Missionaries typically provide a number of services, including teaching,
medical assistance, construction and church work in isolated and economically
deprived communities throughout the world.
Paula Pence spent seven years in Rwanda administering Sunday school classes
and other Bible study groups. "We did a lot of training classes," she says.
"My husband began the mission there, so it was like getting a board together
and doing all the details of a business type of thing as well as speaking
Missionaries have to be prepared to travel a lot and live away from family
and friends, often for long periods of time. They also have to be able to
deal with operating around foreign languages and unfamiliar customs.
"You don't get to know the people if you live out of [the community],"
says Pence. "You need to live among them."
Other groups of missionaries visited the village where she lived and put
up buildings, provided medical services and built churches.
"Our mission worked with all the other missions that came in," she says.
"We all worked back and forth together."
Individual talent often prescribes the type of work a missionary ends up
Many people work as teachers, doctors, veterinarians, ministers, agricultural
specialists or journalists. Charles Hedrick, a Baptist missionary, says his
group has over 150 different job categories.
Gerry Dargatz, a district missions consultant, says that you have to be
willing to do whatever it takes to gain credibility with the indigenous community.
That means being able to offer things like teaching English as a second language
or working in a medical clinic.
"You have to meet a heartfelt need to get a starting base," says Dargatz.
Fieldwork in economically underdeveloped countries can be very harsh, so
peak physical fitness is important. However, many of the teaching and administrative
positions are in relatively developed areas.
Some missionaries never leave their own country, choosing to help those
closer to home or to work in administration. There are even highly specialized
missionary support jobs, such as aviation mechanics.