Their numbers are dwindling, and recruitment in Europe and America is difficult but Chirstian missionaries believe that they will continue to be welcome in Africa for a long time to come.
Even Zaire's President Mobuto Sese Seko, who forbade the celebration of Christmas last year, is now trying to coax missionaries into taking back the schools he nationalized several years ago.
"Nyerere will never kick us out," said Peter van der Pas, a young Dutch Priest who has been working in Sumbawanga in remote south western Tanzania for nine years.
Not only Tanzania's President Julius Nyerere, but Kenya's Jomo Kenyatta, Zambia's Kenneth Kaunda and Malawi's Dr. Hastings Banda among other African presidents harbor soft spots for missionaries. One reason is that they were all educated in mission schools and are well aware that without these fortunate beginnings none of them would have had the remotest chance of becoming president of their nations.
Kaunda, himself the son of a Church of Scotland missionary who emigrated from Malawi to evangelize in Zambia, relied frequently on Christian missionaries fo rvarious types of advice and assistance as he led his country's independence movement against Britain in the 1950s and early 1960s. Some remain on his payroll or still have occasional access to him. Missionaries also played key roles in the early political careers of Nyerere and Kenyatta.
Though they have been called racists and sometimes displayed poor understanding of traditional African belefs, most Africans acknowledge that, unlike other European settlers, missionaries did not come to Africa to exploit.
But the role of today's modern missionary is rapidly changing with the growth and Africanization of the church, and gone forever are the days when a white missionary would dare tell a visiting African preacher to sleep in the servants' quarters.
Top church leadership is now Africanized. Among Roman Catholics and Anglicans, most bishops are now Africans, as are the majority of priests and ministers. The same is apparently true for other denomiations.
According to Gordon Mullenix, a sociologist who works for Daystar Communications, an independent mission in Nairobi, missionaires more often help manage the huge and growing African church bureaucracies than work in parishes.
The African Inland Church (AIC) in Kenya controls 2,000 churches, much property, buildings and a staff of thousands. Typical of large African church organizations, the AIC relies on missionaries to teach and apply modern business management skills to run their complex activities.
"Missionaries no longer do much active frontline evangelism," said Mullinex "Evangelism is the Africans to develop a national church. Our direct concern here is teaching those who will teach pastors and those who will be principals and editors or generally influential."
Today's missionary is much better grounded in the cultural and political realities that make Africa tick than was his predecessor. Because they now go home every two or three years instead of spending seven years in the field at a stretch, missionaries are also more in tune with cureent American social trends.
According to van der Pas, the chief role of rural missionaries tofay is development. "It's quite natural for me to go to political meetings iwth the Tanzanian government and party officials," siad the young Dutch preist, who in recent years has been given the responsibility of building and maintaining roads and bridges in his remote district.
"We are trying to give Tanzania's socialist ideoogy a chance," he said.
According to most missionaries it is almost dogma that everyone should be training Africans to learn their skills, but the bush pilots, doctors, engineers and nurses who accept meager wages will be difficult to replace.
Joanne Moyers, for example, was raised on a mission that her parents started in Tatanda, Tanzania. After training as a nurse in California she returned to the same mission.
The people at Tatanda trust Joanne and her husband, Carl, who has now been there for 13 years.
"They could get along without us here," said Carl who, tough not a medical man, pulls teeth, performs minor surgery and helps Joanne deliver babies. "The most indispensable service we provide is transporting people to the hospital," Carl added.
Because of the nearest hospital is many miles away and-because Carl has the only running vehicles at Tatanda, this service saves perhaps hundreds of lives each year.
Carl even operates an airplane for attending to life or death situations as well as for supesvising a string of remote churches he helped establish.
The Moyers are typical of a dying breed of missionaries who live simply in rural communities, growing much of their own food and resourcefully taking care of many of their own needs. This model is useful in Tanzania where ineology stresses self-reliance.
Up on Mt. Gulal in northern Kenya, Americanmissinories have harnessed the wind to generate electricity and have tapped a spring to create a gravity-flow water system, which saved the cattle of the local Samburu herdsmen during a recent long drought.
Developing simple technological systems that do not depend on complicted imported machines could be a partial answer to developing rural Africa, and missionaries have quietly been in the forefront of applying intermediate technology.