Missionaries Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The proselyting and educational work of various Christian missionary groups in countries around the world has often had the unintended effect of encouraging foreign converts to immigrate to the United States. Consequently, rates of immigration have been higher from countries with American missionaries than from those not missionized.

American missionaries of all Christian denominations have used a wide assortment of programs to make converts in other countries, particularly those of developing nations and the newly liberated countries of the former Eastern Bloc. Their activities have included work in underdeveloped and undeveloped countries, and countries plagued by natural disaster and ethnic rivalry such as the Sudan. Their approaches have differed from country to country, and the extent of their success is not fully known. However, an unintended consequence of missionary work has been for many new converts to immigrate to the United States.MissionariesMissionaries[cat]RELIGION;Missionaries[03545][cat]PUSH-PULL FACTORS;Missionaries[03545]

Missionary Tools

Many of the tools employed by Christian missionaries have been used for centuries; others have only recently become available. The various different denominations have employed different tactics in their missionary work, but it is not always easy to generalize about specific denominations. A few broad points can, however, be made confidently. All Christian denominations preach to the oneness of humankind. As part of their teachings, missionaries proclaim Jesus Christ as the Lord and offer the universalism of the Christian gospel. The concepts of resurrection and the forgiveness of sin are elements used in an effort to convert people.

Mormon missionary reading scripture to members of a Tongan family in 2007. Thanks to the strong missionary program of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Tonga has one of the highest percentages of Mormons of any nation in the world, and many Mormon Tongans immigrate to the United States.

(Getty Images)
Motivations for Immigration

Because the great passion of many Christian converts is to enjoy the benefits of a stable society that are preached by missionaries, immigrating to the United States is a natural attraction. As part of their proselyting work, missionaries preach the virtues of democracy, which many of their converts cannot enjoy in their native lands. Missionary schools tend to foster high levels of expectations among converts, who are inculcated with American values. To some extent, this results from deliberate missionary planning. For example, the Episcopal Church sends missions to Central America yearly to construct and maintain an infrastructure whose purpose is to “civilize” local peoples. Representatives of the Roman Catholics;missionariesRoman Catholic Church–the dominant religion in Central America–and of other denominations compete with Episcopal missionaries in the effort to “save souls for Christ.” Missionaries of all denominations teach hygiene and Bible studies, promote attitudes of self-confidence among members of religious minorities, and work to create atmospheres conducive to learning.

Medical and Agricultural Work

An important part of missionary work in many developing countries is the introduction of modern Western medicine among the indigenous peoples. The Roman Catholic Church has excelled in this work, and other denominations, such as the Mormons, also send equipment and trained personnel on missions. To increase local acceptance of Western medicine, missionaries typically provide documentation written in the local languages and make sure that medicines they distribute are labeled in the local languages. Within communities lacking modern medical services, health restoration can be viewed as a miracle and contribute to acceptance of the religious messages.

Missionary preaching about the importance of modern health care can also contribute to converts’ interest in immigrating to America. However, in areas where missionaries send Medical professionals;missionariesprofessional medical personnel and equip and maintain permanent health care facilities, access to health care becomes less of an incentive for immigration. The Denton ProgramDenton Program, a nondenominational missionary organization. uses American military aircraft to transport medical personnel and equipment and works with various federal government departments and agencies and the Agency for International Development as well as individual missionary bodies. American churches are careful to send people fluent in the local languages.

The Christian missionary movement has also offered agricultural training in other countries, particularly in unfertile regions. Some groups stress self-help and teach local farmers in the use of modern fertilizers, feeds, shelters, and farm equipment. Agricultural training often leads to encouraging converts to immigrate to regions of the United States that need agrarian workers.

Modern Communication Tools

One of the most striking developments in modern missionary work is the availability of powerful tools of communication, many of which are available at little or no cost. Missionary action is supported internationally by a chain of sites on the World Wide Web;missionary sitesWorld Wide Web designed to provide support. In India, for example, missionaries use a Web site that assists in language learning and helps to understand diverse cultures. Christian missionary work in that predominantly Hindu and Muslim country has been sufficiently successful to move the national government to suppress it.

Some companies, such as the on-line SOON ministries, provide evangelical movements with computer hardware at bargain prices, or even for free, for dissemination in developing countries. Missionary ham radio operators also assist novices in other countries to become acquainted with American culture, often helping converts prepare for immigration.

Evangelical missionary bodies have audio and video services that provide free support to many churches. For example, missionaries can download electronic texts of the Bible in 140 different languages. Some missionary bodies also provide information and assistance to foreign converts who wish to immigrate to the United States.

The Episcopal Church and other denominations sponsor retreats for converts considering immigration to the United States. Those aspiring to come to America attend sessions designed to strengthen the converts in their new religious beliefs and to teach them about life in the United States. A special aspect of the training is to inculcate a sense of community.Missionaries

Further Reading
  • Addison, Steve. Movements That Change the World. Smyrna, Del.: Missional Press, 2009. Examination of the dynamics of successful missionary movements by the Australian director of Church Resource Ministries. Written for readers who are already believers, but also useful for insights into missionaries’ minds.
  • Haddad, Yvonne Yazbeck, Jane I. Smith, and John L. Esposito, eds. Religion and Immigration: Christian, Jewish, and Muslim Experiences in the United States. Walnut Creek, Calif.: AltaMira Press, 2003. Collection of articles examining the religious backgrounds and religious experiences of modern immigrants to the United States.
  • Hiebert, Paul. Anthropological Insights for Missionaries. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1985. Handbook for Christian missionaries by a professional anthropologist who attempts to show missionaries how to understand the people among whom they are working. Provides helpful insights into the cultural challenges faced by missionaries in foreign lands.
  • Levitt, Peggy. God Needs No Passport: Immigrants and the Changing American Religious Landscape. New York: New Press, 2007. Sociological study that emphasizes the ways in which religious identities ensure strong self-identification with native countries.
  • Reed, James. The Missionary Mind and American East Asia Policy, 1911-1915. New York: New York University Press, 1983. Scholarly study of missionary work during a brief but critical phase in U.S.-China relations, when missionary views played an important role in American foreign policy.
  • Sanneh, Lamin. Translating the Message: The Missionary Impact on Culture. 2d ed. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2008. A Christian perspective on the history of how missionary messages are understood by converts in other cultures. Emphasis is given to translations of the Scriptures and to post-Reformation missionary work in Africa, the author’s area of special expertise.
  • Walls, Andrew F. The Missionary Movement in Christian History: Studies in Transmission of Faith. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1996. Broad study of missionaries throughout the full history of Christianity. Many chapters address aspects of missionary interactions with non-Western cultures.

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Korean immigrants

Mormon immigrants

Religion as a push-pull factor

Religions of immigrants

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