Recently Matthew Parris wrote in the "London Times," "Missionaries, not aid money are the solution to Africa’s biggest problem — the crushing passivity of the people’s mindset." He says he has "become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa." Wherever missionaries lived, he wrote, "something changed in the faces of the people we passed and spoke to. They see themselves as individuals who stand in direct relationship to God — not as subservient subordinates who must kowtow to tyrants." He concludes, "In Africa Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good," (Sources: "World Magazine" January 17, 2009 p. 14 and "Breakpoint Commentary" January 21, 2009).
Now, some of you reading these comments might be thinking to yourself, "Big deal." Of course you’d expect a Christian to believe that Christianity really does change things. But wait–Matthew Parris is not a Christian but an avowed atheist. The observations he makes in the first paragraph of this article are not the observations of a Christian sympathizer but the observations of someone who, up until now, disavowed Christianity and disallowed any positive reason for God’s existence. It was a trip to Africa that has shaken his foundation and has caused him to rethink his religious positions.
Turns out that Mr. Parris was visiting a charity that provides water pumps to rural communities, when he noticed that "many of the organization’s African leaders were strong Christians who gently demonstrated their faith in quiet conversation and action. They reminded him of the Christians he knew when he was a young boy living in Africa with his family," (Breakpoint: 1-21-2009).
These Christians, he recalls, were a "different" kind of people whose faith gave them what he describes as a "liveliness, a curiosity, an engagement with the world, [and] a directness in their dealings with others." (Breakpoint). It was in this setting that Matthew Parris said that these Christians not only proved to him that Africa needs God, but also have challenged his atheistic convictions.
In my years as a believer I have come across many who reject Christianity. Over the years I have come to discover that many times the "Christianity" these people reject is a form of Christianity I too would reject. Arnold Toynbee once observed, "Most people have not rejected Christianity but rather a caricature of it. They have created a straw man, called that ‘Christianity’ and decided against it," (The Christian Conjurer March/April 2003 Volume 47-2 p.6).
When all is said and done, Christianity is not simply another religion. In fact, true Christianity is not about religion at all but about relationship. Think of it this way, there are many religions in the world, but only one Savior. You see, while other religious leaders claimed to be speaking for God, only Jesus claimed to speak as God. Where other religious leaders delineate a way through which we may hopefully obtain eternal bliss, only Jesus claimed to be that way (see John 14:6). While other religious leaders were claiming theirs as a pathway of salvation, Jesus claimed to be our Savior. I might add he’s the only one who supports his claims by a physical resurrection.
True Christianity changes everything it touches. Matthew Parris gives evidence of that. When an avowed atheist can say, "In Africa Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good," perhaps it is time we who are clamoring for change stop and consider the possibility that only he can effect that change.
Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church. Write him in care of the church at 11677 Brown Bridge Road Covington, GA 30016 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information visit the Gateway web site at www.gatewaycommunity.org