In recent days sociologist Robert Woodberry has made waves when he reported his findings about what produces positive change in developing countries. He compared majority world nations that are making progress toward human flourishing with those whose development has been stymied. The markers he used to measure progress are categories such as health care, education, democratic government, religious freedom, economic opportunity, and respect for women. Woodberry found that all of the progressing nations shared one characteristic in common, and that this same characteristic was absent from each of the stagnant nations. The one common trait was the previous presence of evangelical missionaries. A Christianity Today article sums up Woodberry’s findings thusly:
“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.”
I think I’ve witnessed an example of Woodberry’s thesis. I have just returned from spending eight days in attendance at the Palau Evangelical Church’s 85th anniversary Gospel Day Celebration, where I had the privilege of speaking five times. Where is Palau you may ask? When I received the invitation I had to look it up on Google maps too. Palau is located in the South Pacific Ocean, not far from Guam.
Evangelical missionaries arrived at the tiny Micronesian island 85 years ago, along with fellow believers from a nearby island. Sent by Liebenzell Mission, these German evangelical Lutherans faithfully preached the Gospel despite hardship, death, and persecution from the Japanese occupiers. They established indigenous churches that continue to thrive today.
I had the privilege of meeting with leaders of the Palau Evangelical Church and the Palauan government. They were quick to tell about the impact of the Gospel on their culture. The missionaries established schools and health clinics. They taught the dignity of women and the ethic of the Sermon on the Mount. The tiny nation of Palau is flourishing as a result.
The meeting at Palau demonstrated that the Gospel truly transcends barriers. The eight-day celebration was remarkable for its diverse attendees. Delegations representing churches from all over the south Pacific were there: Taiwan, Saipan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Korea, along with believers from other islands throughout Micronesia—Guam, Chuuk, and Yap. It was a marvelous display of Gospel unity.
The conference reminded me that the Kingdom of God continues to advance. Speaker after speaker challenged the listeners to embrace the Great Commission; to have a heart for the nations; to make the name of Jesus known in every part of the world. The believers in Palau and throughout the region realize that they are part of the Kingdom of God, and they are embracing their role in it. Please pray for our brethren in Micronesia, the South Pacific, and throughout Southeast Asia. God is at work on the other side of the world.
This post can also be found at www.theologyforthechurch.com