Missions Make a Difference in more than One Way

This is a serious subject today. Modern missionaries disagree over this very subject. Meet Robert Woodberry, who found a surprising result while he prepared his graduate dissertation.

During my days of teaching children in the children’s church ministry it was frustrating that most of the missionary stories were from the 1800’s. I knew from missionary friends that amazing things were happening in the Orient, in Africa, in South America, but no one was telling the stories. Then a few more modern stories began to trickle in but not many. This week a former student of mine tagged me in regard to the post I am reviewing here. The long dissertation was written by Robert Woodberry, a graduate student at University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill about the effect of conversionalism missionaries on culture. The dissertation studies spanned from 2001 to the dissertation presentation in 2013. The study reached back into the mid 1800’s but made observations into modern history as well.

Here are some of the facts regarding the study published in the most recent edition of Christianity Today. My brief thoughts here are taken largely from the review written on the dissertation. The link is also supplied.

Review: from Christianity Today, “The Surprising Discovery About those Colonialist, Proselytizing Missionaries” by Andrea Palpant Dilly, January-February 2014 http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2014/january-february/world-missionaries-made.html?order=&start=1 contains exception evidence that missionary as a conversionalism factor has made whole nations turn out for the better, but that was not their particular goal. This is an amazing article, long, and studious reading, but well worth the time, in my opinion.

Christianity Today is considered by many “fundamentalists” as wishy-washy and not worth reading. That fact is certainly not so in this instance. The writer who reviewed the dissertation had a great respect for the original dissertation and a passion to see missions in the light of making a difference, not only in a social gospel sense, but understanding that social changes begin from within a person from a conversion experience.

I loved the quote on page 8, next to last paragraph. You’ll have to read it yourself to find it!

At first the article seemed a bit boring and statistical; it took until page 3 to capture me. Why did I keep reading? I read on because a student of mine from my high school teaching years thought of me upon her reading it and tagged me. If she thought I’d find it interesting, I felt obligated to read it in entirety. All I can say, is, “Mandy, you know me pretty well!” For all the years that my mind and heart refused to believe that the conversion gospel and social gospel had to mix, I find out I was wrong. Applause belongs to those who start orphanages, hospitals, and aid the poor and give out the gospel faithfully in tandem. Worship centers come along with the steady work of giving aid and both helps are necessary to make a culture thrive. As Woodberry found, where God is absent, the culture is dismal.

It has been such a puzzle to me that the area we know as Turkey in modern times was once the bed of evangelism to the Apostle Paul. Turkey is the land of what we know as the readers of his beloved books of Philippians, Colossians, Galatians, Ephesians, I and II Timothy and more. Paul assisted the forming of over 100 churches in that area alone. Why did the land turn to Islam? Just this week I figured some of the reason at least: The Ottoman Empire killed most of the Christians during that bloody world conquest. It snuffed out the light of God’s Word that would still be shinning. So it is in countries where Christians are denied their personal freedoms that cultures sink. Immorality thrives. God forbid that it happens in my beloved America.

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5 Comments

  1. Mandy Ferguson

    I’m glad you enjoyed the article. 🙂 I know you love history and this was such a neat study of the effects of Christianity on the history, politics and culture of nations that I thought of you. I spent a lot of time in your classrooms over the years, (not to mention all the additional time with Denise) I was bound to get to learn something about you. 🙂

  2. Where there is no God, the country is dismal. Truth. Most want to deny it these days, but if you just look at America, you can see how “dismal” has descended as we’ve forgotten about Him.

    Those who will not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

    • Is it that America has forgotten God, or it is that America has outright rejected God? That rejection taking place is felt more and more in my observations. On the flip side, this morning at the Active Adult Center I was preparing the audience for a story I was about to tell. I asked them, “How many of you can quote Prov. 3:5-6” Not one single person volunteered. When I started to quote it, then “lightbulbs” came on and many of the recognized the passage. Most of those people go to church, but do not care enough to absorb the Word of God enough to embrace such a wonderful promise! Needless to say, I wove the truth of those verses even more into the story than I intended. In my opinion, to not absorb scripture is to reject God. It is rejecting His ways and means of leading us to a whole world of seeing His hand in everything. It IS a choice!

      • Can’t disagree at all!

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