A Missionary is a propagator of religion (see History of Christian Missions), a representative of a religious community who works among those outside of that community.

The Biblical authority for mission work is from the Gospel of Matthew 28:18-20, "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations...", as well as many other passages that teach that the Gospel is intended for all people. The English word "missionary" is derived from Latin, the equivalent of the Greek-derived word, "apostle".

Missionaries have often worked hand-in-hand with colonialism, for example during European colonization of the Americas, Africa, and Asia. Thus they often viewed their mission as converting the "natives" to a superior culture as well as to their religion. Missionaries were also often followed by others from their country, who came for a wider variety of reasons. For example, in New England, the early settlers, the Pilgrims were very religious, and a few of them devoted themselves to spreading the gospel among the Native Americans. They were successful in obtaining several thousand converts to the faith, but adoption of European culture was slow, retarding acceptance of the new converts as "real Christians" by the Europeans. One solution was the creation of segregated "praying towns" of Christian natives. This pattern of grudging acceptance of converts was repeated in Hawaii later when missionaries from that same New England culture went there. In Spanish colonization of the Americas, the Catholic missionaries selected and learned among the languages of the Amerindians and devised writing systems for them. Then they preached to them in those languages (Quechua, Guarani, Nahuatl) instead of Spanish to keep Indians away from "sinful" whites. An extreme case were the Guarani Reductions, a theocratic semiindependent region established by the Jesuits.

Sometimes, missionaries have been vital in preserving and documenting the culture of the peoples they live among. Sometimes, they have destroyed those cultures and led natives to aculturation.

Often, missionaries provide welfare and health services as a good deed or to make friends with the locals.

The word, "mission", is often applied to the building in which the missionary lives and/or works.

The decline in Christianity in parts of the West has led to missionaries from Africa making the reverse journey, to evangelise the Europeans. At the same time, many Protestant Christians in Europe and North America have been focusing on what they call the "10/40 window", countries between 10 and 40 degrees north latitude.

Mormon missionaries

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is one of the most active modern practitioners of missionary work. The Church strongly encourages their young men to devote two years to missionary work, most of which is spent proselytizing. Young men are eligible to serve missions when at least 19 years of age but no older than 26.

Young women may also serve missions, but are not expected to do so. Young women must be at least 21 years old to serve missions and only serve for an 18 month period.

Older, retired couples are also encouraged to serve missions and may serve as long as they desire (typically from one to two years). Many older couples have been known to serve several consecutive missions.

Besides proselytizing missionaries, the Church also has a strong welfare missionary program. The missionaries who serve these types of missions serve in poor and third world countries and do not actively proselytize. Regular proselytizing missionaries may engage in welfare activities and community service from time to time.

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