WILLS POINT, TX – Gospel for Asia (GFA World) founded by Dr. K.P. Yohannan issues an extensive Special Report on the deadly diseases brought by the mosquito and the storied impact of faith-based organizations on world health, fighting for the Kingdom to “come on earth as it is in heaven.”
This is Part 3 of a Three-Part Series on FBO Initiatives to Combat Malaria and Other World Health Concerns.
Go here to read Part 1 and Part 2.
No Mosquitoes in the Room Now: A Quick Look at the Impact of Faith on Modern Medical Approaches
One of the most succinct summaries of the role of faith-based activity in relationship to ongoing health needs worldwide is a paper by Matthew Bersagel Braley, “The Christian Medical Commission and the World Health Organization.” In it, the author outlines the collaborative work done between the CMC and the WHO in the 1960s and 1970s. They both, concurrently and intentionally aided by the proximity of their headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, sought to address many of the deficiencies that were (and still are) growing apace modern Western medicine with its rapidly increasing dependence upon expensive diagnostic and curative technologies.
Braley’s abstract explains, after referencing the existence of two previous international consultations organized by the World Council of Churches out of which grew the Christian Medical Commission: “What followed was a theologically informed [italics added] shift from hospital-based tertiary care in cities, many in post-colonial settings, to primary care delivery in rural as well as urban communities.”
The early consultations, Tübingen I (in Germany) and Tübingen II, had developed a theology of health that eventually culminated in a mutual understanding. Looking as they were through the lens of health and defining health as the kind of flourishing that God intended for His human creation, they saw the mandate of the church as being that of working to restore (as much as is possible) the world to that original design. Wholeness then is a kind of health—an “at oneness” with God, with fellow humans, with our communities and with our environment. As believers work toward this goal, despite the fact it will never be ultimately achieved until Christ returns, they consequently become healers or health-bringers with an emphasis on flourishing.
Health was also redefined as the ideal that God desired for the people of the earth, one that will probably not be achieved completely, but will have periodic breakouts in time. Health was seen not simply as the “absence of disease” as defined traditionally by the medical establishment, but the presence of ecological health, harmony within the community, at oneness within the individual and in his or her relationships. It was a presence of peace and a lack of warfare; it was an insistence and concern that the neglected, the poor and the oppressed should even be given preferential treatment because of the systemic unfairness, lack of parity and often true evil exercised by the powerful over the powerless.
These theological comprehensions and conclusions have personal meaning to me, because I’ve seen firsthand the importance of working together to help others achieve this all-encompassing health. In 1967 we planted a church on the near west side of Chicago, across the expressway from what is now the Illinois Medical District. At that time, we knew it was one of the largest medical centers in the world; now it consists of 560 acres of medical research facilities, labs and a biotechnology business incubator, four major hospitals, two medical universities and more than 450 health care-related facilities. Needless to say, our small but rapidly growing congregation consisted of many medical grad students, nurses and doctors, and social workers.
There must have been something in the international waters, because totally unaware of the groundbreaking conversations going on among the professionals concerned with health impacts on the other side of the world, David Mains, my husband and the founding pastor of our church, discovered Christ’s major preaching theme was the Kingdom of God. Salvation, or being saved, was entry level to an understanding of that preeminent theme. If the predominance of this message was correct, then it totally shifted our thinking from an individualistic interpretation of faith lived out among private lives to a corporate identity framed through the mutual understanding of Scripture’s teaching of this breakthrough concept. Our salvation was worked out in dialogue around Scriptures and in community with other spiritual pilgrims.
There were places in the world, I discovered as I traveled in the role of journalist, where the people used the word “I” but really meant “we.” I began to understand the Epistles often addressed readers with the word “you.” This was not an individual personal pronoun; in most cases, it was a plural pronoun requiring group action, as in “you, the people of God.” David preached a sermon series titled The Christian, the Church and Society including Christ’s two-part summary message, “Unless you are converted and become like little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” The dialogue of those Christians, listening to David’s sermon in that place and that time in history, when a whole revolutionary resistance movement was rising in our culture—against the war in Vietnam and against injustice, racism, sexism and government corruption—forced upon us a theological conversation that just didn’t happen in other places.
In addition, David, in his 30s, became the head of the Greater Chicago Ministerial Association, and we learned to dialogue across the whole body of faith-based confessions. So, we understand how important it is when members of faith-based consultations here at home or far away across the world put aside their differences and in respect and with deep listening capabilities design outcomes that have the possibility to alter cultures and societies and whole nations for the good.
Conclusion: Our Part in World-Changing, World Health
Matthew Braley’s chapter, taken from the book Religion as a Social Determinant of Public Health, is filled with theological terminology such as epistemology and eschatology, but for the average layperson, what is most important is the Christian Medical Commission’s (CMC) understanding that God’s desire for humankind was that humans flourish in environments most optimal to health as defined not by the absence of disease but by a growing wholeness, and that the thrust of Christ’s ministry and preaching demonstrated the ways to achieve this, aptly summarized in His explanation that we are to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves. The CMC’s struggle to understand redemption as a growing wholeness eventually resulted in the “game-changing” 1978 Declaration of Alma-Ata, the conference out of which the Millennium Development Goals proceeded.
All eight of those goals, delineated earlier in this article, are undergirded by and initiated from a theological understanding of the health emphasis, the redemptive purpose, the salvific meaning demonstrated by Christ and often emulated (though not often enough) by His followers. The MDGs are basically communal in the fact that they bring healing in the large sense of being at peace—or at home—with one’s self; with one’s family, friends and community; and with one’s place in the world. And they cannot be accomplished in a village or a nation or globally without the commensurate communal action of as many entities as possible, giving whatever they can to eradicate whatever suffering can be done away with through these human initiatives.
The participants at Tübingen I and II, the emergent Christian Medical Commission, and thousands of others of us who have, as the Jewish phrase states, worked at “repairing the world” for most of our lives would insist this is God’s work, in God’s way and with God’s help. Fortunately, as Bishop Tutu of South Africa said when he addressed the 2008 61st-annual meeting of the World Health Assembly, the World Health Organization’s governing body, “It is a godly coincidence … together WHO and WCC share a common mission to the world, protecting and restoring body, mind, and spirit.”
As Sharon Bieber responded: “Surely the relief and development organizations that are out there in the world can come to the same conclusion on this one thing—everybody is needed in order to fight diseases such as Ebola, HIV/AIDS or tuberculosis; every agency has strengths that will add to the synergy of the whole.”
So when we see groups like Gospel for Asia (GFA) working to hand out hundreds of thousands of mosquito nets to fight malarial infection, when we know tens of thousands of wells have been dug to provide clean water, and when we understand that the effectiveness of the message of Christ can often be measured by how many latrines have been built in a village or a city, we understand that this is what is necessary to help the participants in our world discover true, full health.
Who knows what consultations among desperate folk with common passions are forming even now that will salvage our world at some future critical juncture?
Perhaps you would like to be part of that network of people determined to spread goodness (God-ness) throughout the world. First, begin by educating yourself. Read the book Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, which includes a compendium of organizations seeking volunteers. The authors do not hide how impressed they are with conservative faith-based organizations doing work in the world. Another book to read is To Repair the World by Paul Farmer, a medical doctor many consider to be a modern-day hero.
“This is a bold read by a humble visionary. For those who care about humanity, this is a handbook for the heart,” reads a blurb on the back cover written by Byron Pitts, the chief national correspondent for CBS Evening News.
Then circle one of the volunteer efforts that seems to be calling your name. Become an activist. No need to travel overseas (although that is highly recommended). There is plenty of work to do at home, wherever home may be for you. Just don’t only think about doing something: Do it! (I’m going to look up volunteering for disaster-relief training with The Salvation Army—or the American Red Cross—and I’m 76 years of age!)
At the end of the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus says to the young lawyer, “Go and do likewise.” No, there’s no danger pay for the faith-based health worker. I don’t know of any who have become wealthy. Most of them belong to the league of the nameless. For these, fame is not a motivator either; it generally gets in the way of doing the job.
But mercy? Compassion? Daring to go where others dare not go? Becoming more and more like Jesus? Yep, these are where most of those I know find deep satisfaction. A remarkable man once said, “Go and do likewise.” And they do.
Is that a mosquito I hear buzzing above my ear?
It only takes one mosquito bite to raise a welt.
It only takes one mosquito to kill a child.
It will take a multitude of innovators (believers or nonbelievers) to fight for the Kingdom to “come on earth as it is in heaven.”
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