By Jeff Borders
From the travels of the disciple Paul along the Mediterranean Sea to the earliest European missionary efforts in the new world, missionary work has long been a part of faith traditions.
Many religions participate in some form of missionary effort, but it appears most prominently within the Christian faith. Whether it is evangelizing missions to spread the Gospel, or service missions to create schools or hospitals, believers around the world engage in countless hours of service as part of their faith experience.
Some of the most visible missionaries in the United States are from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). Why do these people give so much of their time to participate in missionary work?
For Jared Frank, who served a two-year mission to Salta, Argentina for this church, it was a three-part answer.
“On a cultural level in our faith, it’s what is expected of 18 and 19-year-old boys. On a personal level, it was a way to solidify my faith. And on a spiritual level, it was my responsibility as a believer to be out, spreading the good news,” Frank said.
In the LDS faith, young men and young women give up two years and 18 months of their lives respectively, to go forth and teach the Gospel as they know it. During this time, they put aside other worldly endeavors, so that they can concentrate more fully on the work they’ve been called to do. The latest statistics found on lds.org, show 70,946 missionaries serving in 422 areas, called missions. In addition to the young men and young women, 10,238 welfare service missionaries participate in humanitarian efforts and local outreach for the LDS church.
Frank, now a local mission leader coordinating the efforts of the missionaries with other members of his congregation, goes on to say, “Missionary Work is important because it solidifies the faith. If you really want to learn about something, then go and teach it. While growth is an important factor, missionary work is really about strengthening the members in their discipleship. It’s different than your ordinary lifestyle, in that it creates memories attached to emotion. No matter which faith you are, you will lean on those experiences as the pinnacle of your religious life to give you strength.”
Another prominent proselyting group is the Jehovah’s Witnesses. According to JW.org, the faith’s official website, members put in a staggering number of field hours in 2015. They spent nearly 2 million hours in the field, proselytizing.
But it’s not just the LDS faith and the Jehovah’s Witnesses that have a long-standing tradition of missionary work. Many churches fund mission trips to build homes, hospitals, schools, and to spread the teachings of their faith.
For Brandi Maioho, going on a mission trip to Haiti was initially about supporting her daughter’s desire to go. But what she gained in the process were memories that would last her a lifetime and builds her faith and desire to serve. Sponsored by Creston Community Church, Brandi and her daughter Karlee went to Mirebalais, Haiti, working with Grace So Amazing Ministries. Grace So Amazing, a non-profit entity out of Franklin, Tennessee, runs two schools and is in the process of building an orphanage in Haiti. Maioho and the rest of her team were primarily responsible for building a new playground for the children, but because of her profession as a nurse, Maioho was able to open a makeshift clinic at the school for the children.
“So many kids needed so much care. At the local clinic and hospital, people would line up every day around 4 or 5 am and hope it would open, with no guarantees of being seen,” says Maioho.
Despite little medication and supplies, Maioho and the Grace So Amazing team were able to care for many children who otherwise might not get the medical attention they needed. “Once the people found out we had a nurse at our makeshift clinic, they started lining up for us.”
However, due to the high volumes of people needing medical attention, Maioho’s team had to turn away some of the adults from their pop-up clinic, for fear that they wouldn’t be able to get to the children who needed medical attention.
“Honestly I don’t know what I expected. I guess I expected to go and build a playground, hold a few orphaned babies, help at the school, and give a little medical advice,” Maioho says of the reason she initially went on the mission trip. “We came home so much more thankful, patient, and kind to our family. I think everyone has their own reasons for going: to change, to give, to learn. Having gone, I am certain of one thing, what you originally go for and what you get back are different. You go there with a focus of how you are going to impact the people you encounter, and come home changed yourself.”
Deanna Fitzpatrick, a member of Trinity Bible Fellowship, has served mission trips in many different areas, but most recently in Tijuana, Mexico, helping to build houses. Fitzpatrick firmly believes that God has called her to go and help others, showing them that someone loves and cares for them. For Fitzpatrick, the service is about making life better for those she serves.
“Even if it means listening, holding a hand, or helping them with whatever their needs may be. When you demonstrate that you love them, or help them for no reason at all, something inside them begins to change,” she said.
Fitzpatrick’s mission service goes beyond herself. Her 15-year-old daughter has accompanied her on mission trips, and her family engages in missionary efforts with their community of Davenport.
“There’s something very rewarding and fulfilling, knowing you are doing what God wants you to do. It feels right. And you know in your heart it’s right,” says Fitzpatrick.
While evangelism and the furtherance of new membership is an integral part of the missionary effort for churches, there seems to be a deeper, more significant impact in the lives of those serving.
Frank believes this to be true. “We say we’re out on missions to help save other people, but what we really do is end up saving ourselves.”
For most, it comes down to service, a commandment in almost all faith traditions. To go about doing good to others. To become an embodiment of faith and an example to those who are served.
“When we lose ourselves in serving others, that’s when we truly find ourselves,” said Frank
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