Key missiological concepts illustrated by the lives of missionaries

What can we learn from the missionaries of the past?

Doing Missions Well: Examples from Missionary History

Published in Engage, an online missions magazine

How did missionaries help spread Christianity?

What do Britishers Mary Slesor and William Carey have in common with an Italian named Francis of Assisi, a Canadian named Susan Fitkin, and an American named Steve Saint? Well, what each one did during the years of service given to the cause of world evangelism can be used to highlight important concepts in missiology.

These are examples of missionary heroes. That doesn't mean they had arrived at absolute perfection. It does mean they were used by God in extraordinary ways and can serve as models for us. These are examples of missionaries who helped spread Christianity with how they lived and how they treated those to whom they went to minister.

Do you need sermon illustrations on missions? Use some of these stories!

  1. Mary Slessor and "identification" -- It was said of this red-headed British lady who went in the 1800s to what is now Nigeria that she was "more African than the Africans."
  2. Boniface and power encounters -- When he escaped unscathed from cutting down a sacred oak tree in what is now Germany, Boniface demonstrated that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is more powerful than any other spiritual force.
  3. Paul Orjala and "indigenization" -- By empowering Haitians to lead churches and other ministries in Haiti, Paul Orjala set the course for a vibrant and fruitful church-planting movement.
  4. William Carey's holistic ministry -- By insisting that our mandate is that of ministering to the whole person, Carey followed the example of Jesus' ministry while He was here on Earth.
  5. Francis of Assisi and ministering incarnationally -- At a time when those who called themselves Christian were sending armies to wipe out the "infidels," Francis went to see a Muslim leader and talked of the life and message of Jesus Christ.
  6. Foresight: Harmon and Lula Schmelzenbach -- Harmon's vision of what could be in southern Africa went far beyond what he himself was actually doing.
  7. Gladys Aylward: Example of humility -- Rejected by a mission board, Gladys Aylward went to Asia anyway and found work to support herself so she could fulfill her missionary call.
  8. Dedication: Ansgar (or Anskar) -- In thirty years of ministry in Scandinavia, Ansgar saw no evidence of lasting fruit. Still, he felt that was where God had called him, so he ministered faithfully.
  9. Missions mobilization: Susan Norris Fitkin -- Though illness kept her from being a "go-er" as a foreign missionary, Susan Fitkin poured her energy into being a sender and mobilizer who promoted world evangelism, drummed up enthusiaism, painted a vision, and raised money.
  10. Empowerment: Steve Saint -- Steve Saint insisted that the Waorani who took his father's life in an Ecuadorian jungle and then later became Christians must determine their own future as a tribal people rather than simply being recipients of whatever foreigners decide to do for them.
  11. Strategic Action: William Cameron Townsend -- Townsend's realization that not having the Bible in a people group's mother tongue sorely limited evangelismand discipleship among that group.
  12. Pioneering: Earl and Gladys Mosteller -- Missionaries are not duplicate copies of each other. Earl and Betty Mosteller had the gift of pioneering new works.

    -- Howard Culbertson,

Lessons to be Learned from the Past

What characteristics of cross-cultural missionaries of past centuries would we do well to emulate? Here are seven items:

  1. Cultural Sensitivity
  2. Respect for Human Dignity
  3. Adaptability and Resilience
  4. Moral Integrity and Authenticity
  5. Humility
  6. Relationship Building
  7. Patience and Perseverance

Other Missionaries Who Inspire Us

Twenty more heroes and heroines of the Christian missionary movement:

  1. David Livingstone: A Scottish missionary and explorer in Africa, his work helped open up the continent to Christianity.
  2. C.T. Studd: A British missionary and one of the Cambridge Seven, he served in China, India, and Africa, and founded the Worldwide Evangelization Crusade (now WEC International).
  3. Adoniram Judson: One of the first American missionaries. He served in Burma (now Myanmar), where he made significant contributions to Bible translation and evangelism.
  4. Hudson Taylor: Founded the China Inland Mission and was instrumental in the spread of Christianity in China.
  5. Helen Roseveare: A British medical missionary who served in the Congo for many years, where she established hospitals and medical training centers. She was also known for her writings and speaking on mission work and suffering.
  6. Jonathan Goforth: A Canadian Presbyterian missionary to China, he led revivals in Manchuria and was influential in the early 20th-century missionary movement in China.
  7. David Brainerd: Although his missionary work was short-lived due to his untimely death, his efforts among Native Americans and his posthumously published diaries inspired many future missionaries.
  8. Lottie Moon: A Southern Baptist missionary to China whose efforts greatly impacted Southern Baptist missions.
  9. Amy Carmichael: An Irish missionary in India who founded the Dohnavur Fellowship and worked extensively with children and women.
  10. Jim Elliot: An American missionary who was killed while trying to evangelize the Huaorani people of Ecuador, his story inspired many to enter missionary work. His wife Elizabeth continued the work of her husband after his death, focusing on ministering to the Huaorani (also spelled Waodani) and sharing their story with the world.
  11. Eric Liddell: A Scottish Olympic athlete and missionary to China, his story of faith was popularized in the film "Chariots of Fire."
  12. Henry Martyn: An Anglican missionary and translator in India and Persia who translated the New Testament into several languages.
  13. John G. Paton: A Scottish missionary to the New Hebrides (now Vanuatu) in the South Pacific. His efforts led to the conversion of many islanders, and his autobiography has inspired generations of missionaries.
  14. Samuel Zwemer: Known as the "Apostle to Islam," he was a pioneering American missionary to the Muslim world, founding the Arabian Mission and promoting Christian-Muslim dialogue and evangelism.
  15. Betty Greene: One of the founders of Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF), she was a pilot who used her skills to support mission work in remote areas by providing transportation for missionaries, medical supplies, and relief efforts.
  16. "Brother Andrew" van der Bijl: Also known as "God's Smuggler," this Dutch missionary smuggled Bibles into Communist countries during the Cold War and founded Open Doors, an organization supporting persecuted Christians.
  17. Ida Scudder: An American medical missionary in India who founded the Christian Medical College & Hospital in Vellore. She was a pioneering female doctor who greatly advanced medical care and education for women in India.
  18. Paul Carlson: An American medical missionary in the Congo who was martyred during the Simba Rebellion. His life and death brought attention to the humanitarian needs in the Congo and inspired many to continue medical missionary work.
  19. Florence Young: A New Zealand missionary who founded the Queensland Kanaka Mission and the South Sea Evangelical Mission, working primarily with laborers from the Solomon Islands and other Pacific nations, focusing on their spiritual and social welfare.
  20. Isobel Kuhn: An American missionary and author who, along with her husband John Kuhn, served with the China Inland Mission among the Lisu people of China and Thailand. Her writings have inspired many to pursue missions.

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