Here we would do well to begin our thinking based on the approach promoted in “When Helping Hurts.” Are we going to serve in a relief, recovery or development setting? One aspect of relieving physical suffering that we have gotten very good at is dealing with natural disasters where a short term “relief” approach is most effective. We are also pretty good at recovery efforts but what we struggle with is finding out how we are most useful in the development phase. It is similar, I would say, to the Churches efforts at spreading the good news and announcing the kingdom. We are great at evangelistic campaigns that look good on the surface (lots of folks raise their hands to indicate a desire to follow Christ) but which produce no long term change in the lives of the people not their culture. So long term health development efforts are similar to (and one could argue are the same) what should be happening in places where new churches have been planted. This is the long and arduous process of being in relation with new believers and carefully shepherding/discipling them into maturity in Christ.
We feel strongly, as do others (MEI at CMDA for example), that building into our STMM’s a component of health education is important. How one interprets “health” will surely have a lot to do with what is taught. Our feeling is that health as a biblical concept has more to do with right relationships than with physical well-being. And a healthy community may have more to do with a healthy local church rather than a good healthcare system. In any case we believe it is useful to conform our educational efforts to the wishes of the local healthcare providers. Find out what it is they wish to learn about and build your teachings on this framework. This requires having a long term partner in that community who can network with the local churches and healthcare workers to ask what they feel they would benefit most from learning.
An excellent base on which to build is the Community Health Evangelism (CHE) program. It is a proven approach for using biblical health teachings to evangelize people be it in rural or urban settings. This is something we can encourage our local partners to learn and use in their communities. At the next level we can prepare programs that help address the most crucial needs in an individual community or region. Again it is the local partner through interactions with local healthcare providers who will be able to guide you in preparing the most useful health education program to carry out during your STMM. A lot can be taught even in a short one week trip.
And finally a word about sustainability. This was a key component of the original description of Primary Health Care as expressed in the Alma Ata declaration. We absolutely must promote healthcare initiatives that are sustainable after we leave. This again is something that requires a strong local partner with whom we have a trusting relationship. One indicator of a true partnership of equals is if our local partner feels comfortable telling us an idea we have is dumb and won’t work! If you get to this point you are further along than most. But our partner will provide the kind of input we need to develop health and healthcare projects that are sustainable over the long term.
This is the blog for the Best Practices in Global Health Mission division of the Center for the Study of Health in Mission. It is a space for all who are interested in sharing opinions, ideas and best practices having to do with Christ centered health related ministry.