This week’s passage in Numbers jogged my memory of an article I came across in 2018. I was so amazed when I read it that I immediately sent it to my dad, who replied, “Very cool, thanks for sharing!” after which I promptly forgot about it. But I think I should probably share it here, too – it’s too shocking and inspiring to ignore.
The Surprising Discovery About Those Colonialist, Proselytizing Missionaries
The article focuses on a study that was published in 2012 by Professor Robert Woodberry. As a graduate student in sociology at the University of Northern Carolina, Woodberry decided to dig into the link between Protestantism and democracy for his dissertation. He spent several years gathering all the evidence he could find and developing a statistical model to interpret the data. His goal: “to compute the lasting effect of missionaries, on average, worldwide.” One morning, in his fifth year of graduate school, he ran the first big test, then began to read the results.
“I was shocked,” says Woodberry. “It was like an atomic bomb. The impact of missions on global democracy was huge. I kept adding variables to the model—factors that people had been studying and writing about for the past 40 years—and they all got wiped out. It was amazing. I knew, then, I was on to something really important.” Even after adjusting for other facts like climate, health, natural resources, etc, the link was still there. Shockingly, “Missionaries weren’t just part of the picture. They were central to it.”
After analyzing the data, Woodberry was able to support this bold, startling statement:
“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.”
This blew me away. And the literacy part also amazed me. Of course missionaries were intent on teaching people to read, so that everyone could access the Bible in their own language. But just by focusing on something so basic like the ability to read, they were giving people a crucial tool to rise out of poverty, and this resulted in that whole area moving forward.
The article takes a look at two universities, one in Togo and one in Ghana. At the University of Togo, Woodberry went to the small campus library and was surprised to see how few books there were. The bookstore down the street didn’t even sell many books, just writing supplies. Instead of buying books for themselves, students would sit down and transcribe the words as their professors read out loud.
But at the University of Ghana, right across the border, the bookstore was stocked full of books, from top to bottom.
What happened? MISSIONARIES.
A thousand years ago in Ghana, there had been a strong British missionary presence, which was the driving force in establishing many schools and printing presses. But the French government, which controlled Togo, placed strict restrictions on missionaries and focused on educating a small elite, rather than the masses. Now, a full millennium later, Togo’s education system was still stunted, whereas Ghana’s education system was thriving at the time of Woodberry’s visit. Who would have thought that this huge difference could be traced back to the simple presence – or absence – of missionaries!
The Numbers message this week showed how God blesses His people economically, making them victors in the world. This article showed me that wherever missionaries go, God blesses not only them, but also the people around them, making those nations prosperous and bringing light to them. “You are the light of the world.” Isn’t it fascinating?! The lasting effect of one person who serves God wholeheartedly cannot be underestimated. It might seem like the work we do on each campus is insignificant. But our presence alone on that campus might change the course of its history. Every nation is deeply, wonderfully impacted by those who belong to the kingdom of God.
I did my best to summarize the best parts, but there are so many things that I couldn’t squeeze into this blog post…it’s too good to miss. Check it out! The Surprising Discovery About Those Colonialist, Proselytizing Missionaries
This is really amazing! About 130 years ago, many missionaries from America, England, and Canada went to Korea and served Korean people. Indeed, Korea has been blessed greatly because of them. Praise God!
Yes! I heard recently about Yonsei University in Seoul, one of the most prestigious universities. I was amazed that its foundations were by 19th century American Protestant missionaries and its motto is “The truth will set you free” John 8:32. Even recently a famous American actress sent her son to study in that school! Indeed Korea has been blessed because of them.
Whoaaa that’s so cool! How did you learn about that??? I’m super ignorant on Korean universities T.T USC also has a fountain on campus which shows the school’s original purpose: “to the development of manhood and womanhood for Christian service and for loyal citizenship.”
It was very surprising for me to read the inscription the first time! (Picture attached). It’s amazing to think about the long-lasting influence of believers in the history of education alone!
Wow, this is so amazing! Indeed America is a people blessed by the Lord!
USC’s purpose is glorious, and still being fulfilled! Amen
We have a book with letters of Mother Barry. In one letter from i think 1956 she mentioned Yonsei as being a Christian school in Korea. I was curious and looked it up then I found it was established by missionaries. Very inspiring
And now they are in Brasil 🇧🇷 and we are being blessed greatly.
Thank you so much for summarizing and sharing this! The message was already so powerful and encouraging on Sunday! Sometimes we may feel so small and insignificant due to our life of faith but I agree, this is such a great reminder. The results are well worth it because God will spread his blessings to so many more people on our campuses, wherever we go at work and at home because of Jesus’s light.
Yeah I was really amazed by the message! The past few weeks of Balaam’s story really helped me to see things from God’s point of view, instead of being wrapped up in my own limited (and often negative) perspective of my life. We are really blessed to be one of God’s people!
I agree sometimes it feels that we are limited but God can do so much with our five loaves and two fish.
Thank you for sharing. Personally I can say that if not for the presence of a shepherd in my life the i would not be here today. So I can see how true it is that when Gods servant, missionaries, are there then who know how it can change the whole environment, i mean my whole life was changed. And over the years i have seen how the presence of Gods servants on campus changes the whole environment as well. Gods servants are truly the salt and light of the world. Thank you for such an encouraging blog.
It’s amazing to think about the idea of God’s people being salt…salt is such a tiny grainy thing, but when you put a bit of it into a bowl of food, its taste undeniably gets better, more alive and tasty. We are each like one tiny grain of salt, influencing the world around us in ways we might not even realize. The more the better! Lord, send out more workers into the harvest field!!
Wow that’s a really great way to see God’s people! Even though there may be few workers in a college campus, they can still have a great impact together. That really encourages me to never lose my saltiness because I want to be a part of that group!
The post reminds me of the Sunday message “When we see what’s going on in the world with about 1800 years in mind, then, we will not laugh or weep based on the present situation.”
This encourages me not to underestimate myself based on the present reality. Don’t underestimate my presence on the campus, fishing, or my 1:1 Bible studies. Instead keep shining as a light by serving campus mission wholeheartedly. And thank you for sharing article!
Wow, there’s always a great balance of relying on daily bread without getting stuck on present reality of things, I can also feel that way sometimes I totally agree that’s so true holding onto that vision broadens our lens for sure <3 and keeps us motivated and encouraged to keep going.
That sentence really amazed me, too – it’s so easy to feel downcast when looking at the present reality, but 1800 years later, these things will be so small. The only thing that will matter is if we served God. Keep shining on the campus 😀
this just reinforces for me how much I need to be focused on Gods work & word. I’d been getting sucked into politics and putting my hope there. But real hope, and lasting change, comes from the gospel. Thank you for this reminder of that.
Yeah, it’s easy to get wrapped up in politics because today’s events seem so immediate and important. But the gospel is even more important because it addresses sin, the real cause of corruption and evil in the world…
I once read a scene in a book where an old woman teaches her granddaughter a profound truth: we don’t fight darkness by trying to chase the shadows away. Instead, we open the blinds of the windows and the light comes in, getting rid of the darkness instantly. I need to remember that shining the light of Jesus is more important…Jesus can change people’s inner hearts and deepest sin problems, and that can change the world!
I asked my grandma, “Are you familiar with Jesus?” She said, “Yes, there was a church at my village entrance, and missionaries were there preaching Jesus.” that’s really amazing! I never thought she would have a chance to hear the word of God. Those missionaries who were in China helped in many ways, in basic protection from the invaders like Japanese, in medical, and many more. Praise God for sending missionaries out 😀
That’s amazing! I wonder if the underground church is still thriving there even now, especially during the pandemic? I don’t know much about their situation but I can imagine how difficult it must have been especially for missionaries…yet somehow they made Jesus known so that even your grandmother heard of Him. Praise God!
This really shows me that we are literally, the light of the world. It also shows me that we are a blessing to all nations, just as God says. Praise God!
That is really amazing! Praise God for preserving his servant and being a blessing to others. On a little bit of a side note, sometimes me and my wife would go to a store or restaurant that is empty, once we are there, but soon after many people start to show up. I would wonder why? I would think that is because God’s servants brings blessing to that business or place. 🙂 It seems very small, but it was just interesting to notice. How great our value is in God when we go to the campus. Who knows what God will do in and through us to be a blessing to a community, a state, a country and so forth. Thanks for the post! Really inspirational.
Yes, the presence of two servants of God must be magnetic and bring blessing to that restaurant xD
Thank you for sharing this information. I didn’t know how impactful missions were for places I’ve never even heard of. God is indeed impartial, treating all nations and peoples equally. When God’s kingdom grows, it advances the whole world. I need to grow up in my world mission mindset instead of just being concerned about my own things when things don’t go well for me. God is doing something way bigger for the world.
Indeed, what I am doing is really serving to bless so many people beyond what I can see. There are a lot of international students in California universities who come here on visas, stay for awhile, and go back home. Maybe they will have a chance to study the Bible and go back to their countries and bring the word of God there and bless those people greatly. That is my hope. There is no limit to how far God’s blessings can go through me when I remain faithful to him!
Amen. Yes there are definitely many international students on our campuses! God is for sure doing something huge today, but it’s easy to miss when we become too focused on our own life. Just like how so many scholars overlooked the link between missionary work and democracy, so it’s easy to overlook the amazing things God is doing. It’s interesting that He encourages us to dream BIG, telling us to look up at the heavens and count the stars, to think about being a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. And then meanwhile, He encourages us to let Him worry about the smaller things, like what we’ll eat or wear. We need to dream big, have God’s vision in our hearts. Through one Bible study with a student, God’s light can spread to one whole country!
Thank you so much for sharing this amazing study with us! It’s really amazing to see how God takes good care of His people like this, including those who show favor to His people! I can see why Jesus tells us to not worry, because our Heavenly Father knows what we need and will provide for us. The messages I received from our studies on Numbers has been a really big blessing to me. Honestly, before seeing how God views His people through Balaam’s eyes in those passages, I didn’t recognize just how blessed I REALLY am to be one of God’s people. My God is someone who works for the good of those who love Him and ensures that there is no misery and misfortune upon His people. This kind of person is my God, and that’s something I should never take for granted.