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In recent years Misean Cara has been exploring what is distinctive about how missionary, faith-based actors approach development.

“It’s about being there for the long haul, staying with a community and tackling issues together.”

Sr. Kate Nolan, RSHM, at the Misean Cara Learning Event.

The Research 

Misean Cara’s ongoing exploration of the Missionary Approach to Development Interventions (MADI) has led to the development of a Learning Brief on the subject. ‘Missionary Approach to Development Interventions: Reflections on missionary and wider faith-based approaches to development‘ goes from the particular (the Missionary Approach), to the general (Religion and Development), and draws on insights from a May 2018 Misean Cara Learning Event on faith-based and missionary approaches.

Crossing Boundaries and Development: Missionary and Faith-Based Approaches to Development‘ was held on 31st May 2018 at Wood Quay Venue in Dublin. The event heard from national and international speakers including Rick Van Der Woud from Mensen Met Een Missie in the Netherlands, Caitriona Dejean from Tearfund in the UK, Sr. Kate Nolan from the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary, and Seamus O’Leary from Misean Cara.

“Missionaries lift boundaries imposed by circumstance, by poverty and by injustice so that all can live the life they value.”

Seamus O’Leary, at the Misean Cara Learning Event.

The purpose of the event was to bring together a number of different perspectives on faith-based and missionary development and humanitarian work. The gathering was exploratory in nature; the high level of participation and the diversity of backgrounds gave an indication of the interest in the topic.

What Makes the Missionary Approach Unique? 

Missionaries do not necessarily see themselves as development workers in the commonly understood sense of the term, but they do the work of development and humanitarian relief. Informed by their identity as missionaries, inspired by the Gospel, and responding to God’s call to work for a better life for all, they adopt a particular approach to the work that they do.

Missionary organisations are driven to bring opportunity to poor, vulnerable and marginalised communities in developing countries, with the objective of enabling people to live full and dignified lives.

Research conducted for Misean Cara in 2017 identified five key features which, when taken in combination, describe a way of doing development work that is unique to missionaries. Other development agencies, including faith-based organisations, may exhibit one or more of the characteristics, but usually not all in combination.

Five Key Features 

The five key features of the Missionary Approach are outlined below:

  1. Crossing boundaries as part of a global missionary movement. The missionary approach of moving across various boundaries such as those of nationality, of identity, of marginalisation, of the accepted status quo.
  2. Long-term commitment: This provides missionaries with insight into the local context, culture and practices, and affords them a high degree of credibility, trust and influence within the communities where they work.
  3. Personal witness of commitment to missionary values: a high level of dedication to their work, a simple lifestyle and solidarity with the poor, this enables missionaries to build trust and respect in communities.
  4. Prophetic vision: driven by a desire for a better life for all, missionaries work with communities, building on their inherent knowledge, strengths and capacities to identify and address needs, and exploit opportunities as they arise.
  5. Holistic approach: missionaries see and treat individuals and communities not just as beneficiaries of a specific project, but as dignified human beings with a wide range of capacities, needs and rights to be addressed.

The diagram below is a visual representative of how the combination of these five core features come together to reflect the unique approach of missionaries.

Final Diagrams_Final Full

Watch the Videos

Misean Cara has produced a series of videos on the Missionary Approach to discuss and reflect on these five key features. This multimedia project combines the voices of missionaries with archive footage from Misean Cara members, videos and photographs taken in the field, and video interviews. These videos are the beginning of a longer-term project to document the Missionary Approach. You can view the ‘Long-term Commitment‘ video below which discusses the first of these five key features.

All five videos are available to view on Misean Cara’s Vimeo page.

What’s Next? 

Misean Cara’s Learning and Development Manager, Seamus O’Leary will speak at several international events later this year on the Missionary Approach, including one in the Netherlands in September, and a second in Canada in November. To keep up to date with Misean Cara news, and learn more about these events, follow us on Twitter (@MiseanCara).

Click here to read the Learning Brief.

Click here to learn more about the ‘Crossing Boundaries and Development’ event.

Featured Image: Sr Teddy Nankumbi with William, Assumpta, Ian and Badru at the Special Needs Centre in Kauga, Uganda, run by the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary. The centre provides support to children with disabilities and their parents. Photo by Sam Whelan-Curtin.