Global mission has a bad rap these days – even in church circles. The cultural meme is that missionaries did a lot of damage and were arrogant in the way they imposed Western cultural values on nations and people groups. While no one doubts some mission work was exactly that, the bigger story is somewhat different. The following comes from a summary of years of research “into the effect of missionaries on the health of nations” undertaken by sociologist Dr. Robert Woodberry, and published in 2012:
“Woodberry’s article in the American Political Science Review, defends this thesis: “The work of missionaries . . . turns out to be the single largest factor in insuring the health of nations”
To be more specific, Woodberry’s research supported this sweeping claim:
Areas where Protestant missionaries had a significant presence in the past are on average more economically developed today, with comparatively better health, lower infant mortality, lower corruption, greater literacy, higher educational attainment (especially for women), and more robust membership in nongovernmental associations.
He concedes that “there were and are racist missionaries . . . and missionaries who do self-centred things.” But adds: “If that were the average effect, we would expect that the places where missionaries had influence to be worse, than places where missionaries weren’t allowed or were restricted in action. We find exactly the opposite on all kinds of outcomes”.
He observed, “There is one important nuance to all this: The positive effect of missionaries on democracy applies only to ‘conversionary protestants.’ Protestant clergy financed by the state, as well as Catholic missionaries prior to the 1960s, had no comparable effect in areas where they worked”. Now that’s an atomic bomb.
[In summary], missionaries (and pastors and churches) will lose their culturally transforming power if they make cultural transformation their energizing focus.
This means that the missionaries that will do the most good for eternity and for time — for eternal salvation and temporal transformation — are the missionaries who focus on converting the nations to faith in Christ. And then on that basis, and from that root, teach them to bear the fruit of all that Jesus commanded us (Matthew 28:20).” John Piper
Over May we join with Baptist churches all over Australia to give, pray and move our focus afresh to mission. I invite you to give towards Mat Hunter’s support and also directly to our Baptist Mission agency Global Interaction. Please pray and give generously and partner with God in transforming nations.