries report feeling like they’ve been forgotten by the people at home. Having ways to keep up with them helps to alleviate some of these feelings and makes the loneliness of the field more tolerable.
Do They Get Paid?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists missionaries under the title of all other religious workers. The BLS found that the median wage for religious workers is $16.40 an hour or $33,520 a year. The bottom 10 percent of religious workers earn less than $9 an hour, which is around minimum wage, while the top 10 percent of religious workers earn more than $60,000 a year. Most missionary positions are unpaid and volunteer positions that do not come with a salary. When finding out what a missionary does and looking at a specific positions, you may find that some positions come with additional perks. While you may not receive a paycheck, the organization may pay for your housing and food or give you a stipend to cover any costs you incur on your trip.
Where Do They Go?
Missionaries can work in almost any country or city around the world. There are some missionaries working right here in the United States in the Appalachian Mountains and other rural areas to increase the presence of their church and to seek out new members. Others work in parts of Europe, including Romania, Portugal and even France. Many churches encourage missionaries to travel to areas without many churches to seek out new members and to spread the word about their teachings.
What Else Does a Missionary Do?
Though most of what a missionary does involves their church and its religious teachings, they can perform other tasks as well. Churches often send missionaries to the site of natural disasters. They’ll arrive after a tsunami, a hurricane or an earthquake to assist with relief efforts and to lead study groups and church services. They also provide support to areas that are in need of desperate help due to poor economic conditions, changes in government or other issues. The work that missionaries do to improve the conditions of an area can lead to residents expressing interest in their teachings.
Related Resource: Parachurch
Missionaries often accept unpaid positions working for major churches to talk about what religion means to them and help others find their way to the same church. Depending on where you attend church services and where you go to school, you might look at what a missionary does, including how they help people living in different parts of the world.
Most missionaries report that they find mission work to be very rewarding. It is also challenging, filled with unexpected conflict and even dangerous, depending on where the person goes.
The key to adapting to the sudden changes that mission work thrusts upon missionaries is preparation. Many who come back from the field report that they wish they had spent more time learning the language and getting cross-cultural training. They also feel that gaining skills in conflict resolution would have been helpful.
That’s not all. It’s important for missionaries to develop some practical skills as well. They never know when they’ll be called upon to change a tire or fix the church’s leaking roof.
It’s at times like these that questions like “What does a missionary do” take on a whole new meaning. Certainly, missionaries feel the need to spread the Gospel and to do God’s work, but that work may take on a different form than they expected. Many people who dream of going on missions think they’ll become country preachers.
That may be true, but often it’s not. Instead, they are called to heal the sick, build local churches, help to fight for social justice or just listen to a tired mother who has been up all night taking care of an ailing child. Fortunately, these missionaries soon find out that the most rewarding parts of their work are the parts that allow them to become the face and hands of God to someone in the world who could use a little hope.