A missionary is a member of a religion who works to convert those who do not share the missionary's faith; someone who proselytizes. The word "mission" is derived from the Latin missionem (nom. missio), meaning "act of sending" or mitto, mittere, literally meaning "to send" or "to dispatch", the equivalent of the Greek-derived word "apostle" from apostolos, meaning "messenger". In Christian cultures the term is most commonly used for Christian missions, but it applies equally to any proselytizing creed or ideology. Buddhism launched 'the first large-scale missionary effort in the history of the world's religions'.
Since the Lausanne Congress of 1974, a widely accepted definition of a Christian mission has been "to form a viable indigenous church-planting movement." Recognizing justice as being at the heart of the Gospels, most modern missionaries now promote the development of western government, education and economic structure in the place of pre-existing local systems and tradition. Missionaries can be found in many countries around the world, even posing as tourists or working as charity personnel to gain entry where their proselytizing is prohibited by law (e.g. India and Morocco).
The New Testament missionary outreach of the Christian church from the time of St Paul was extensive throughout the Roman Empire. During the Middle Ages the Christian monasteries and missionaries such as Saint Patrick, and Adalbert of Prague propagated learning and religion beyond the boundaries of the old Roman Empire. In the 7th century Gregory the Great sent missionaries including Augustine of Canterbury into England. During the Age of Discovery, the Roman Catholic Church established a number of Missions in the Americas and other colonies through the Augustinians, Franciscans and Dominicans in order to spread Christianity in the New World and to convert the Native Americans and other indigenous people. (See Canadian residential school system.) At the same time, missionaries such as Francis Xavier as well as other Jesuits, Augustinians, Franciscans and Dominicans were moving into Asia and the far East. The Portuguese sent missions into Africa. These are some of the most well-known missions in history. While some of these missions were associated with imperialism and oppression, others (notably Matteo Ricci's Jesuit mission to China) were relatively peaceful and focused on integration rather than cultural imperialism.
Much contemporary Catholic missionary work has undergone profound change since the Second Vatican Council, and has become explicitly conscious of Social Justice issues and the dangers of cultural imperialism or economic exploitation disguised as religious conversion. Contemporary Christian missionaries argue that working for justice is a constitutive part of preaching the Gospel, and observe the principles of inculturation in their missionary work.
As the church normally organizes itself along territorial lines, and because they had the human and material resources, religious orders--some even specializing in it--undertook most missionary work, especially in the early phases. Over time a normalised church structure was gradually established in the mission area, often starting with special jurisdictions known as apostolic prefectures and apostolic vicariates. These developing churches eventually intended 'graduating' to regular diocesan status with a local episcopacy appointed, especially after decolonization, as the church structures often reflect the political-administrative reality.
Under the Russian Empire of the 19th century, missionaries such as Nicholas Ilminsky moved into the subject lands and propagated Orthodoxy, including through Belarus, Latvia, Moldavia, Finland, Estonia, Ukraine, and China. The Russian St. Nicholas of Japan took Eastern Orthodoxy to Japan in the 19th century. The Russian Orthodox Church also sent missionaries to Alaska beginning in the 18th century, including Saint Herman of Alaska, to minister to the Native Americans. The Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia continued missionary work outside Russia after the 1917 Russian Revolution, resulting in the establishment of many new dioceses in the diaspora, from which numerous converts have been made in Eastern Europe, North America and Oceania.
Among the first Protestant missionaries were John Eliot and contemporary ministers including John Cotton and Richard Bourne, who ministered to the Algonquin natives that were co-located with the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the middle 17th century. Quaker missions were established soon after this in several late 17th century colonies.
The Danish government included Lutheran missionaries among the colonists in many of its colonies, Bartholomaeus Ziegenbalg in Tranquebar India in the late 17th century. But the first organized Protestant mission work was carried out beginning in 1732 by the Moravian Brethren of Herrnhut in Saxony Germany(die evangelische Brüdergemeine). While on a visit in 1732 to Copenhagen for the coronation of his cousin King Christian VI the Moravian Church's patron, Nicolas Ludwig, Count von Zinzendorf got to know a slave from the Danish colony in the West Indies. When he returned to Herrnhut with the slave, he inspired the inhabitants of the village--it was fewer than 30 houses then---to send out "messengers" to the slaves in the West Indies. The first missionaries landed in St. Thomas in December, 1732. Work soon was started in another Danish colony, Greenland. Within 30 years there were Moravian missionaries active on every continent, and this at a time when there were fewer than 300 people in Herrnhut. They are famous for their selfless work, living as slaves among the slaves and together with the native Americans, the Delaware (i.e. Lenni Lenape) and Cherokee Indian tribes. Today the work in the former mission provinces of the worldwide Moravian Church is carried on by native workers. The fastest growing area of the work in Tanzania in Eastern Africa. The Moravian work in South Africa inspired William Carey and the founders of the British Baptist missions. Today 7 of every 10 Moravians are in a former mission field and belong to a race other than Caucasian. Like other missionary denominations, Protestant missionaries have been accused of cultural imperalism and have often been associated with a colonial power. (See Americanization (of Native Americans).)
Internationally, the focus for many years in the later 20th century was on reaching every "people group" with Christianity by the year 2000. Bill Bright's leadership with Campus Crusade, the Southern Baptist International Mission Board, The Joshua Project, and others brought about the need to know who these "unreached people groups" are and how those wanting to tell about a Christian God and share a Christian Bible could reach them. The focus for these organizations transitioned from a "country focus" to a "people group focus." (From "What is a People Group?" by Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins: A "people group" is an ethnolinguistic group with a common self-identity that is shared by the various members. There are two parts to that word: ethno and linguistic. Language is a primary and dominant identifying factor of a people group. But there are other factors that determine or are associated with ethnicity.)
What can be viewed as a success by those inside and outside the church from this focus is a higher level of cooperation and friendliness among churches and denominations. It is very common for those working on international fields to not only cooperate in efforts to share their gospel message but view the work of their groups in a similar light. Also, with the increased study and awareness of different people groups, western mission efforts have become far more sensitive to the cultural nuances of those they are going to and those they are working with in the effort.
Over the years, as indigenous churches have matured, the church of the "Global South" (Africa, Asia and Latin America) has become the driving force in missions. Korean and African missionaries can now be found all over the world. These missionaries represent a major shift in Church history.
Brazil, Nigeria, and other countries have had large numbers of their Christian adherents go to other countries and start churches. These non-western missionaries often have unparalleled success because they need few western resources and comforts to sustain their livelihood while doing the work they have chosen among a new culture and people.
“All my life, from the time I have been a young boy and as far back as I can remember, I have had experiences feeling of the Holy Ghost. … But I’ve never felt what I have felt as I have … participated in the assigning of missionaries…We go into a room, and … it will be a two-or three-hour session and sometimes longer. Because of technology, it is possible for us to have your picture and the information about you displayed. And then quickly, on that same screen, all the missions of the Church with all of their needs are displayed. Within minutes, and sometimes less than a minute, the impression comes so powerfully that it would be, if it were a single instance, something that you would never forget. Can you imagine sitting there for hours at a time, having that happen time after time without interruption? I testify to you that it is real… In a world so large, the Creator … somehow not only knows you but loves you enough to ensure that your call is where He needs you to go to teach the children of our Heavenly Father." Henry B. Eyring, "Your Call to Serve," New Era, March 2007, 14After receiving their mission call from the prophet, the President of the Church, they become official representatives of the Church and are expected to devote all their time and effort to missionary service. As at other times, they are expected to maintain high moral standards. As missionaries, they accept to live by additional requirements, such as not dating. The two-year mission is usually served in a foreign country or different area of the country from where the missionary lives:
It was my privilege to serve for many years with President Spencer W. Kimball when he was chairman of the Missionary Executive Committee of the Church. Those never-to-be-forgotten missionary assignment meetings were filled with inspiration and occasionally interspersed with humor. Well do I remember the recommendation form for one prospective missionary on which the bishop had written: “This young man is very close to his mother. She wonders if he might be assigned to a mission close to home in California so that she can visit him on occasion and telephone him weekly.” As I read aloud this comment, I awaited from President Kimball the pronouncement of a designated assignment. I noticed a twinkle in his eye and a sweet smile cross his lips as he said, without additional comment, “Assign him to the Johannesburg South Africa Mission.” Thomas S. Monson, “The Army of the Lord,” Ensign, May 1979, 35Young women and retired couples may serve missions as well. Young women who desire to serve as missionaries serve at an older age, usually 21 or older. Missionaries typically spend one to two months in a Missionary Training Center where they study the scriptures, learn new languages, and otherwise prepare themselves to teach the Gospel and understand the culture in which and the people among whom they will be living. The LDS Church has about 53,000 missionaries worldwide.
Dawah means to "invite" (in Arabic, literally "calling") to Islam, estimated to be the second largest religion next to Christianity. From the 7th century it spread rapidly from the Arabian Peninsula to the rest of the world through the initial Arabic conquests, and subsequently with traders and explorers after the death of the Prophet Muhammad.
Initially, the spread of Islam came through the dawah efforts of Muhammad and those who followed him. After his death in 632 CE, much of the expansion of the empire came through conquest, such as that of North Africa and later Spain (Al-Andalus), and the Islamic conquest of Persia putting an end to the Sassanid Empire and spreading the reach of Islam to as far East as Khorasan, which would later become the cradle of Islamic civilization during the Islamic Golden Age and a stepping-stone towards the introduction of Islam to the Turkic tribes living in and bordering the area.
The missionary movements peaked during the Islamic Golden Age, with the expansion of foreign trade routes, primarily into the Indo-Pacific and as far South as the isle of Zanzibar and the South-Eastern shores of Africa.
With the coming about of the tradition of Sufism, Islamic missionary activities have increased considerably. The mystical nature of the tradition had an all-encompassing aspect, a property many societies in Asia could relate to. Later, with the conquest of Anatolia by the Seljuk Turks, missionaries would find easier passage to the lands then formerly belonging to the Byzantine Empire.
During the Ottoman presence in the Balkans, missionary movements were also taken up by people from aristocratic families hailing from the region, who had been educated in Constantinople or any other major city within the Empire, in famed madrassahs and kulliyes. Most of the time, such individuals were sent back to the place of their origin, being appointed important positions in the local governing body. This approach often resulted in the building of mosques and local kulliyes for future generations to benefit from, as well as spreading the teachings of Islam.
The spread of Islam towards Central and West Africa has been prominent but slow, until the early 19th century. Previously, the only connection was through Transsaharan trade, of which the Mali Empire, consisting predominantly of African and Berber tribes, stands as a strong proof of the early Islamization of the Sub-Saharan region. The gateways prominently expanded to include the aforementioned trade routes through the Eastern shores of the African continent. With the European colonization of Africa, missionaries were almost in competition with the European Christian missionaries operating in the colonies. The Muslim population of the US has increased greatly in the last one hundred years, with much of the growth driven by widespread conversion. Up to one-third of American Muslims are African Americans who have converted to Islam during the last seventy years. Conversion to Islam in prison, and in large urban areas has also contributed to its growth over the years.
Most Jews share a strong distaste for all missionary activity by practitioners of all religions, a tradition which stems from years of Jewish persecution at the hands of (mostly Christian) missionaries.
Modern Jewish teachers repudiate proselytization of Gentiles in order to convert them. The reason for this is that Gentiles already have a complete relationship with God via the Noahidic covenant (See Noahide Laws); there is therefore no need for them to become Jewish, which requires more work of them. In addition, Judaism espouses a concept of "quality" not "quantity". It is more important in the eyes of Jews to have converts who are completely committed to observing Jewish law, than to have converts who will violate the Abrahamic covenant into which they have been initiated.
On the other hand, most Jewish religious groups encourage "Outreach" to Jews alienated from their own heritage owing to assimilation and intermarriage. Some movements encourage Jews to become more observant of Jewish religious law (known as halakha). Those people who do become religious are known as baalei teshuva. The large Hasidic group known as Chabad Lubavitch has internationally promoted such "outreach." Others, such as the National Jewish Outreach Program do the same in North America.
In recent times, members of the American Reform movement began a program to convert to Judaism the non-Jewish spouses of its intermarried members and non-Jews who have an interest in Judaism. Their rationale is that so many Jews were lost during the Holocaust that newcomers must be sought out and welcomed. This approach has been repudiated by Orthodox and Conservative Jews as unrealistic and posing a danger. They say that these efforts make Judaism seem an easy religion to join and observe when in reality being Jewish involves many difficulties and sacrifices.
The first Buddhist missionaries were called "Dharma Bhanaks". The Emperor Ashoka was a significant early Buddhist missioner. In the 3rd century BCE, Dharmaraksita - among others - was sent out by emperor Ashoka to proselytize the Buddhist tradition through the Indian Maurya Empire, but also into the Mediterranean as far as Greece. Buddhism was spread among the Turkic people during the 2nd and 3rd centuries B.C. into modern-day Pakistan, Kashmir, Afghanistan, eastern and coastal Iran, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. It was also taken into China brought by An Shigao in the 2nd century BCE.
The use of missions, formation of councils and monastic institutions influenced the emergence of Christian missions and organizations which had similar structures formed in places which were formerly Buddhist missions.
Duiring the 19th and 20th centuries, Western intellectuals such as Schopenhauer, Henry David Thoreau, Max Müller and esoteric societies such as the Theosophical Society of H.P. Blavatsky and the Buddhist Society, London spread interest in Buddhism. Writers such as Hermann Hesse and Jack Kerouac, in the West, and the hippie generation of the late 1960s and early 1970s led to a re-discovery of Buddhism. During the 20th and 21st centuries Buddhism has again been propagated by missionaries into the West such as the Dalai Lama and monks including Lama Surya Das (Tibetan Buddhism). Tibetan Buddhism has been significantly active and successful in the West since the Chinese takeover of Tibet in 1959.