What is a Missionary?

The role of student plays a large part of what it means to be a missionary

Working in Zambia to make disciples through agricultural development, Dan & Mary Vissani share what it looks like for them to never stop learning. 


What comes to mind when you think of the word "missionary"? Maybe your mind goes first to medical missionaries—building hospitals, teaching about health, providing care and medicine. Or perhaps you first think of boldly engaging primitive peoples with “Christianity, commerce, and civilization,” as David Livingstone put it. Without a doubt, these endeavors have been a part of missions since its modern beginning in the 19th century. But in case you have wondered what missionary life is like on a daily basis in 2020, we would like to propose that you can answer that question with several “job descriptions”. We’ll highlight one: the job of “student.”

“Ukusambilila takupwa” is a common saying in Zambia—meaning “learning never ends”—and it has continually proved true in our lives here.

It seemed obvious to us that if one introduced superior farming methods, and taught them thoroughly and carefully, farmers would adopt them and benefit greatly.  If only it were that simple!  We have since learned some of the cultural/spiritual barriers to change: jealousy (“if I succeed too much my neighbors might sabotage my progress”), fatalism (“I give it a good shot every year, and some years are good and some are bad”), traditions (though mulch is a great way to rebuild soils and conserve moisture, many farmers’ mulch gets burned by people hunting for field mice or driving away snakes), and decorum (it’s more important to make us feel valued than to honestly share their skepticism or concerns with the methods we teach)

The truth is that it takes a concerted effort to enter a new culture as a learner.  It would be much easier to forge ahead blindly with our knowledge, ideas and resources. But as Jesus himself “put on flesh” and learned our ways, we who would wish to bring his love and his kingdom do well to emulate his humility. 

You may also enjoy: