How Missionaries Work

Spreading the Faith: Early Christian Missionaries

Over the next 2,000 years, Christians were pretty successful in their mission. The early Christians saw an especially urgent need to spread their faith before the second coming of Christ, which they believed was imminent. Paul, a former persecutor of the Christians, became one of the most influential leaders in the mission movement after he experienced a dramatic conversion to the faith. He became known as the "Apostle to the Gentiles" and traveled extensively on three missionary journeys to preach.

Christians were persecuted for the next three centuries until the emperor Constantine legalized the religion. Evangelization became much easier. St. Patrick became a kind of missionary in the fifth century when he was kidnapped and taken captive to Ireland, where he worked to convert the people. When barbaric tribes threatened the Roman Empire, they often ended up adopting Christianity. The Frankish ruler Clovis, for instance, converted in the late sixth century. Many of the converted Franks and Anglo-Saxons became missionaries in their own right [source: Encyclopaedia Britannica].


Organized missionary activity flourished after the outbreak of the Crusades in the second millennium. Christianity and Islam were two conflicting religions that spurred the fight over access to and control of the Holy Land in Jerusalem. Amidst all the violence during this era, members of the Franciscans and other religious orders became missionaries in attempts to peaceably convert the Muslim people. These attempts weren't very successful, however.

Things changed dramatically in the next few centuries with the rise of European exploration and colonialism. While explorers sought and found new financial opportunities around the globe, missionaries saw new proselytizing opportunities in the newly discovered populations. The Protestant Reformation had also occurred in the meantime, dramatically splitting Christians throughout Europe. We'll touch on some of the most notable Catholic and Protestant missions in the next few pages.