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A missionary (from Latin for “envoy”) is a member of a religion who spreads his faith or does religiously motivated social work on behalf of a missionary society . In the European culture group, the term refers to Christian missionaries, while the other missionary religions have their own names for this group of people. Some missionaries express their mission in everyday life by exemplifying certain behavior. The term goes beyond specially trained personnel.


In order to go to another country as a missionary, certain requirements must be met, depending on the location and area of ​​deployment:

  • vocation
  • Conversion and experiences in faith and church life
  • Stable health and physical fitness
  • Willingness to live in a different culture and adapt accordingly
  • Language skills or willingness to acquire them
  • Expertise
  • Willingness to patiently reintegrate into the home country after a long stay abroad


Depending on the work assignment by the sending organization, missionaries have different training. The biblical-theological part is usually a considerable part of it. In addition, all missionaries probably have additional intercultural qualifications to make it easier for them to settle in in the country of assignment.


In Christianity missionaries have important meaning. The first Christian apostles were missionaries and preached the gospel of Jesus Christ. Christianity is still a missionary religion today . The biblical basis is the so-called mission command of Jesus Christ according to the Gospel of Matthew (cf. Mt 28 : 19-20a  EU ). A mission basis consists of a religious sense of mission that motivates missionaries to bring their faith to other people and peoples ( evangelism ). The preacher Jonah is considered to be the first missionary of the Christian Greek Old Testament . According to the Jewish Bible of non- proselytizing Judaism, however, the Book of the Twelve Prophets contains a biblical Hebrew story about the prophet Jonah , his mission to Nineveh and his teaching by YHWH , the God of Israel.

Another mission foundation can be charity and the lack of certain infrastructure in financially poor countries. For example, some mission societies send out doctors (mission doctors), nursing staff, craftsmen, teachers and university lecturers ( agriculture , medicine , theology, etc.). Often partner churches or other partner organizations from financially richer and poorer countries work together. The mission organizations, which are part of the umbrella organization “Evangelisches Missionswerk in Deutschland e. V. “Are members, only send staff at the express request of their partner churches overseas.

Christian missionaries have played a role since colonial history as suppliers of ethnographic records that are now viewed critically by scientific ethnology . However, they led to various misunderstandings of the religious ideas of these peoples, as the missionaries inevitably interpreted their observations from a Christian perspective: The Christian god was identified with the numinous forces of the North American Indians such as Manitu or Wakan or the importance of various details was overestimated, see above for example the dualism of “good and bad” found in many Indian myths or the dream as a source of transcendent knowledge.

Perception of the Christian missionaries

In 1928, the globetrotter and writer Colin Ross wrote in his book Mit Kind und Kegel in die Arctic :

“One may disagree about the value of mission, but hardly any about the value of missionaries. At least I have come to know them in all walks of life as outstanding, unusually far-sighted people, who not only generally know more about the customs and habits of the natives than any other white man, but who usually also have an astonishingly broad-minded understanding of the original religious Have ideas of the people who convert them to Christianity. "

The ethnologist Christian Feest reports in his book Animated Worlds - The Religions of the Indians of North America , published in 1998 , that until the early 1970s missionaries “either [by the churches as] heroic harbingers [and often enough martyrs ] of the true faith” or praised were condemned by human rights activists as “ agents of the world capitalist system suspected of being ethnocide ”.

“Today one recognizes actors in them more realistically in the drama of the encounter between the old and the new world, which is rich in people and has not yet been completed, and whose actions can be explained from their specific cultural background. As little as “the Indians” were “the missionaries” a homogeneous group - beyond personal factors, differently shaped by denomination, religious affiliation and nationality. The result of their efforts can be seen in a correspondingly differentiated manner. "

The German Catherina Rust, who grew up among Indians on the Amazon and was able to experience contacts with missionaries both from the point of view of the locals and the Europeans, expresses herself at various points in her book Das Mädchen vom Amazonas: My childhood with the Aparai -Wajana Indians critical of the missionaries. Among other things, she writes:

“In the name of civilization, churches and sects are disregarding the officially prohibited forced missioning and quarantine periods [in Brazil]. Those who want to convert people at any cost, even those who do not want contact, will find ways and means to do so today. [...] The missionaries come with good intentions, inspired by the thought of bringing the 'Word of God' to the last 'Gentiles' on our earth. "

The German Boer Commandant Adolf Schiel , married to a missionary's daughter, quotes a native chief from the South African Republic of the Transvaal in his autobiography :

“You whites first send missionaries to our country; they tell us a lot about a God who loves us all equally and who calls both white and black his children. If the missionary has told us so much about how good you whites are and that you send the missionaries to your black brothers only out of love, then you come and take our land away from us. "


Here is just a selection - more in the Missionary category .

Missionaries of the early Middle Ages among the Germans and Celts

  • Patrick , missionary to the Irish in the 5th century.
  • Valentin of Raetia (435–475), traveling missionary, bishop of Raetia, "and apostle of both Raetia"; in today's Bavaria and Tyrol
  • Severin von Noricum (~ 410–482), missionary and “Apostle of the Noric”, in today's Austria and Bavaria
  • Goar (~ 495-575), missionary on the Middle Rhine
  • Columban von Luxeuil (540–615), missionary in the Franconian Empire and in today's Switzerland
  • Æthelberht (552 / 560–616 / 618), first Christian king of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Kent
  • Arbogast († 618), Bishop of Strasbourg
  • Mellitus († 624), Bishop of London
  • Justus of Canterbury († between 627 and 631), Bishop of Rochester
  • Schwarzer Ewald and Weißer Ewald , Anglo-Saxon missionaries in Westphalia at the end of the 7th century.
  • Suitbert (637–713), Anglo-Saxon missionary between the Ruhr and Lippe
  • Willibrord (~ 658–739), "Apostle of the Frisians"
  • Winfried Bonifatius (672 / 673–754), "Apostle of the Germans"
  • Virgil (~ 700–784), Bishop of Salzburg
  • Willehad (~ 740–789), missionary to the Frisians and Saxons
  • Liudger (~ 742–809), Bishop of Münster
  • Ansgar (801–865), Archbishop of Hamburg-Bremen

Catholic missionaries

Evangelical missionaries

Jehovah's Witnesses

Organizations, institutions, mission societies


Individual evidence

  1. ^ Henning Wrogemann: Mission theologies of the present. Global developments, contextual profiles and ecumenical challenges. Textbook Intercultural Theology / Mission Studies, Volume 2, Gütersloh, ISBN 978-3-579-08142-7 .
  2. Klaus W. Müller: From the necessity of missionary training for use in missions. In: Thomas Schirrmacher , Christof Sauer (eds.): Mission changes - Mission changes. Festschrift for Klaus Fiedler . = Mission Transforms - Mission is Transformed (= Edition Afem. Mission academics 16). VTR, Nuremberg 2005, ISBN 3-933372-77-1 , pp. 468-477.
  3. Åke Hultkrantz: American Religions, published in: Horst Balz et al. (Ed.): Theologische Realenzyklopädie , Volume 2: "Agende - Anselm von Canterbury". Walter de Gruyter, Berlin, New York 1978, ISBN 978-3-11-019098-4 . P. 402.
  4. a b Christian F. Feest : Animated Worlds - The Religions of the Indians of North America. In: Small Library of Religions , Vol. 9, Herder, Freiburg / Basel / Vienna 1998, ISBN 3-451-23849-7 . Pp. 111, 185-186.
  5. Catherina Rust: The girl from the Amazon: My childhood with the Aparai-Wajana Indians . Albrecht Knaus Verlag, Munich 2011. E-book version p. 217.
  6. ^ Adolf Schiel: 23 years of storms and sunshine in South Africa . Verlag FA Brockhaus, Leipzig 1902, p. 364.

Web links

Commons : Missionaries  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Missionary  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

See also