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A missionary should not be confused with the missionary positionWikipedia, which is, unlike a missionary, a whole bunch of fun.
Preach to the choir
Icon religion.svg
Crux of the matter
Speak of the devil
An act of faith
If I were a cassowary

On the plains of Timbuctoo,
I would eat a missionary,

Blood and bones and hymn-book too.
—One of several variants of the doggerel[1]

Missionaries are representatives of a religion who travel to a distant location (across town - as in a so-called "Domestic Mission" - or across the globe) to convert the benighted strangers who live there to the correct faith (or to the correct version thereof). Sometimes an ecclesiastical power structure will dispatch missionaries, as with Mormon or Catholic missions; sometimes missionaries self-appoint themselves to labor in God's vineyard. Missionaries frequently, but not always, carry out charitable programs as well as proselytizing. In some cases, "charitable" missionaries have demanded a conversion before providing relief for disasters.[2]

Missions once tended to operate in broad parallelism with colonialism. Now that colonialism has gone out of fashion, neo-colonialism may provide a better supporting ideology.[3]


Activities of Christian missionaries can encompass a wide range, often involving some mixture of them. Notable activities are: medical (e.g., World Medical Mission), humanitarian (e.g., The Christian Alliance For Humanitarian Aid), education, aviation (Mission Aviation Fellowship), linguistic (SIL International), as well as strict proselytizing. Sometimes these organizations do important charitable work, other times it's just a cover to get more bodies on the tally sheet for Jesus, and other times they are an espionage front like Kay Hiramine's Humanitarian International Services Group.[4]

SIL International[edit]

SIL logo

SIL International[note 1] (formerly known as the Summer Institute of Linguistics, based in Texas), was accused of being a front for the CIA in several countries,[5] and was evicted from several countries in Latin America for this.

New Tribes Mission[edit]

A NTM camp in Pennsylvania

NTM, perhaps the most notorious missionary group, was founded in 1942 by Paul Fleming; it is currently based in Florida. NTM is a biblical literalist organization that is focused on proselytizing particularly vulnerable populations, those that are remote, illiterate, and have never been proselytized.

When NTM started its missionary work, it had an auspicious beginning: God smiled down upon them.

  • Of its first group of 10 missionaries sent to Bolivia, 5 were killed by the indigenous people they were proselytizing.[6]
  • The first plane bought by NTM crashed in June 1950 in Venezuela, killing all 15 people aboard.[6]
  • The second plane bought by NTM crashed in November 1950 in Grand Teton National Park, killing all 21 people aboard (including founder Paul Fleming).[6]
  • In 1953, 15 NTM members died while fighting a forest fire near an NTM training camp.

Some NTM offenses:

  • In 1981, NTM missionaries illegally contacted the isolated Nukak Indians in Brazil. This led to the deaths of hundreds of Nukak from respiratory infections, and the survivors' eventual displacement to live in squalor to the town of San José del Guaviare.[7]
  • In 1987, 5 newly converted Ayoreo Indians in Paraguay were killed when they tried to convert fellow tribespeople. NTM has been criticized for their "quick conversion" methods by Catholic missionaries in Paraguay who are engaged in a battle-for-souls with a stew of other missionary groups.[8]
  • A large number of sexual, physical, and emotional abuses were documented by the GRACE report to have occurred at the NTM Fanda Missionary School for children of missionaries in Senegal.[9] At least one law firm is soliciting clients to sue NTM based on the GRACE report.[10] NTM generally requires missionaries to leave their children at dormitory schools, and abuse is widespread at NTM schools due to the lack of accountability.[11]
  • NTM sexual misconduct has been reported elsewhere, including child molestation in Brazil (2006),[12] possession of child pornography,[12] and rape (2011).[12]
  • NTM member Luiz Carlos Ferreira and a colleague were arrested in 2015 for keeping 95 Zo'é Indians of Brazil in conditions of slavery during the period 2010-2012; NTM had been banned from entering this region of Brazil.[13][14]

Missionaries in Mormonism[edit]

Not so fun when it's your doorbell.
See the main article on this topic: Mormonism § Missionaries

The LDS church is particularly noted for its numerous missionaries, as all male Mormons are expected to spend an entire year "on mission" to a destination of the Church's choosing upon reaching the age of majority. These missionaries are expected to adhere to a strict set of behaviors and are trained to emotionally manipulate their targets in various ways.

Scramble for Africa[edit]

David Livingstone

In the 19th century, as exploration opened up the center of Africa, missionary activity became common, and missionaries became celebrities, their actions reported in newspapers. Most famous was the Scottish explorer, missionary, and writer David Livingstone, who made a series of journeys through south and east Africa, mapping out the territory that would form the African portion of the British Empire. The only problem with this is that in all his years in Africa, Livingston managed to convert a total of one person, Kwena chief Sechele, to what is now Botswana, and even he proved reluctant to give up his multiple wives.[15]

What goes around comes around[edit]

Way back when Europeans went to the Americas and Africa to convert people to Christianity. They were successful, to say the least. So much so, that some places (particularly Latin America) are now more religious than most of Europe. This of course has inspired a lot of missionaries from those extremely religious countries trying to convert the "heathens"[16] in Europe. While their methods are often not exactly as disgusting as those outlined above, they (as missionaries do everywhere) particularly pray prey on the vulnerable, for example, those who just went through the loss of a loved one or similar personal tragedies. Of course, this is not limited to mainline Christianity and various "charismatic" or pentecostal churches are more likely to engage in this sort of mission. Other religions of course do the same thing, but it does not have the same sweet irony when a Muslim comes to convert people to Islam as when a Christian comes to convert people in a country that sent the missionaries that converted his great-grandmother.

And way, way back when, a small bunch of folk from the Levant went to Europe to win souls for adherence to the new-fangled proto-Neo-Judaism of Jesus of Nazareth and of Saul of Tarsus. They had some success over the centuries - so much so that the new faith put down much deeper roots than in its homeland, and eventually Europeans, still fired with zeal for novelty, started to re-export their versions of Christianity and society back to the Middle East. As we know, that didn't always turn out so well.


Islam also has a long history of missionary activity. In recent times, this has largely taken the form of Islamic education centers.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. For positive contributions, SIL has published dictionaries and grammars in indigenous languages, and they have also generously created a large amount of typeface and open-source license known as SIL Open Font LicenseWikipedia.


  1. Cassowary vs Missionary by Marco Graziosi (August 22, 2009) A Blog of Bosh.
  2. an example
  3. Smith, Mitzi J. (2015). "'Knowing More than is Good for One': A Womanist Interrogation of the Matthean Great Commission". In Smith, Mitzi J.. I Found God in Me: A Womanist Biblical Hermeneutics Reader. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock Publishers. p. 236. ISBN 9781630878719. Retrieved 13 August 2019. "The legitimized and authoritative disseminators of such missionizing knowledge have historically and traditionally been European missionaries and other approved agents in partnership with colonialism and neo-colonialism." 
  4. The Pentagon’s Missionary Spies: U.S. Military Used Christian NGO as Front for North Korea Espionage by Matthew Cole (Oct. 26, 2015, 8:05 a.m.) The Intercept.
  5. Misperceptions, Missionaries And The CIA Colby & Dennett's letter to the Los Angeles Times regarding a review of their book Thy Will Be Done: The Conquest of the Amazon: Nelson Rockefeller and Evangelism in the Age of Oil
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Religion: Death in Grindstone Canyon (July 20, 1953) Time Magazine.
  7. The Lost Tribes of the Amazon by Joshua Hammer (March 2013) Smithsonian Magazine.
  8. Asuncion Journal; in Paraguay's Jungle, no letup in battle for souls by Alan Riding (April 1, 1987) New York Times.
  9. Amended Final Report for the Investigatory Review of Child Abuse at New Tribes Fanda Missionary School by Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE)
  10. Sex abuse scandal continues to grow within New Tribes Mission Farmer, Jaffe, Weissing, Edwards, Fistos & Lehrman, P.L.
  11. http://fandaeagles.com/ New Tribes Mission Abuse]
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Agents: Missionary admits to sex abuse against children in Brazil. New Tribes missionary accused of molesting children (6:30 PM EDT Jun 05, 2013) WESH.com
  13. MPF acusa missionário e castanheiro por explorar índios Zo'é em condições de escravidão (08/04/2015, 16h37) Ministério Público Federal, Procuradoria da República no Pará
  14. Missionary Accused of Exploiting Indigenous People in Brazil (May 9, 2015) teleSUR TV
  15. The African chief converted to Christianity by Dr Livingstone, BBC, 19 March 2013
  16. A small but growing minority in many countries in Europe believe in Zeus or Thor or the likes and some of them even call themselves "heathen" outright