You probably know of Saints Cyril and Methodius as "Equal to the Apostles," and "Enlighteners of the Slavic peoples." Sent as missionaries to the Slavic lands, they created the first Slavic alphabet and translated Scripture and liturgical texts into Slavonic. They are honored especially by Orthodox Christians all across Eastern Europe.
But in the ninth century, we wouldn't have called this missionary work a success. When Cyril and Methodius died, most Slavic peoples were still pagan. And in Moravia, where many had become Christians, their Church was outlawed and persecuted. Nearly all of the 200 ethnic Slavic clergy were imprisoned, enslaved, or exiled. Christians of the area were prohibited from worshiping in any language but Latin, and the volumes of Slavonic-language Scriptures and liturgical texts went unused and ignored. It seemed to have been an obvious failure.
How should we measure missionary success? If within a generation of their death, the missionaries' Church is destroyed and their work forgotten, it seems like a failure. Was it worth anything? If our metric for success in missions is about numbers, then Cyril and Methodius' lives were surely a waste. Even to this day, the Orthodox Church in Moravia is a small minority.
But their work did help lead one woman to Christ, nearly a century later. That woman, Princess Olga of Kiev, was a model of the Christian faith for her son Svyatoslav and her grandson Vladimir. Her example eventually won Vladimir over. And when he became a Christian, Prince Vladimir brought the Orthodox faith en masse to his empire--a Slavic empire, known as Rus.
Now, suddenly, there was a great need for a written Slavonic language. The new Russian Orthodox Church needed Scripture in its own language, as well as liturgical texts. And the texts were there, thanks to the apparently fruitless work of Cyril and Methodius. These saints' example has been an inspiration to missionaries ever since, even up to the consecration of St Nicholas Orthodox Church in Juneau in the early twentieth century.
Of course missionaries need to pay some attention to results. One method or approach might seem fruitless because it is indeed wrong-headed. But it is equally important that we refrain from measuring success by immediate results. We should not expect to see our labor bear much fruit in our own lifetime. If the 'results' don't begin showing until a century or more later, that is a pretty normal timing.
Please remember missionary work in your prayers. Please remember- and join in- the local missionary efforts of your own parish. Please also pray for missionary churches across the globe, and for those who labor with them. Pray that missionaries would stay faithful to God's call, especially when their efforts appear hopeless.