Missionaries, not aid money, are the solution to Africa’s biggest problem—the crushing passivity of the people’s mindset.” With these astonishing words, atheist Matthew Parris sums up the conclusion he was forced to draw after visiting the African country of Malawi, his childhood home. Parris spent his childhood in the African country of Malawi, and forty-five years after leaving, he decided to return due to his interest in Pump Aid, a British charity that helps rural African communities install water pumps, giving them access to clean water. Not only did this visit renew his faith in development charities, it also caused a crisis of faith for him. As an atheist, he found the enormous contribution to the good of Africa stemming from Christian evangelism perplexing. He was not able to harmonize it with his atheism, but in the end he admitted it was real and unlike any other form of aid or developmental work being carried out in Malawi. In particular, he found the evangelism of Christians to be distinctly different from the work of secular nongovernmental organizations and government endeavors.
As good as the work done by these secular organizations is, he declares, it will never be sufficient, nor will education and training. The difference Christianity offers, he says, is a change of people’s hearts.” It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.” This marks a significant difference in Parris’s perspective. He used to argue that while the humanitarian work Christians did in Africa was good—building schools, hospitals, clean water systems, and so on—it is the fact that people are helped that is important, not the faith of those doing the work. He doesn’t say that anymore. Such an attitude does not fit the facts he has witnessed. He has now found that faith does more than simply motivate people to good deeds. It transfers to others, and the effects are immense. He remembers as a child having Christian missionaries stay in their family home. They were always different, he says. “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.” He specifically recalls a trip with four friends by Land Rover from Algiers to Nairobi, Kenya, at the age of twenty-four. Their search for a safe bed at night often resulted in them locating near a Christian mission, and he remembers that when entering an area containing missionaries, something changed in the people they met. They approached you directly, person-to-person, without looking down or away, he recalls. On his recent trip “home” to Malawi, he discovered to his surprise that “a handful of the most impressive African members of the Pump Aid team (largely from Zimbabwe) were, privately, strong Christians.” Their honesty, diligence, and optimism in their work deeply impressed Parris, and he would have been willing to see it all disconnected from their personal faith, but that assessment did not seem to fit the facts either. Their perception of self, he said, is founded on their belief in humanity’s place in the universe—something that Christianity teaches.” We can argue against the details of a testimony like Matthew Parris’s, but it is his story. It stands as a testimony to the continuing deep, positive influence of Christianity wherever it goes.
“Why People Don’t Believe: Confronting Seven Challenges to Christian Faith”
by Paul Chamberlain