FROM the time of Saint Paul, the New Testament-era missionary outreach of the Christian Church expanded throughout the Roman Empire and beyond to Persia – that is, Church of the East — and to India where Saint Thomas Christians established themselves.
During the Middle Ages, (or Medieval period) which lasted from the 5th to the 15th Century, the Christian monasteries and missionaries, such as Saint Patrick in the 5th Century, and Adalbert of Prague (c. 956-997), spread learning and religion beyond the boundaries of the old Roman Empire.
Pope Gregory the Great, who was in office from 590-604, in 596, sent missionaries from the Gregorian Mission, including Augustine of Canterbury, to missionise in England.
Meanwhile, Christians from Ireland, in their turn, were prominent in converting the inhabitants of central Europe to Christianity.
During the Age of Discovery, the Roman Catholic Church established a number of Christian missions in the newly-colonised Americas and in other colonies through the Augustinians, Franciscan and Dominican orders to spread Christianity in the New World and to convert the indigenous ‘heathens’ and other people.
At about the same time, missionaries, such as Francis Xavier (1506–1552) as well as other Augustinian, Franciscan, Dominican and Jesuit orders began to move into Asia and the Far East.
Meanwhile, the Portuguese sent Jesuit missions into Africa.
The Eastern Orthodox Church, under the Orthodox Church of Constantinople, undertook vigorous missionary outreach under the Roman Empire and the ensuing Byzantine Empire.
Its missionary outreach had lasting effect, founding, influencing or establishing formal relations with some 16 Orthodox national churches, including the Romanian Orthodox Church, the Gregorian Orthodox and Apostolic Church and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (both traditionally said to have been founded by the missionary Apostle Andrew) as well as the Bulgarian Orthodox Church (said to have been founded by the missionary Apostle Paul).
Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius had extensive missionary success in central Europe in the 9th Century
The Byzantines expanded their missionary work in Ukraine after a mass baptism in Kiev in 988.
The Serbian Orthodox Church had its origins in the conversion of the Serb tribes by Byzantine missionaries when they arrived in the Balkans in the 7th Century. Orthodox missionaries also worked successfully among the Estonians from the 10th to the 12th Centuries, where they founded the Estonian Orthodox Church.
In the 19th Century, under the Russian Empire, missionaries moved into the subject lands where they spread Orthodoxy, including through Belarus, Latvia, Moldovia, Finland, Estonia, Ukraine and China.
The Russian Saint Nicholas took Eastern Orthodoxy to Japan.
Beginning in the 18th Century, the Russian Orthodox Church also sent missionaries to Alaska to minister to the indigenous natives.
After the Russian Revolution in 1917, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia continued missionary work outside Russia which resulted in the establishment of many new dioceses in the Diaspora from which numerous converts have been made in Eastern Europe, North America and Oceania.
Early Protestant missionaries ministered to the indigenous Algonquin natives who lived in areas claimed by settlers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the early 17th Century.
The Quaker missionaries went to Boston and other mid-17th Century American colonies where they were not always well received.
The Danish Government began the first organised Protestant mission work through its College of Missions established in 1714.
This funded and directed Lutheran missionaries, such as Bartholomeus Ziegenbalg in India and Hans Egede in Greenland.
In 1732, while on a visit to Copenhagen for the coronation of King Christian VI, his cousin the Moravian Church’s patron Nicolas Ludwig, Count von Zinzendorf was very inspired by the Church’s effects.
On his return to Saxony, he inspired the inhabitants of Herrnhut Village, which then had fewer than 30 houses, to send out ‘messengers’ to the slaves in the West Indies and to the Moravian missions in Greenland.
Within 30 years, Moravian missionaries had become active on every continent and this, at a time when there were fewer than 300 people in Herrnhut.
They are said to be famous for their selfless work, living as slaves among the slaves and together with the indigenous first native Americans.
Today, the work in the former mission provinces of the worldwide Moravian Church is carried on by native workers.
The fastest-growing area of the work is in Tanzania, Eastern Africa.
The Moravian work in South Africa inspired the founders of the British Baptist Missions, in which, as of 2014, seven-out-of-10 Moravians live in former mission fields and belong to a race other than Caucasian.
Much Anglican mission work came about under the auspices of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG), founded in 1701; the Church Missionary Society (CMS), founded in 1799; and of the Intercontinental Church Society — formerly the Commonwealth and Continental Church Society, initiated in 1823.
While some missions accompanied imperialism and oppression, others were relatively peaceful and focused on integration rather than on cultural imperialism. However, a combination of Christianity and imperialism brought about the arrival of new identities, merchandises, languages, cultures as well as new political and economic attitudes with Christianity which gradually displaced or, in many instances, annihilated indigenous beliefs and socio-economic developments.
With a dramatic increase in efforts since the 20th Century and a strong push since the Lausanne I: The International Congress on World Evangelisation in Switzerland in 1974, modern evangelical groups have focused efforts on sending missionaries to every ethnic group in the world. While this effort has not been completed, increased attention has brought larger numbers of people distributing Bibles, religious videos and establishing Evangelical churches in remote areas.
In response to this new drive in 1976, the Islamic World Congress called for the withdrawal of Christian missionaries.
In the later-20th Century, the focus, internationally, for many years was on reaching every ‘people group’ with Christianity by the year 2000.
The Campus Crusade, the Southern Baptist International Mission Board, the Joshua Project and others brought about the need to know who these ‘unreached people groups’ are and how those wanting to tell about the Christian God and share a Christian Bible could reach them.
The focus for these organisations transitioned from a ‘country focus’ to a ‘people group focus’ – that is, a group with a common self-identity that is shared by the various members.
Over the years, as indigenous churches are said to have matured, at the cost of indigenous beliefs, the church of the ‘Global South’ in Africa, Asia and Latin America has become the driving force in missions.
Korean and African missionaries can now be found all over the world.
These missionaries represent a major shift in Christian Church history.
Brazil, Nigeria and other countries have had large numbers of their Christian adherents go to other countries to start churches.
These non-Western missionaries often have unparalleled success because, it is believed they need few Western resources and comforts to sustain their livelihood while doing the work they have chosen among a new culture and people.
Dr Michelina Andreucci is a Zimbabwean-Italian researcher, industrial design consultant and is a published author in her field.
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