Do Christian missions produce lasting change for good?

Matthew Parris is a well-known writer for the Times newspaper in the UK.
He is a former British member of Parliament, staunch atheist and co-founder of Stonewall.

Read his rather surprising article "As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God"
(you have to pay to read the article, but here is a brief summary)

Mr. Parris apparently lived in Malawi as a child, and recently revisited the country to observe the work of a small British charity. His visit not only inspired him but challenged his atheist beliefs. He writes,
"But traveling in Malawi refreshed another belief, too: one I've been trying to banish all my life, but an observation I've been unable to avoid since my African childhood. It confounds my ideological beliefs, stubbornly refuses to fit my world view, and has embarrassed my growing belief that there is no God." 

The Church is very active in Africa. Indeed, worldwide, the Church is the largest single provider of health-care and education. Its often in these poverty stricken areas where the Church has decided to provide relief.
Mr. Parris also writes about the important element of faith in this context,
"Christians black and white, working in Africa, do heal the sick, do teach people to read and write; and only the severest kind of secularist could see a mission hospital or school and say the world would be better without it. I would allow that if faith was needed to motivate missionaries to help, then, fine: but what counted was the help, not the faith. But this doesn't fit the facts. Faith does more than support the missionary; it is also transferred to his flock. This is the effect that matters so immensely, and which I cannot help observing."
It's the faith of the missionary that compels them to leave the comfort of their home country, and travel with the intention of transmitting that love to others. This transfer of love is life-changing to individuals and communities. Mr. Parris sees the change. It would be natural for him as an outspoken atheist to deny it, but he has had the advantage of actually living in the same area as missionaries for a number of years. Positive change in communities and individuals can be very visible. He writes,
"We had friends who were missionaries, and as a child I stayed often with them; I also stayed, alone with my little brother, in a traditional rural African village. In the city we had working for us Africans who had converted and were strong believers. The Christians were always different. Far from having cowed or confined its converts, their faith appeared to have liberated and relaxed them. "
He goes on to say that, when he entered territory that had been "worked by missionaries" he could even recognise the difference in peoples' faces and eyes, and, "They had not become more deferential towards strangers - in some ways less so - but more open." He concludes that removing "Christian evangelism" from the continent would leave it open to destructive forces.

It's very difficult for an atheist who has criticised the Church so much to admit this. Full credit to Mr. Parris for his honesty and humility. We have all heard criticism of Christian mission from people who have never left the comfort of their home country. Mr. Parris has had the good fortune of living in a developing nation and seeing first hand the good that Christian mission can do.

Please visit the above link to read the rest of the article.    

Another atheist writer, Bill Muehlenberg, confessed the following contributions made by Christian missions.

Christianity’s Positive Contributions: An Atheist Confession - Bill Muehlenberg.

Christianity is far more than just pie in the sky in the sweet bye and bye. Wherever Christian missionaries and workers have gone, there has been tremendous work in social reform. The Christian Gospel is not just about getting souls into heaven, but bettering conditions on planet earth as well.
Two thousand years of Christianity have involved both: rescuing souls and improving living conditions. This has been amply documented. Back in 1899 James Dennis wrote a three volume study entitled Christian Missions and Social Progress which ran well over 1200 pages.
In it he said this: “Missionary effort has a sociological sphere to fill as well as an evangelistic. It has necessarily to come into contact with corrupt social customs, non-Christian practices, barbaric ideals, and a complex heathen environment. . . . It therefore becomes clear that the mission of Christianity is to transform and elevate man, as well in his associate relationships as in his individual life, and to build up throughout the heathen world a civilisation whose centre is a church of redeemed souls, and whose circumference is only measured by the radiating influences of Christian teaching and practice.”
Somewhat more recently has been the monumental work of Yale historian Kenneth Scott Latourette (1884-1968). He wrote extensively on the history and spread of Christianity around the world, and on its social impact. Perhaps the most important part of his work is his 12-volume history. The first seven volumes, A History of the Expansion of Christianity (1937-45) was a meticulous look at how the Christian faith spread. The set was followed up by a five-volume work, looking at recent Christian missions: Christianity In a Revolutionary Age; A History of Christianity in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (1958-1969).
For those without the stomach – or time – to digest the 12 volumes, he also penned a two-volume history (A History of Christianity, 1953), and he also wrote a one-volume work,Christianity though the Ages (1965). Other specific studies were written as well. Latourette was arguably our most prolific and exhaustive historian of Christianity. He makes it perfectly clear that Christianity has had a tremendous social, intellectual, political, cultural, educational and artistic impact wherever it was spread.
All this is simply the matter of historical record. Yet when one encounters the works of the new atheists, a completely different picture is presented. Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens et. al., want to convince us that religion in general and Christianity in particular are utterly harmful and disadvantageous. Hitchens can entitle his 2007 book: god is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Their diatribes against religion are as vicious as they are inaccurate.

Simple bulleted list summary you can copy and paste: