Missionary Heroes: 7 Great Missionaries that Changed the World
This is our curated list of 7 great missionaries who changed the world.
Most people do not hear about the work and effect missionaries have across the world, and we felt it was time to shine a light on the legacy just a few dedicated Christians have left on the world at large.
1) George Muller: Faith For All Our Needs
George Muller was a missionary, evangelist, and caretaker whom would found the Ashley Down New Orphanage Houses, also known as the Mueller Homes, between 1849 and 1870. When he began taking care of orphans in 1836 there were very few orphanages in Britain, and those that existed were run with slave labor. Muller was a man who walked the faith we are called to have for our provisions, demonstrating this faith in his daily life, and relying on God to truly provide for all his needs and those he cared for. At any one time, the five Mueller homes held over 2,000 orphaned children and approximately 17,000 had lived in the homes before the buildings were later sold to the Bristol City Council in 1958. Over the course of Mueller’s lifetime, he parted with over $700,000 for the personal needs of others (worth substantially more in today’s value). In addition to the homes, he established 117 schools offering a Christ-centered education to more than 120,000 students. The famous Charles Dickens once referenced Mueller in an article he wrote called “Household Words” dated November 1857 in which he described his extraordinary work. In addition to the orphanage homes, Mueller traveled a total of 200,000 miles in the course of his missionary work and visited a total of 42 countries as an advocate for bible literacy. He paid for the printing of Bibles and tracts, eventually giving away 280,000 bibles, and funded tuition for hundreds of children to go to school. Relying on prayer as the primary function to fund ministerial care, he raised and gave away the equivalent of $129,000,000 in todays money, with only a small amount remaining for himself before he died. The trust funds established in his day continues to support missionaries around the world. Many accounts of God’s miraculous provision surrounding his life remain available today for further reading, in which Mueller offered nothing but prayer and trust to God for food to be provided for the children around him.
2) Amy Carmichael: Sheltering the Vulnerable
Amy Carmichael was a missionary to India for 55 years, in which she focused on rescuing girls from temple prostitution. After departing to India she never returned home to Ireland. Carmichael founded the Dohnavur Fellowship In Tamil Nadu, South India, that became a sanctuary for over 1,000 children. The facility grew and came to include nurseries, education buildings, housing for boys and girls, a house of Prayer, and a hospital. Amy had a conviction against asking people for money, preferring to rely on prayer: “If we are about our Father’s business, He will take care of ours. There is no want in the fear of the Lord, and it needeth not to seek help”. According to Carmichael her ministry of rescuing temple children began in 1901 with a seven-year-old girl named Preena, who had become a temple servant prostitute against her wishes. Preena escaped and was provided shelter by Carmichael, withstanding threats of those who demanded that the girl be returned to the temple to continue her assignment as a prostitute. Previous escape attempts resulted in Preena’s hands being branded with a hot iron. This was a common cultural practice at that time in India as part of Hinduism, in which young children were sold to ‘marry’ the Brahmin temple priests. Similar incidents continued surrounding Carmichael which naturally established her ministry of rescue. The Dohnavur Fellowship, settled on 400 acres with 16 nurseries and a hospital, continues to this day which actively supports 500 people at any given time. Temple prostitution in India was eventually outlawed in 1948.
3) Saint Patrick: Slave, Shepherd, Missionary
Nearly everyone in our modern world has heard of the legacy of Saint Patrick. Patrick was a fifth century Christian missionary that brought the message of Christ to Ireland, returning after being held captive there for six years. At the age of sixteen he was captured by Irish pirates and served as a slave and animal herder before escaping to unite with his family once again. In his written account The Confession detailing his mission work there, he credits his time in captivity as essential for his spiritual development, that God had mercy on him despite youthful ignorance and gave him the opportunity to be saved. It was his time working as a shepherd, a role so appropriate given the description of Christ as the Good Shepherd, that initiated his relationship with God through prayer. According to the primary source of his own account he baptized thousands of people in Ireland, refused to accept gifts from kings, and was put on trial at one point to await execution. We see this mirrored in the persecution of many other missionaries in the past as well as today. Patrick's attitude toward God made evident in his missionary work was his reliance and faith in God to provide for his sustenance coupled with a desire to share the Gospel with the very people whom had once enslaved him. Even while starving in the wilderness after sailing home from his captivity, its recorded in his work Declaration that after he had urged his party to have faith and prayed, they finally encountered animals to hunt. Such stands today of an example of what can be accomplished in a missionary carrying the forgiveness of Christ and the spirit of faith.
4) Jackie Pullinger: Faith Against All Odds
Jackie Pullinger was a missionary to Hong Kong and the infamous Kowloon Walled City, founding the St. Stephen’s Society, which provided rehabilitation homes for recovering drug addicts, prostitutes, and gang members. The charity's work was eventually recognized by the Hong Kong government who donated land for the rehabilitation homes. At the age of 22 she wrote to various missionary organizations and was unable to find support, then seeking advice from a minister named Richard Thomson. She at first desired to go to Africa, but then had a dream of being sent to Hong Kong. She departed in 1966, however when she arrived she knew no one there and had only $10 in her possession. Immigration officers allowed her in only because her mother's godson was a police officer there. Regarding her decision to go alone, she writes in her book Chasing the Dragon: “Abraham was willing to leave his country and follow Jehovah to a promised land without knowing where he was going,” she argued. “In the same way thousands of years later Gladys Aylward journeyed in faith to China.” Within the Kowloon Walled City, known for its immense density of people, lack of policing, drug proliferation, and prostitution, she found work as a school teacher. Kowloon in the 1960s produced massive amounts of opium run by the Chinese Triad gangs. She went on to create a youth center helping addicts and also taught music at the St. Stephen's Girls' College. The tiny apartments in the city lacked even basic amenities such as running water. At first she struggled in her ministry and learning the language, however she directly credits the power of the Holy Spirit through speaking in tongues that enabled the Gospel to really take hold in its hearers. Over the years, as her influence grew, many former gang members and drug addicts came to be saved and saw their lives transformed. Many could not understand why she prayed for and loved them until she preached that Jesus died even for his enemies. Eventually the Kowloon Walled City would be demolished in 1993 but her legacy lives on with the St. Stephen’s Society and those lives who were transformed by the Gospel during that time.
5) John G. Lake: Faith to see God’s Power
John G. Lake was a charismatic church leader, missionary, and evangelist in the Pentecostal movement of the early 20th century who went on to co-found the Apostolic Faith Mission of South Africa. Writing such books as Heavenly Authority: the Right of the Believer and Divine Healing: A Gift From God, he advocated for a theology that expressed walking in the power and authority of Christ which included divine healing for the sick. He viewed disease as an enemy and physical healing as something Christ paid for at the Cross and whipping post. Lake played a pivotal role in the spread of Pentecostalism and the Gospel in South Africa. After five years he departed the African ministry, having raised up 1,000 preachers, 100,000 documented converts and many accounts of the miraculous. After his work in Africa, he ministered for 20 years along the west coast of the United States in dedication for praying for the sick and establishing churches. Along the way he taught many others to minister exampled in the way Christ ministered in the Gospels and to see the results of Christ’s power. These he referred to as Divine Healing Technicians. Lake was influenced by the healing ministry of John Alexander Dowie and his ministry lives on today with John G. Lake Ministries, pastored by Curry Blake. Many attest to experiencing the power of Christ today through his ministry in their lives with over 100,000 documented healings since 2003. JGLM went on to raising up small group homes across the world dedicated to praying for the sick and afflicted.
6) Francis Xavier: Bringing the Gospel to Hostile Lands
Francis Xavier was an evangelist, missionary, and co-founder of a group called the Society of Jesus, or the Jesuits. In 1534, he and six other men made a vow of poverty and chastity, dedicating their lives to preaching the Gospel. He soon became instrumental in Asia and the Portuguese Empire East of India . On his 35th birthday he set sail for Goa on the West Coast of India. In India he showed compassion to prisoners and the sick, taught groups of children about Christ, and adopted the common lifestyle of the people in the region. Often he lived only on rice and water and slept in a hut with a dirt floor. Almost 40 churches were eventually built along the coast of India. Together with his fellow Jesuits he spent extensive time in Portugal caring for the sick and teaching. Among Xaviar’s missionary efforts he encountered opposition and persecution from both Hindus and Muslims. Muslims had initially expanded into India many years prior. In 1545 he proceeded to Malaysia before leading the very first mission to Japan in 1549. Before this he was also the first major missionary to journey into the Maluku Islands. Francis Xavier reached Japan on July 1549 and was given a friendly welcome by the Shimazu Takahisa, the daimyo of Satsuma, however the daimyo outlawed his people from converting to Christianity under penalty of execution the next year. Francis would spend years struggling to learn the difficult language and processing how to best connect with the Japanese leaders, bringing expensive and appealing gifts. Many Japanese placed their faith in Christ and underwent severe persecutions and massacres as Christianity was eventually completely outlawed in Japan, forcing the church to go underground. There was even a “stepping stone” test devised to “root out” Christians in which lines of people were forced to step on an image of Christ. When someone refused, that would be an indication they were a Christian and were summarily executed. These events would culminate in the Shimabara Rebellion.
7. Eric Lidell: Walking Away to Run the Race of Faith
Known as the “Flying Scotsman” and featured in the movie Chariots of Fire, Lidell was an extremely talented Scottish Olympic-level athlete for most of his life. He competed for the Scottish International Rugby team and Scotland’s Olympic team. He became known for his uncompromising passion for God, choosing God as more important than running races and winning medals. He shocked the world when he refused to compete in a race held on Sunday during the 1924 Paris Olympic Games, sacrificing two gold medals by refusing to run. He regarded Sunday as truly a day of rest, holy unto God, and not be used for games. He had never run competitively on Sunday and continued to never do so. Going on to achieve great success, he collected wins in the Scottish Amateur Championships in the 100-meter, 220-meter, and quarter-mile running events, becoming known as the fastest runner in Scotland. At the peak of his success he walked away from it all to pursue becoming a missionary to China. He ministered there as a missionary teacher from 1925 to 1943 in Tianjin and the town of Xiaozhang, a very poor era that became dangerous due to the invasion of Japan in WWII. Additionally he taught at the Anglo-Chinese College for wealthy Chinese students. In 1941 Lidell said goodbye to his wife and children as they left for Canada, deciding to stay and continue God’s call for his life. In 1943 the Japanese eventually captured the mission station he resided at and was placed in the the Weihsien Internment Camp. Lidell naturally became a leader in the camp, continuing to do good works and assisting with morale in any way he could. This included helping the elderly, teaching bible classes, playing games, and teaching the children. It is recorded that one internee noticed his worn down sneakers and referred to him as “Jesus in running shoes.” Lidell became ill and died of an undiagnosed brain tumor at the camp, being buried in a simple grave in the camp marked only with a cross. As this was later discovered and his life and legacy became widely known, he forever stands as a testimony to what God can do with one wholly consecrated to him and willing to leave everything behind.