Its easy for secular people to dismiss missionaries as either fools or con artists, getting people to follow a government or governments that just seek to enslave or kill them. But that judgment doesn't do justice to the history of missionary work as it relates to colonialism. Its important to understand that these men and women truly believed in what they were doing.
I made this analogy in a couple classes: missionaries in the 1500s thought of themselves as if they were in a lifeboat and all others around them were drowning. Their Christianity was the lifeboat, and the drowning people were the non-Christians who were doomed to hell if they didn't accept Christianity. They felt that if they didn't do everything they could to get the non-Christians into the lifeboat (convert them to Christianity), that was essentially murder. They were complicit in destroying the souls of the nonbelievers. They believed the fate of the world rested in their hands. This explains why they were so vigilant in their attempts to convert people, especially the Africans.
Don't get me wrong-this is not meant to excuse the behavior of those missionaries who essentially said "convert or die." The death and destruction that came from colonialism is inexcusable. But its our job as students of history to understand why they did what they did. The missionaries were dedicated to their cause, so much so that (in many cases) they decided that death was preferable to disbelief.
The other important issue discussed today relates to the comparison of Buddhist missionaries to Christian missionaries. Notice some essential differences: (a.) Era in history-the Buddhist missionaries did their work before 1500, which severely limited their geographic impact (as there wasn't a whole lot of transportation technology available), and (b.) Nature of Monotheism versus Polytheism-remember, Polytheism is not based upon the acceptance of a single God. The Christian missionaries were naturally going to be more aggressive because their reality told them to be so.
Overall, the presence of missionaries throughout history has had an undeniable and massive impact on the world throughout history, and the world as we know it today would be dramatically different if those missionaries did not convert thousands. Who know, without missionaries and evangelism, Mike Huckabee might just be another guy, not the new frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination.