“Missionary work” isn’t always just preaching and soul-winning.
In 1891 when Mary Slessor was in Scotland on furlough, she told a church, “We need dedicated, affectionate women missionaries who are not afraid to work. After all, whitewashing a wall or patching a roof is almost as important as teaching a child to read or conducting a church service. And we want women who can tend a baby or teach a child to wash his face and hands — as well as teach him to read and write. We want women with tact who can smooth things over or even cheerfully ignore a snub if they have to. These women must be willing to work anywhere, do any job for Christ. Smile and persevere. In the wilds like Okoyong, we must teach the first principles of everything!” (Mary Slessor, Queen of Calabar by Sam Wellman.)
After Amy Carmichael became aware of the plight of children being sold to temples for immoral purposes, she felt led to intervene to rescue those children. Then, of course, those children needed to be cared for. There was a Tamil proverb which said, “Children tie the mother’s feet,” and she found that to be true, and began to question whether God had really called her to be a “nursemaid” when there were so many other needs and ways she could be used. “It was then that she read the words from John 13, how the Lord of glory ‘took a towel and girded Himself.’…never again did she question whether her gifts were being wasted. She knew that the Master never wastes the servant’s time.” (Amy Carmichael of Dohnavur by Frank Houghton)
Mr. Houghton also writes that, “Occasionally someone suggested that character-training of boys and girls…or, still more, the erection of buildings to house them, was not evangelistic work, and therefore not worthy of support.” Amy wrote, “Well, one cannot save and then pitchfork souls into heaven…and as for buildings, souls (in India, at least) are more or less securely fastened into bodies. Bodies cannot be left to lie about in the open, and as you cannot get the souls out and deal with them separately, you have to take them both together.”
I’ve been glad to see contractors taking people to mission fields for short-term building projects in recent years and teachers going overseas to minister, sometimes to a missionary family’s children, sometimes in a school or even a college. One friend teaches composition in the music department of a college started by missionaries. Medical missionaries have been going for a long time: doctors, nurses, and all the other personnel needed to run a clinic or hospital. Some fields have, or need, printing ministries. We knew one woman who started a crisis pregnancy center in an Eastern European country. Some people go as “tentmakers,” an idea taken from Acts 18: 1-4, where Paul worked at making tents for a while with Priscilla and Aquila. These folks might work at a secular job to support themselves but then help in a church or ministry.
Of course, missionaries train some of the people there on the field for some of these positions just as they train them to become teachers and preachers and workers in the church.
A former pastor once said something to the effect that we need to send not just preachers and evangelists to the mission field but rather “the whole body of Christ” — those gifted in other areas of ministry as well.
(You can see other posts in the 31 Days of Missionary Stories here.)