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Alberta Online Encyclopedia
The Missionary

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Come, sinners, to the gospel feast,
Let every soul be Jesus' guest; 
Ye must not one be left behind,
For God hath bidden all mankind.

Sent by my Lord, on you I call,
The invitation is to all:
Come, all the world: come, sinner, thou! 
All things in Christ are ready now. 

- John Wesley, A Plain Account of Genuine Christianity 

Madame Camplain TeachingWhat is the relationship between missionaries and the culture and society from which they come and that of the society they have entered? 

Missionaries work to engender an ultimate value they consider capable of changing peoples lives for the better. This "change for the better" has many aspects.  In essence, it means two things.  First, it aims to deepen the dignity of each person. Second, it seeks to transform that person's relationship to the world so that it corresponds to the reality of that world. 

Working on behalf of an ultimate value was the case for Methodist missionaries in the past as much as it is for the modern workers. Contemporary examples include those who try to develop literacy in societies that cannot read or write and those working to provide a universal education system where knowledge had previously been passed on through daily life and forms of apprenticeship. All mission movements, all efforts to engender a new ultimate value within a society, transform the culture, society and its larger civil structure where such exists.

Culture is a verbal in Latin: cultura. For most of us, this is easiest to understand when we think of culture not as a noun standing alone but when it is part of other common words: L. agricultura = ager field + cultura cultivation. "Agriculture", "horticulture", the "culture" of bacteria growing in a laboratory all signal the active nature of culture, its organic character. All are forms of communication and in a constant process of formation and reformation.

Missionaries wish to cultivate a new ultimate value within the life of the women and men they encounter and befriend. In the case of Christian missionaries, they come with a gospel proclaiming God is love, that life is not pitted against human nature and that it is possible for each person to have a relationship with God. Similarly, literacy workers come with a gospel proclaiming that the ability to read and write grants access to the modern world, saving each person from poverty and liberating a community or society from the bondage of tradition.

Lac Ste. Anne - Good NewsThe planting of a new ultimate idea into a culture transforms the society through reordering the constellation of social relationships. Often new institutions are established to reflect the new value. Traditional relationships to authority are often reformed and new ethical and moral values begin to take hold, which often reshape or replace traditional values.

This relationship is never one-way, from missionary to the host society. In looking at the period of the great spread of Christianity and the large expansion of liberal democratic society, the evidence is that the ultimate values of societies that have been the subject of evangelization also take hold within missionaries, the church and secular workers alike.

These new values are often seeded by missionaries and secular workers in their home culture and society. This is an important part of the history of the post-colonial period and the history of 19th and 20th century liberation movements throughout the world. Culture, cultura, is the active ingredient of exchange and communication. This exchange is at work not from the missionary and secular worker toward the society they have entered, but from the host society back to the missionary and secular worker so that it corresponds to the missionary's perception of the reality of that world.


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