For these missionaries, simply applying for a visa to a country that does not welcome migrants who look like them can be an act of faith. Some majority-world missionaries experience prejudice and hostility in the countries they have come to serve. Melody Mweu, a Kenyan missionary who served in Khartoum, Sudan, told me she initially had trouble being accepted by the upper-class Sudanese women she encountered. In that context, she explained, “the darker you are, the lesser you are.” Though Melody eventually befriended a group of Sudanese women, she still had to be careful about where they met, knowing that she would not be welcome in certain locations.
Beauty Ndoro similarly recalls needing quite a bit of time to gain the trust of her Nicaraguan neighbors in the slums. “When we started walking in our community, people were afraid. They didn’t want to talk to us,” she remembered. But she and her husband kept showing up, talking to people and praying for them. This eventually led to the start of a women’s ministry.
These racial tensions can have real consequences. Hondurans Jairo and Lourdes Sarmiento have been leading a church plant in a low-income Latino community in California for several years. Today, as the highly charged debate about Latin American immigrants and asylum seekers roils American politics, the Sarmientos’ own immigration status remains in limbo.
Enduring such hardships requires significant faith and perseverance, which many in the Global South have in abundance. This spiritual grit has often been shaped by decades of poverty, war, colonization, and political instability. “Growing up in poverty, being not as privileged, has given us a sense that we can do so much with very little,” Chikwekwe told me.
Among the missionaries I interviewed, almost all of them shared stories of childhood hunger, abuse, neglect, or persecution. Two women had been nearly sexually assaulted in their home countries, and another was almost raped while on the mission field, but they were miraculously protected. “There’s a passion about our faith that has been refined by seeing God at work in our most difficult circumstances,” reflected Mugera.
Even in South Korea, today one of the most industrialized nations in the world, memories of war and its hardships continue to influence how missionaries approach their work. Lydia Park (a pseudonym), a native of Seoul who has served in Libya and Zambia and now Kenya, says the Japanese occupation of Korea from 1910 to 1945—and Koreans’ decades-long resistance against it—seeded a determined mindset among modern Korean missionaries. “If Koreans believe something is very important, we are willing to give ourselves, to give our lives,” Park told me. “We never stop, never give up.”
The passion and commitment of missionaries from the Global South are also fueled by fairly recent encounters with God. The church is rapidly growing in this part of the world, populated by many new believers. The number of Christians across Africa has grown from 360 million in 2000 to nearly 619 million in 2019, according to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity. In Asia, Christianity is growing at twice the rate of the population, due mostly to new converts.
Aarthi Jambhulka, who evangelizes and preaches in countries as varied as Nigeria, Myanmar, Australia, and Canada, says she rarely encounters others from her native India who come from multigenerational Christian families. Her parents began following Jesus shortly after she was born, and she faced significant persecution for her faith while growing up. Unlike many Americans or Europeans who have “inherited” their faith, Jambhulka explains that “our experiences are very fresh. It’s what we’ve experienced directly. It’s not something that’s been handed down to us. It’s very real.”
This sense of the immediacy of God is one of the most powerful gifts that missionaries from the Global South have to share, according to Engdahl of Servant Partners. “They have an expectation of the movement of God because the church is flourishing in their home countries,” she told me. “They enter with faith for the movement of God.”
They also enter this work with important cultural commonalities that facilitate their ministry. Singaporean Jemima Ooi has been a full-time missionary in Africa for seven years and currently serves in the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo. In her experience, it’s not uncommon for Congolese to approach her and say, “Asians and Africans, we are brothers and sisters.”
“Some cultural elements come more intuitively to me: honor elders, speak to the hearts of people, be concerned with someone’s entire family and not just their work,” Ooi told me. She cites the fact that 75 percent of the world’s population comes from honor-shame cultures and collectivistic mindsets—which, notably, does not include Americans, Canadians, or Western Europeans. Growing up with a similar worldview makes it easier for missionaries like Ooi to operate with cultural sensitivity in new countries. Her understanding of how to honor the Congolese has even helped to keep her safe in one of the world’s worst conflict zones. “They feel that you’re a kindred spirit,” Ooi explained. “They take care of [my colleagues and me] when there are raids.”
Even the obvious differences between Global South missionaries and those in their adopted countries can be leveraged for the kingdom. Several missionaries I interviewed told me how they were curiosities when they first began serving, prompting regular inquiries of “Why are you here?” that opened the door for deeper conversations. “It’s important for people to know the gospel is not just for white people or Westerners,” Edith Law (a pseudonym), a missionary from Hong Kong, told me. “The gospel is related to them, not just the Western world.”
Missions organizations in the West are taking notice of this spiritual awakening in Africa, Asia, and Latin America and are taking intentional steps to bolster their missionary efforts. SEND International, for example, is one of a growing number of missions agencies actively recruiting missionaries from the Global South. Currently about 20 percent of their 500-plus ministry workers are not from the US, Canada, or Western Europe; recently, they set the goal to increase this to 50 percent by 2029.
“This is the current of God’s work that’s flowing in the world, and we want to be a part of that,” Barry Rempel, SEND’s globalization office director, told me. He sees this kind of multicultural, multinational collaboration as essential to the vitality and growth of the future church. “The main advantage is that it gives us a more full-orbed picture of Christ’s body, a more full-orbed expression of his work. Each place, wherever it is, brings a further expression of Christ’s body into our organization, represents Christ in a more glorifying way, and leads to more fruitfulness.”
Faith Mugera agrees. “There is liberty in difference. God allows our differences to come together in the good of what we’re desiring to do.” And when every member of the global body of Christ recognizes their unique gifts and callings and brings those to bear for the sake of the kingdom, “nothing is impossible,” Mugera said. “We know for sure that there will be revival.”