Missionary FAQs

While Western workers often venture to far-flung places and do amazing things, it’s the unsung heroes of the frontline—the local, indigenous people—who consistently make the greatest impact and bring true transformation to their own communities.

C.T. Studd

In the past, missionary trailblazers like William Carey from England in the 1700s, and C.T. Studd in the late 1850s and early 1900s, paved the way for swarms of foreign missionaries and humanitarian workers, mostly from Western countries.

But the tide has changed.

National missionary workers are the “new pioneers” of the 21st century, and they’re proving to be an unstoppable compassion force.

On a worldwide scale, according to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity (CSGC), there were 430,000 foreign mission workers overseas in 2021, compared with 13.2 million national workers (local citizens).[1]

That means national missionary workers—those serving within their own culture and nation—now outnumber foreign workers by more than 30 to 1.

The CSGC predicts the number of national missionary workers globally will explode to 17 million by 2050, while the number of foreign workers will increase to 600,000.[2]

Missions Fest International, an annual global missions conference, spotlighted the financial cost of “sending” a Western missionary compared with the cost of supporting a national worker in a provocative article on its website titled “Should We Stop Sending Missionaries?”[3]

While stating there’s still a great need and important role for foreign workers in many parts of the world, the article points out it typically costs more than $50,000 a year to support a Western family in a developing nation such as Africa and Asia—an annual sum that could help support more than 50 national workers, the article says. For example, based on my personal experience in Uganda, an American family of four living in Africa might pay $1,000 a month for expat health insurance coverage that includes emergency medical evacuation. Because of security issues, they might have to live in a secure compound at high rent and pay hundreds of dollars every month for guards 24/7. Legal paperwork and visas can cost hundreds, even thousands, of dollars every year.

Author Julian Lukins, pictured in Kampala, Uganda, with archdeacon Stephen Kaziro of the Church of Uganda who oversees dozens of village churches, including several that also act as local health clinics in the rural Namutumba district.

Run the numbers and it’s perhaps no surprise, then, that national workers—willing and able to live far simpler and free of immigration restrictions—are increasingly seen as a wise investment.

Instead of looking to the West, many humanitarian and missionary groups are looking “inside,” turning their attention to the vast pool of dedicated and talented workers within the nations in which they serve. They’re convinced that national workers are the key to lasting transformation.

It’s an opinion shared by development specialist Steve Corbett and economics professor Brian Fikkert, co-authors of When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor and Yourself.

With more than 450,000 copies in print, When Helping Hurts is a paradigm-forming contemporary classic on the subject of poverty alleviation. Photo by Moody Publishers

“God has blessed many of these indigenous workers with amazing talents and strong passions,” they write. “They often minister long term in environments that would be a deep challenge for even the most impassioned outsider. Furthermore, these indigenous workers’ understanding of local cultures and languages makes them far more effective than the outsiders could typically be, either in the short or long term.”[4]

“Moreover, these indigenous workers usually do this work at salaries that are far below mainstream North American standards,” they said. Corbett and Fikkert continue to discuss how one highly respected organization equips and manages national workers across Africa at a total annual cost of $1,540—a total that, according to the authors, includes the worker’s salary, bicycle, backpack, shirt and bedroll.[5]

Another book that has had an enormous impact in thinking about this alternative approach to missions, is Revolution in World Missions. Author KP Yohannan first released the book in 1986, and it has literally contributed to changing the course of mission history in our generation with more than 3.9 million copies in print.

These are facts that the Church in the West needs to accept, they say: “The North American Church needs to more deeply appreciate the fact that Christians at home and abroad are ministering within their own nations, people groups, and communities at a large and growing rate, particularly in the [developing world]”.[6]

Women Missionaries

Women missionaries have an important role in the great commission that was given to Jesus’ followers. While these women often face real challenges in their environments, they also have distinct advantages, especially in parts of Asia.

[1] “Status of Global Christianity, 2021, in the Context of 1900–2050.” Center for the Study of Global Christianity. https://www.gordonconwell.edu/center-for-global-christianity/wp-content/uploads/sites/13/2020/12/Status-of-Global-Christianity-2021.pdf. Accessed July 2021.
[2] “Status of Global Christianity, 2021, in the Context of 1900–2050.” Center for the Study of Global Christianity. https://www.gordonconwell.edu/center-for-global-christianity/wp-content/uploads/sites/13/2020/12/Status-of-Global-Christianity-2021.pdf. Accessed July 2021.
[3] McQuilkin, Robertson. “Should We Stop Sending Missionaries?” Missions Fest In-ternational. https://missionsfestinternational.org/resources-2/should-we-stop-sending-missionaries/. Accessed February 2021.
[4] Corbett, Steve & Fikkert, Brian. “When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor and Yourself.” Pages 172-173. Moody Publishers. 2009.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.