After his resurrection, Jesus commissioned his disciples to go, make disciples, baptize and teach with the assurance that he will be with them always (Mt 28:18-20). Jesus’ command to all his disciples leads us to understand that, through our baptism, every Christian is a missionary disciple sent to bear witness to the Gospel to all peoples at every opportunity. Indeed, the mission of bearing witness to the Gospel to all in word and deed in every area of life and offering them the gift of baptism is part of our identity as Christians.
The Apostle Paul is considered the greatest missionary, who founded Christian communities in the various parts of Asia and in Rome and Spain. Does this mean that every Christian is called to be a missionary outside one’s own country? Acts 13:2-3 could provide us a hint: “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them forth.” Thus, while all Christians ought to have the ardour to share the Gospel, some are called to go out of their country or culture, while others are called to stay and share their Gospel in their home country.
‘Mission’ comes from the Latin word that means “to send.” The missionary is one who is ‘sent out’ to bear witness, share, communicate and proclaim the gift of faith and baptism. The place does not matter. It could be in any continent or country.
In the Bible, a prophet was one who spoke in God's name and by His authority (Ex 7:1). His mission is to remind God’s people to be faithful to their commitment. Every missionary is a prophet, sent to tell people about God’s salvation through Jesus Christ.
A missionary has to have a heart that sees where love is needed and acts to immediate needs to make present here and now the love which every human always needs: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for and healing the sick, etc. Our works of charity will never seek to impose our faith upon others. A pure and generous love is the best witness to the God in whom we believe and by whom we are driven to love. A missionary disciple knows when it is time to speak of God and when it is better to say nothing and to let love alone speak.
A missionary is moved by Christ's love, whose heart Christ has conquered with his love. (Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas est, 31, 33). If a missionary does not make this his priority, then he really is only a social worker or a social service provider, which is no different than the numerous humanitarian organizations.
Today, the vast majority of people still associate missionary work with Africa, social work, or forests and jungles. This idea is not wrong, but it is too narrow and does not fully encompass all that the missionary is called to. It also brings with it the risk that the missionary be over-concerned about providing for their material needs, like the messiah the Jewish people wanted Jesus to be.
“I repeat Moses’ great desire for the people of God on their journey: “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets!” (Num 11:29). Indeed, would that all of us in the Church were what we already are by virtue of baptism: prophets, witnesses, missionaries of the Lord, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to the ends of the earth!” (Pope Francis, Message for World Mission Day 2022)”
Indeed, Salesian missionaries are prophets, not messiahs!