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A missionary participates in the mission of his or her church or religion by serving peoples of other cultures, often in a foreign country. A missionary may be ordained, vowed religious, or a lay person. A missionary often does charitable and volunteer work, but what separates him from the run-of-the-mill volunteer is his associated responsibility to convey the message of his faith or religion to the people he is helping.
Historically, missionaries played key roles in the settlement of new areas, particularly in North and South America. Spanish missionaries in California and Mexico both settled the areas and converted indigenous persons to Christianity. In modern times, missionaries tend to go to underdeveloped areas to help with aid and relief efforts while also advocating conversion.
*While colonial missionaries are often argued to have done more harm than good for indigenous peoples, modern missionary work, in general, focuses on humanitarian work and faith-based initiatives.