History of Missions Lecture 14: Modern Missionaries



Lecture 9 will focus on the a selection on missionaries and mission groups who worked in the recent past or are still going strong.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta (1910-1997)

“By blood, I am Albanian. By citizenship, an Indian. By faith, I am a Catholic nun. As to my calling, I belong to the world. As to my heart, I belong entirely to the Heart of Jesus.”

She ministered to the poor, the sick, the orphaned and the dying for 45 years. She started when she went to Darjeeling in India on retreat and was ordered as part of her faith to help the poor in Calcutta whilst she was there. She wrote in her diary that the devil tempted her to give up in the first year, when she was tired, aching and hungry. He said to her “You have only to say the word and [wealth and comfort] will be yours again.” but she didn’t give in and eventually founded the Missionaries of Charity which by 2012 was active in 133 countries worldwide with 4500 sisters working  in hospices and homes for people with HIV/AIDS, leprosy and tuberculosis; soup kitchens; children’s and family counselling programmes; orphanages; and schools.

Story from page 167 of The Irresistible Revolution: Mother Teresa’s feet.

Operation Mobilisation Ships – world wide missions

George Verwer became a Christian shortly after being given St John’s Gospel by an American housewife who had been praying continuously for her local high school. In college with two friends he began to pray regularly and felt called to try and spread the gospel in Mexico. They sold belongings to get the money to go down and spent a summer handing out Christian literature. After graduation they travelled to Spain and tried again to spread the gospel but Europe seemed overwhelming. They began to share their vision of mission and hundreds of Christians responded. Operation Mobilisation was born.

One particular way of mission is the Ships where the crews move from country to country attempting to demonstrate God’s love. Three key areas are: knowledge where they give large numbers of books to schools, colleges, churches and libraries in developing countries; help, where they are able to provide relief by constructing orphanages, building shelters for victims of natural disasters, and giving out food and medical supplies to those in need.

Jackie Pullinger – Chasing the Dragon

Jackie Pulinger with ex-gang members and drug addicts

She has been ministering in Hong Kong since 1966. Jackie was someone who was desperate to be a missionary, and so wrote to many, many organisations hoping for a place with them to go on mission. At first she thought of going to Africa, but she then had a dream that convinced her that Hong Kong was where she was required. However, none of the missionary societies seemed to be interested and none accepted her for mission work. Devastated and confused she went to her minister, Richard Shoreditch. He told her that if God wanted her to go, then that’s what she should do, no questions. He told her to buy a ticket on a boat for as far as she could and pray as to when God might want her to get off it. She arrived in Hong Kong with HK$100 and knowing no-one. Miraculously she was allowed in by the immigration officers because a policeman there was the godson of her mother.

When she arrived she saw poverty, people dying, children and old people on the streets dying. She decided to choose a street and see if she could make a difference. She chose that street and quickly began distributing food to the poor and taking them to hospitals when in need of a doctor. She also stepped into the middle of gang fights, pleading for the brawlers to stop.

She became a primary school teacher and began working with the drug addicts in the opium dens. Eventually she started a rehab home for recovering drug addicts, prostitutes and gang members called St Stephen’s Society. Instead of giving them medication to come off the drugs, she put a system into practice whereby the addict is put into a room for 10 days, prayed and cared over by a group of ex-addicts, until they are over the withdrawal symptoms. Since then she has helped over 500 drug addicts be saved from their addictions.

Her book “Chasing the Dragon” talks in detail about her early years in Hong Kong, learning the language, and starting her work.  In a recent interview she said: “You love people because God loves you, and you love them anyway whether they change or not.”

Switching the Focus: African Mission to Europe

What is interesting about modern mission is that with the increase of consumerism, materialism and atheism/secularism, Europe is not the Christian-run place as it once was. Whereas in the centuries past we sent missionaries to countries in Africa, South America and Asia, now it seems we have lost a lot of our own faith. It is interesting to know that years ago African churches started sending missionaries north to Europe to try to spread the gospel again. It is something to think about because it is obvious that the areas of mission have changed dramatically from past times we have spoken about.

Local mission/student mission

One area we haven’t looked at so closely is local and student mission. We know that for a long time people thought overseas mission shouldn’t happen because we should be looking after our homes and home-country first. But especially in Europe, it is now obvious that mission is needed on our doorstep. I wanted to read an interesting story to you about a mission on a university campus in America where they changed the expectations of the students. He studied in Reed College which was known to be one of the most unChristianised places in America. A guy called Don Miller and other Christian students decided to make a confession booth on campus. They dressed up as monks and sat in the booth. But this had a twist. Page 123-124.

Lessons to be learned: mission is basically just loving your neighbour as yourself. It is likely going to be hard and you will suffer for it. The people who need you will probably be those who have no-one, are poor, and hungry, and alone. A lot of people will tell you to keep away from people like that – but that’s not what Jesus did. Help from Jesus comes through our hands, it is not OK to simply tell someone that Jesus loves them but then leave them starving on the street, you need to love them too. The people who used to be missionaries, are now often those who need to hear the gospel. Just because someone looks comfortable with a house, doesn’t mean they have Jesus. This will mean that mission also has to be done on our doorsteps, on our streets and to our friends too. If they don’t know Jesus, you need to tell them out of love.


Neill, Stephen. A History of Christian Missions (Penguins Books, Great Britain, 1964).

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