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    by Matthew Parris

    Missionaries, not aid money, are the solution to Africa's biggest

    - the crushing passivity of the people's mindset.

    Before Christmas I returned, after 45 years, to the country that as

    a boy I knew as Nyasaland. Today it's Malawi, and The Times

    Christmas Appeal includes a small British charity working there.

    Pump Aid helps rural communities to install a simple pump, letting

    people keep their village wells sealed and clean. I went to see this work.

    It inspired me, renewing my flagging faith in development charities.

    But traveling in Malawi refreshed another belief, too: one I've been

    trying to banish all my life, but an observation I've been unable to

    avoid since my African childhood. It confounds my ideological

    beliefs, stubbornly refuses to fit my world view, and has

    embarrassed my growing belief that there is no God.

    Now a confirmed atheist, I've become convinced of the enormous

    contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply

    distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and

    international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and

    training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people's

    hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The

    change is good.

    I used to avoid this truth by applauding - as you can - the practical

    work of mission churches in Africa. It's a pity, I would say, that

    salvation is part of the package, but Christians black and white,

    working in Africa, do heal the sick, do teach people to read and

    write; and only the severest kind of secularist could see a mission

    hospital or school and say the world would be better without it. I

    would allow that if faith was needed to motivate missionaries to

    help, then, fine: but what counted was the help, not the faith.

    But this doesn't fit the facts. Faith does more than support the

    missionary; it is also transferred to his flock. This is the effect that

    matters so immensely, and which I cannot help observing.

    First, then, the observation. We had friends who were missionaries,

    and as a child I stayed often with them; I also stayed, alone with

    my little brother, in a traditional rural African village. In the city we

    had working for us Africans who had converted and were strong

    believers. The Christians were always different. Far from having

    cowed or confined its converts, their faith appeared to have

    liberated and relaxed them. There was a liveliness, a curiosity, an

    engagement with the world - a directness in their dealings with

    others - that seemed to be missing in traditional African life. They

    stood tall.

    At 24, traveling by land across the continent reinforced this

    impression. From Algiers to Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon and the

    Central African Republic, then right through the Congo to Rwanda,

    Tanzania and Kenya, four student friends and I drove our old Land

    Rover to Nairobi. We slept under the stars, so it was important as

    we reached the more populated and lawless parts of the

    sub-Sahara that every day we find somewhere safe by nightfall.

    Often near a mission.

    Whenever we entered a territory worked by missionaries, we had

    to acknowledge that something changed in the faces of the people

    we passed and spoke to: something in their eyes, the way they

    approached you direct, man-to-man, without looking down or away.

    They had not become more deferential towards strangers - in

    some ways less so - but more open.

    This time in Malawi it was the same. I met no missionaries. You

    do not encounter missionaries in the lobbies of expensive hotels

    discussing development strategy documents, as you do with the

    big NGOs. But instead I noticed that a handful of the most

    impressive African members of the Pump Aid team (largely from

    Zimbabwe) were, privately, strong Christians. "Privately" because

    the charity is entirely secular and I never heard any of its team so

    much as mention religion while working in the villages. But I picked

    up the Christian references in our conversations. One, I saw, was

    studying a devotional textbook in the car. One, on Sunday, went

    off to church at dawn for a two-hour service.

    It would suit me to believe that their honesty, diligence and

    optimism in their work was unconnected with personal faith. Their

    work was secular, but surely affected by what they were. What

    they were was, in turn, influenced by a conception of man's place

    in the Universe that Christianity had taught....

    Last edited by Lou Newton; November 8, 2018, 07:36 AM.

  • #2
    I thought this was a really encouraging article. I thought someone would have commented on it.