The movie, The Mission, is based on the historical events of an 18th century Jesuit mission. The film portrays the importance that missions had among the Roman Catholic Church, and the urgency there was to spread the Gospel. The film also displays something that has been all too common throughout history, and that is the bad treatment of colonies on native peoples. It is an epic film of people uniting to “shield a South American tribe from brutal subjugation by 18th-century colonial empires.”
The film brings together the unlikeliest of heroes. One of the main characters, Rodrigo Mendoza, was in the slave trade. He would go to great lengths to capture the Guarani peoples and sell them for profit. He led a bad life and ended up killing his brother when a lady chose his brother over himself. When in prison he could not eat because he was so overcome with grief over what he had done. While in prison he is visited by Father Gabriel who is a Jesuit missionary who assures him that he can be forgiven.
The two embark on a journey to reach the Guarani people for Christ, but it is a mission that Father Gabriel had already been on. Rodrigo is overwhelmed by the reception that the people, whom he had worked to enslave, give him. The storyline is straight forward and not only depicts those who seek to marginalize others, but those who strive to love others and respect their culture while trying to evangelize. There are many issues that can be dealt with in this review, but two will be discussed and incorporated with the film. Those two issues are the importance of the church in missions, and the Great Commission being valid for all Christians.
Missions And The Mission
From the beginning of the film the importance of the church in missions can be seen. Missionaries in the Roman Catholic Church went to many nations where the scriptures were not translated into their own language. To overcome the lack of the written the church used many things such iconography, art, carvings, and statues. In regards to this Dr. Smither writes, “One concrete way that some Roman basilicas facilitated mission and gospel proclamation was through the art-paintings, mosaics, and stone carvings-that adorned their walls, ceilings, floors, and even doors.”
This practice can clearly be seen about twenty five minutes into film. Father Gabriel is sitting with the people and is handing them books and pictures. One particular picture that struck up conversation was that of the Virgin Mary and the infant Jesus. Father Gabriel also had a picture book for the children that showed the gospel message. Throughout the ages this has been a very effective way of evangelization for a language barrier, or for those who are not able to read. This method also gained approval in the earlier church as Bishop Gregory of Rome is quotes as saying, “what writing presents to readers, a picture presents to the unlearned who view it, since in the image even the ignorant see what they are to follow; in the picture the illiterate read.”
Though the crucifix is synonymous with Catholicism, the film depicted the missionaries using it to teach them about the passion. They gained the trust of the people and the people moved from their native land to a mission that they helped build. The missionaries bonded with the people in such a way that they became family. When the church hierarchy closed the mission for political, rather than religious reasons, the missionaries stayed to fight for the rights of those they evangelized. This particular scene was a reminder of Bartholomew de Las Casas who risked his own life to protect the rights of the native Indians he evangelized.
The missionaries in the film said over and over again that they could not leave the people. The people would think that God had abandoned them, but the priests’ stayed with them even when the church hierarchy ordered them to leave. One of them, even asked to be defrocked so he could fight for the rights of the people. It was a moving sentiment and shows the politics behind colonialism at the time. The missionaries risked everything to evangelize, and the people risked everything if they trusted. Perhaps the greatest scene in the film is when Father Gabriel leads a procession while the people are singing hymns in their native tongue. They hear the fighting, the gunshots, and the screams but continue the procession. Father Gabriel is killed leading a peaceful march, and many of the people die with him.
The Mission And The Great Commission
The film also shows, though it was not explicitly stated, the missions landscape in the 17th and 18th centuries. Roman Catholic firmly believed that there was no salvation outside of Rome. They had the funds, desire, and zeal to see that all came to salvation under the Roman church. They treated the Great Commission with the sense of urgency it deserves. This can be seen in the film and the missionaries climbed dangerous terrain to reach a previously unreachable people. The beginning of the film shows a missionary being martyred, and yet Father Gabriel and his companions were brave enough to go back to evangelize.
The history of Protestant missions is quite different. Since the time of Martin Luther the Great Commission was seen as something that was meant only for the apostles. In this regard Glenn Sunshine writes, “The magisterial reformers argued that the Great Commission of Matthew 28 applied only to the Apostles and thus that missions activity was no longer necessary for Christians.”
The missionaries in the film were from Portugal and Spain and these countries were stable and were the super-powers of the day. Countries where Protestants had a foothold were riddled with war. This could also explain the lack of foreign mission during this period.
The film shows a portrayal of what urgency with the Great Commission looks like. As previously stated these Jesuit priests knew that one of their own had just been killed by the tribe. Yet they were moved with love for this unreached people group, climbed over dangerous terrain, dangerous cliffs, through waterfalls, rivers, rain forests, and their lives were in danger. However they knew they had to spread the gospel and they went to great lengths to make it happen.
The film, The Mission, how dangerous foreign mission had the potential to be and how marginalized these groups were from colonization. The film shows the love that the evangelists had for the people. They taught them the Gospel, set up missions, taught scripture, and treated the natives like people. In an era when the slave trade was rampant The Mission shows the power of the Gospel. It shows the power to overcome cultural, religious, and social norms. The missionaries not only built trust, but became engaged in native society to the point where they were seen as family.
They had a sense of urgency which brought the gospel to lands that had been previously unreached. Probably most important of all the missionaries stuck with the natives when they were betrayed by a nation and the established church. Many missionaries were heroic in this regard as Bradley Gundlach writes, “So, while some missionaries took a heroic stand for Indian rights, they could not prevail against the self-interest of local whites and the theoretical scruples or political pragmatics of others, inside and outside the church.” This exactly what the missionaries in this film did. The defied the hierarchy of the Catholic Church to show solidarity with those whom they evangelized.
“Back cover.” The Mission. DVD. Directed by Robert Joffe. Burbank, CA: Warner Bros, 1986.
Gundlach, Bradley J. The Great Commission. Edited by Martin I. Klauber and Scott M. Manetsch. Nashville, TN: B&h Academic, 2008.
Smither, Edward L. Mission in the Early Church: Themes and Reflections. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2014.
Sunshine, Glenn S. The Great Commission: Evangelicals and the History of World Missions. Edited by Martin I. Klauber and Scott M. Manetsch. Nashville, TN: B&h Academic, 2008.
Tucker, Ruth A. From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya: A Biographical History of Christian Missions. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004
 “Backcover,” The Mission, directed by Robert Joffe (Burbank, CA: Warner Bros, 1986), DVD.
 Edward L. Smither, Mission in the Early Church: Themes and Reflections (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2014), 156.
 Edward L. Smither, Mission in the Early Church: Themes and Reflections (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2014), 157.
 Ruth A. Tucker, From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya: A Biographical History of Christian Missions, 2nd ed (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004), 61.
 Glenn S. Sunshine, The Great Commission: Evangelicals and the History of World Missions, ed. Martin I. Klauber and Scott M. Manetsch (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2008), 13.
 Ibid, 13.
 Bradley J. Gundlach, The Great Commission, ed. Martin I. Klauber and Scott M. Manetsch (Nashville, TN: B&h Academic, 2008), 74.