While any such list will inevitably leave many key missionaries out, the following names are ones any aspiring missionary should be familiar with. Their stories provide a through-line to the history of missions throughout the world.
- Paul the Apostle: One of the greatest missionaries of all times. It is interesting that God chose a missionary to write the foundational apostolic Christian theology. He not only taught theory, he lived it and founded strategic churches.
- Saint Patrick: (5th Century) Founder of the Irish Celtic Church, a formidable missionary church.
- Ramon Llull: (1232–1315) Missionary to the Muslims. Learned Arabic and promoted serious apologetics. Evangelized in North Africa. Died a martyr.
- Bartholomew de las Casas: (1484–1566) A 16th-century Spanish historian, social reformer and Dominican friar, best known for protecting the American Indians from mistreatment from the Spanish conquistadores.
- Matthew Ricci: (1552–1610) Italian Jesuit priest, pioneer in China. Learned Chinese so well that he became a recognized scholar, the official astronomer of the Middle Kingdom. Led 1,000 of the aristocracy to Christ.
- David Brainerd: (1718–1747) An American missionary to the Native Americans. His biography has become a source of inspiration and encouragement to many Christians, including missionaries such as William Careyand Jim Elliot.
- Count Nicolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf: (1700-1760) German religious and social reformer and bishop of the Moravian Church and a pioneer of missions. Had a great influence on John and Charles Wesley.
- William Carey: (1761-1834) was an English Baptist missionary and known as the "father of modern Protestant missions.” Carey was one of the founders of the Baptist Missionary Society. As a missionary in the Danish colony, Serampore, India, he translated the Bible into Bengali, Sanskrit, and numerous other languages.
- Adoniram Judson: (1788–1850) An American Baptist missionary, who served in Burma for almost forty years. Translated the whole Bible into Burmese and established a number of churches.
- David Livingstone: (1813–1873) was a Scottish Congregationalist pioneer medical missionary with the London Missionary Society and an explorer in Africa. Perhaps one of the most popular national heroes of the late 19th century in Victorian Britain. Protestant missionary martyr, working-class "rags to riches" inspirational story, scientific investigator and explorer, imperial reformer, anti-slavery crusader.
- J. Hudson Taylor: (1832–1905) A British Protestant Christian missionary to China, and founder of the China Inland Mission (now OMF International). Taylor spent 51 years in China. The society that he began was responsible for bringing over 800 missionaries to the country who began 125 schools and directly resulted in 18,000 Christian conversions, as well as the establishment of more than 300 stations of work with more than 500 local helpers in all eighteen provinces.
- Samuel Zwemer: (1867–1952), nicknamed The Apostle to Islam, was an American missionary, traveler, and scholar. He was a missionary at Busrah, Bahrein, and at other locations in Arabia from 1891 to 1905. He was a member of the Arabian Mission (1890–1913). Zwemer served in Egypt from 1913–1929. He also traveled widely in Asia Minor, and he was elected a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society of London.
- John L. Nevius: (1829–1893) was, for forty years, a pioneering American Protestant missionary in China, appointed by the American Presbyterian Mission; his missionary ideas were also very important in the spread of the church in Korea. He wrote several books on the themes of Chinese religions, customs and social life, and missionary work.
- Charlotte (Lottie) Moon: (1840–1912) was a Southern Baptist missionary to China with the Foreign Mission Board who spent nearly forty years (1873–1912) living and working in China. As a teacher and evangelist she laid a foundation for traditionally solid support for missions among Baptists in America.
- Amy Carmichael: (1867–1951) was a Protestant Christian missionary in India, who opened an orphanage and founded a mission in Dohnavur. She served in India for 55 years without furlough and wrote many books about the missionary work there.
- Jim Elliot: (1927–1956) Was one of five missionaries killed while participating in Operation Auca, an attempt to evangelize the Huaorani people of Ecuador. The death of these five was a tremendous stimulus to missions among those of his generation, especially due to the books written by his widow, Elisabeth Elliot.
- William Cameron Townsend: (1896–1982) was a prominent American Christian missionary who founded, Wycliffe Bible Translators and Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL International), both of which remain active and focused on producing translations of the Bible in minority languages, and on facilitating literacy in minority languages.
- Pandita Ramabai: (1858–1922) was an Indian Christian social reformer, a champion for the emancipation of women, and a pioneer in education. She acquired a reputation as a Sanskrit scholar.
- Elka of the Wai Wai: A former chief witchdoctor of the Wai Wai tribe in Brazil in the 20th Century, whose conversion and leadership not only influenced many of his own tribe to confess Christ but stimulated missionary advance among other jungle tribes.
- R. Kenneth Strachan: (1910-1965) Missionary statesman, General Director of the Latin America Mission, strategist of Evangelism-in-Depth in Latin America.
- Helen Roseveare: (1925- ) An English Christian missionary to the Congo from 1953 to 1973, she became a Christian as a medical student in Cambridge University in 1945. She practiced medicine and also trained others in medical work. In 1964 she was taken prisoner of rebel forces and she remained a prisoner for five months, enduring beatings and rapings. Freed, she later returned to Africa and continued participating in rebuilding the country.
Note: Ruth Tucker has compiled two excellent volumes of brief missionary biographies:
Ruth A. Tucker. From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya. A Biographical History of Christian Missions. Zondervan, 2004.
Ruth A. Tucker. Guardians of the Great Commission. The Story of Women in Modern Missions, Zondervan, 1988.