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New Insight into the Cultural Benefits of Missions

In her novel The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver's main character is a missionary to Africa named Nathan Price. According to one review of the book, "[Price] is meant to represent the patronizing attitude of white colonialists toward Africa—and the devastating legacy of violence [Christian missionaries] bequeathed to regions like the Congo." Although Kingsolver may have written a fine novel, Nathan Price does not represent the legacy of most missionaries.

Robert Woodbury, from UNC Chapel Hill, did a landmark study of countries where Victorian-era Christian missionaries worked. The current thinking (particularly in academic circles) today is that Christian missionaries destroyed the local culture, religions, and overall were a bad thing wherever they went. However, when Woodbury studied the economic, educational, medical, family relationships, and other markers in these countries, he discovered that the most successful African countries today were countries where Victorian-era Christian missionaries worked. And the opposite was also true: The countries today that are wracked by chaos, financial instability, poor healthcare, and other negative markers were countries Victorian-era Christian missionaries never went. This remarkable study confirms that even though things may be difficult right now, we actually can turn this around and begin to restore our credibility in today's culture based on our strategy.

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