Dr. Willis Newman, Esmeralda Newman, bible-teaching-about.com

Bible teaching about
missionary risks

The Bible teaching about the risks in missionary work may save your life. This career carries great reward, blessing and insight, but also dangerous threats in some places. Here are some principles relating to the realities of taking the gospel to the world.

We should expect hazards. Paul wrote of being robbed, stoned, run out of town, misunderstood, deserted – and eventually he was killed (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:23-28). 

I must be honest. I served for seven years in the Kingdom of Tonga, South Pacific. I never faced personal peril. I loved the people, they loved me back, and I was able to establish very strategic and powerful relationships and allies. As a result, I was protected.

However, through my experience (Esmie and I are still doing cross cultural work), I have learned these valuable lessons about risks in missionary work that have helped me greatly. I want to share them with you. Maybe I could call them, “rules to remember to survive and succeed.”

Different is Not Bad, Just Different

Cultures are different, and they all have good and bad in them. Some have fallen far from the ideal God desires. Cultures have over the years developed a way of life that enables them to cope with their unique environment and perpetuate themselves as a people. People are not stupid just because they do not do things like you do in your culture. 

If you jam your culture down the throats of the host culture, you will meet with resistance – either active or passive. I know from first hand experience. Sometimes the opponents to the gospel of Christ will accuse you of imposing your culture even if you are not. That is a way to silence you. There is real risk in missionary work.

It is to your advantage to take the general attitude of, “Different isn’t bad, just different.” Again, I must add the disclaimer – sometimes it is bad. 

The Missionary is a Guest

If you are a missionary, you are a guest in a foreign country, which is a unique risk in missionary work. Your citizenship is somewhere else, and you are there on a visa. This means you can be sent home on a bureaucrat’s whim. If you are a guest in another’s home, you treat them with respect and utmost courtesy. The same is true when you are in another country.

Sometimes you may need to turn a blind eye toward something. Be careful of the fights you pick. You cannot save a culture by attacking the people and their way of life – even if it is hopelessly corrupt and incompetent by Western standards. We as missionaries are limited in what we can do. Why? We are guests. 

The Worker Will Be Used

To third world citizens, all Westerners are rich. People desperately want to come to the West for jobs and a better way of life. They will want you to share your bounty. Most are locked in poverty, and lack any hope - so you really cannot blame them. 

Some will want you to grease the way for a visa, invest in a business venture - or even to marry their cousin for a green card. Be wary, but not cynical – it is their way of self-preservation.

Consider the Risk

There is financial risk, and physical risk in many places. Remember Martin and Gracie Burnham in the Philippines? Terrorists kidnapped them for ransom money, and only Gracie lived to tell the story. In 1998, 27 nonmilitary U.N. people were killed. In 1997, six World Vision workers were killed in Africa. 

Beyond roving kidnapping gangs, local civil wars, and powerful warlords, there is the danger of disease and injury with inadequate medical care. If your appendix ruptures while you are among the remote hill tribes or deep in a jungle, there are no ambulances and emergency rooms to treat you.

Cultures Stay, but Missionaries Will Go

Sooner or later you will go home – unless you go native, which some do. Because of this reality, the locals will place a higher priority on their attachment to family and countrymen than to the newcomer and their cause. 

When the foreign worker goes home, the locals must still co-exist within their own people and culture. Build a strong base grounded solidly on the Bible. Like Paul said to Timothy, “And the things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2). 

Missionaries Are Outsiders

Missionaries, most anyway, never completely assimilate into a new culture. Sometimes they feel stuck between two cultures, and seem as outsiders to both. You can identify with another culture, and enjoy a great deal of understanding, respect, acceptance, and love. Honestly, I feel like my deepest friendships are with Tongans I ministered with for many years.

However, because of our race and nationality, missionaries will always be, to some extent, an outsider. This is even seen in small town America. For example, people can move into the area, live there for 10-15 years, and are still not considered as, “one of us” by the old timers. 

Personal Relationships

One fatal risk in missionary work is spoiled relationships. If the relationships go sour with the locals, so does your efforts – no matter how well meaning you are. One bad tendency foreign workers have is to cluster with their own kind (the expatriate community), and bash the locals. It is a favorite pastime, whether it is the missionary, diplomatic corps, or business people. 

Do not do it. It will ruin trusting, loving relationships from developing with those you are trying to reach for Christ. Speaking of love, if you love the people, and have their genuine welfare at heart, they will forgive you of many cultural blunders. 

Personal Integrity

Temptations are many in a foreign land. Maintain your honesty and integrity. 

The local population will notice. There are at least three reasons. 

•First, if you do not obey the laws of their land, you may end up in their jail. That is not a good place to be.

•Second, if you, for example, yield to bribing a customs officer, you become their slave. All they have to do is hold out their hand, and if you don’t give next time, they turn you in – and you are deported – or worse.

•Third, you will lose your credibility, as will the sending agency, and the gospel of Christ. 

I recall teaching my first Bible course in Tonga back in 1986. My class was filled with high level leaders in the church group I was with. I was pleased with my ability to attract such distinguished leaders. After about a week, they all disappeared, and younger students appeared in class. 

I thought, “What did I do wrong? They all dropped the class.” Eventually, it dawned on me they were checking me out. Once the leaders (spies) were satisfied with my behavior and teachings, they let the real students come to class. I was lucky. Sometimes the “checking out” phase may take years!

The great reward of that missionary work is that those same students are now the leaders – even some with their doctorate degrees. 

The risks in missionary work are sometimes painful, but the personal payoff is tremendous. That is what Esmie and I want to leave you with. God Bless.

Dr. Willis and Esmie Newman


1. If you decided to do missionary work, what would you do first when you reached the field? 

What would be your priorities? Explain why.

2. Study 2 Timothy 2:1-10. Thoughtfully identify at least five principles that relate to missionary work.

3. How does 2 Timothy 1:12 relate to motivation when faced with the risks of missionary work?

4. Study Acts 20:17-38. How many of the topics in this study can you find in this section?

5. Explain how 1 Thessalonians 2:5-13 relates to missionary work. Think of strategy, relationships, and personal integrity. Explain.

6. Study Acts 17:16-34. What does this section teach about strategy, various responses, and eventual results and risks in missionary work? Explain.

7. What does 2 Corinthians 5:20 tell us about the nature of missionary work?

8. Study Philippians 4:10-19. What issue is addressed here? How might it be a risk in missionary work?

9. At the end of his life, what was Paul’s attitude toward his missionary work? How can that relate to your situation?

10. What stood out to the most in this Bible teaching about the risks in missionary work?

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