Missionaries come from various religious groups.
Missionaries come from various religious groups.

A missionary is someone sent on a mission, typically by a religious organization, to spread a message, convince others of a certain belief, provide aid to communities or to accomplish any agenda -- sometimes a political one. While many might think of Christian missionaries, other religious groups, including Buddhists and Muslims, also send missionaries to serve others.

Political Duties

Usually a missionary's duties, from whatever religion, are not directly connected to a political agenda. Still, when considering that many religions and their leaders are directly involved in politics, it's hard to say that the work of some missionaries' work has no connection to politics. For example, an article in "Christianity Today" noted the belief that the gospel of Jesus Christ is the best foundation for building a democratic society. However, the connection between politics and a missionary's duties depends on the religious organization. Jehovah's Witnesses' missionaries -- in imitation of Jesus Christ, they say -- do not get involved in politics.

Proselytizing

The primary duty of a missionary is to promote the religious or social beliefs of the organization he represents. The manner in which missionaries do this varies from organization to organization. Buddhists, for example, advocate the idea that there's no need to try to convert those who already have a religious faith. Others, especially Christians and Muslims, believe that conversion to their faith is necessary in order for a person to live a life approved by God. Motivated by this belief, Christian and Muslim missionaries might appear -- or actually be -- more insistent in carrying out their mission.

Social Work

In addition to promoting a spiritual faith, missionaries may also have duties that involve social work, such as feeding the poor, working at hospitals and building schools or buildings of worship. Doing good works, they believe, is a manifestation of their faith and evidence of God's love for the human family. One famous example is Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who dedicated her life to serving the poor, the sick and the suffering.

Length of Service

A missionary's duties last as long as the person's mission is in place. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the Mormon Church) typically sends its missionaries to assignments at home or abroad for two years. Unofficially, though, the church hopes that these missionaries will continue their mission, to some extent, after their two years conclude. Jehovah's Witnesses send missionaries to foreign lands for a certain period of time, but they also believe that all Witnesses are missionaries, in the sense that all members have a responsibility to preach and teach what they've learned about God, for as long as they live.