This past Saturday I was volunteered (by someone whose name will remain anonymous) for duty at our USCWM/WCUI foodbank. We receive just about to expire and some unsellable food from some local Trader Joes (thanks to TJ) stores and the food is divided into categories and then we each pass through to pick out food we would like to take home. This day I was accompanied by my daughter, Leah, who was to help me see what I needed to do so that I could actually be of some use. Also helping out as a “setup” person (they get to go through the line after the drivers and before all the rest) was Anne who is from Africa. She was there with her 2 lovely daughters and has been involved in this Saturday AM event for some time. I heard her accent and struck up a conversation as we were waiting for the drivers to arrive with the goods.

Enthusiastically she shared her story. Anne had grown up in a central African country and her was family was so poor that their poor neighbors considered her family as poor! But through the messages delivered by her pastor in their home church Anne began to hear God speaking through her pastors teaching and what she heard transformed her mind and her life. My immediate thought when she mentioned the name of her church (the name is too long for me to remember) was that it was probably a “prosperity” gospel church. Oh no Anne replied. What the pastor shared was not the prosperity gospel as most people understand it but a gospel of hope and encouragement that God did not intend that His people sit idly by suffering with poverty and ill health. No, He was a God of true prosperity but prosperity as understood in the concept of shalom. He wants His people to live lives that are full of His peace, the peace that passes all human understanding. This pastor taught that his congregants were responsible for their own well being and that their lives could be made better with their own efforts in tune with the work of the Holy Spirit active and alive in our lives! WOW I wanted to shout thanks be to God that He would allow me to hear such a story. But what has this to do with Zeal and Knowledge?

Let me take us back to the purpose of this blog. It is primarily intended to assist those with a passion/zeal for doing good to acquire a deepening knowledge base for how to match their zeal with sufficient knowledge so as to maximize our efforts for kingdom transformation. This story gets to the heart of this purpose. This story illustrates that there are indeed some excellent churches globally whose pastors are preaching and teaching sound messages that have enough impact to transform thinking and thus lives. There may be more sound messages such as this being preached globally than in the church in the west. So for those in the western church who are involved in global missions activities remember one of the principles we think is foundational to effective involvement cross-culturally is working through local churches who have leadership that is preaching and teaching the truth about the overwhelming good news that not only did Jesus die for our sins that we might have eternal life but that He also, along with the Father and Holy Spirit, desire to see His people living lives of shalom and not lives of poverty and dis-ease. We must acknowledge that God is working through His Church all over the world and if we involve ourselves and our churches in cross-cultural global ministry without being connected to such churches and leaders as Anne describes then we are not practicing zeal with knowledge and we are probably causing more harm than good.

 

I know I said I would start a series on a biblical understanding of health with my next posting but I wanted to explore the role of the church a bit further. I have been privileged to begin an exploration with my own local church as to what our “missions” strategy of the future will be. I used the Lausanne mantra as the foundation for our discussions: “The whole church, taking the whole gospel to the whole world.” Our second week discussion focused on the church (or Church) and we acknowledge that the true Church of God, His bride, those who are truly redeemed, is somewhat invisible. But that the local church, those who are meeting in buildings and calling themselves the church, can be seen quite readily still in the US though it is losing its power and influence. But as the local church we are still trying to figure out how we will go about working through other local churches globally.

Some years ago I (Mike) attended a fairly well known Christian conference (not in Louisville) and one of the main focuses was to be a discussion about working through the local church when doing “development” work. There was the normal level of excitement as the attendees became situated and the short time of sharing by the expert began. I think it safe to say that a good argument was made that the local church, no matter its level of maturity, is the means by which God has chosen to work in this world. The facilitator at our table did a good job of getting our table engaged in the discussion but something was missing. No one explained actually how they have been able to adhere to this policy in their own work globally. Most everyone agreed it was the right way to go about carrying out our individual and organizational calling but I wanted to hear how people were doing it effectively. No one came forward to give us such details. After the conference there was an attempt to put together a “best practices” working group to tackle this topic but it never went anywhere.

This blog is about sharing principles we have all learned so that our zeal to do good will be matched with an equal level of knowledge of how best to do it without mucking things up and leaving things worse off than before we started. So is working through the local church, when it exists, really a good strategy? Or is the local church just too messed up to even consider it as the main focus of our health development efforts?

First I hope we can all agree that yes the church is the earthly means by which the Lord has chosen to continue the spread of the good news which Jesus initiated with His ministry and which His disciples and then His Church carried on with various levels of success since then. DeYoung and Gilbert in their excellent work “What is the Mission of the Church” point out that the “keys of the kingdom of God-the authority of that kingdom, the right to act in its name-are given in this age, by the King, to the church! …. to this ragtag bunch of argumentative, self-centered, struggling-for-holiness but gloriously forgiven sinners.” In Ephesians 3:10 Paul explains that the mystery of the gospel was revealed so that “through the church the complicated, many sided wisdom of God in all its infinite variety and innumerable aspects might now be made known to the angelic rulers and authorities (principalities and powers) in the heavenly sphere.” DeYoung and Gilbert continue “The life of the kingdom of God-a life of poverty of spirit, meekness, mercy, purity and peace (shalom)-will be manifested to the world in the church…. and as the world sees and responds to that kingdom life, the church will not only manifest the kingdom, but also bear witness to it.”

Secondly, if we accept the first point as being true, then what are the strategies that we have found that work best to make this happen effectively? If you are working for a Christian college/university and want to give your students the best experience for learning how effective wholistic/integral transformational health development ministry can happen how do you partner with the local church where you are sending your students? If you are a local church in the west wanting to practice biblical principles in working in other cultures how do you partner with small indigenous churches in other parts of the world? How do large or even small Christian NGO’s make this work? These are some question we must answer:

  1. how does one go about finding a “healthy” local church with whom to work? or does it have to be defined as being healthy?
  2. should we focus on working through local church or pastor’s associations instead of just one single church? if you partner with a specific local church I can tell you that you will immediately lose the participation of many in the community because they belong to a different church which probably exists because of infighting among members who used to be friends.
  3. if we find a local church with whom to develop a relationship and hopefully a long term transformational project then what do we use as our guiding principles for developing that relationship/partnership? Can’t we just shake hands and say let’s go for it and let the Spirit lead?
  4. what if there is NO local church but you are instead seeking to reach an unreached people group? How do “work through the local church” in this scenario?
  5. how do you develop the partnership without creating unhealthy dependency? (or we could say unhealthy co-dependency – if you know what I mean)
  6. how do we help to strengthen the local church in whatever form it exists? should this be our highest priority?

When I talk to groups about development I do encourage working through the local church if possible. I use the illustration of a large Greek temple. The roof of the temple is the local community in which the church exists. The pillars that support the roof are what we like to focus on because that’s where we can show results: these are the pillars of justice, economy, healthcare, education, the environment, and we could throw in agriculture. But the huge foundation of it all is the local church! If we are developing programs, no matter how important, but are ignoring the local church and what we could be doing to strengthen local churches then we are not doing our best. Local pastors of poor rural and urban churches are thirsting for more knowledge as to how effectively shepherd their flocks.

I recently became aware of a wonderful effort by TearFund to address this issue. Check it out here. I am waiting to get approval to post to the Health for All Nations website a paper written by one of their country reps. More later. PLEASE GIVE FEEDBACK with methods you have seen which have worked with regards to this theme.

  • We will promote using STMM’s to support long term, locally administered and sustainable health related missions

    • We seek long-term relationships, not medical missions tourism.

    • We will be health educators whenever and wherever we can.

    • We will encourage and support community health evangelism/education

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. 

   

Grettings again from the ZealWithKnowledge blog. We seek to infuse the zeal Christian’s have to meet the needs of the poor with knowledge on how most effectively to do it. We don’t claim to have all the answers and instead seek to learn together how to most effectively relieve the suffering in this world especially as it applies to the health side of the development equation. This week we will again use the award winning “Evangelical Tourism” video series to pin point an issue to highlight. We are now on video two of the series and we don’t need to go very far to reach an important topic to discuss. 

At just 48 seconds into the video we are told “Pastor Jorge Duran finds poor people for AIM (Adventures in Missions) to help.” Pastor Duran goes on to say how he is happy (or content would be a more literal translation of what he actually says) because it is a group of Christians who come to share the love of Christ and the people (those that will receive treatment during the week) need to see this. 

I don’t know if this strikes anyone else as being a bit troubling but it does give me cause for concern. It is good to hear directly from the pastor who is assisting this group but is it really the job of a pastor to be looking for poor people for this group to “help?” The pastors I know in the country in which I serve have an awful lot on their plates already, not the least of which is to help their congregants understand that his job is to equip them to do the work of spreading the good news of Christ among their family, friends and neighbors. The vast majority of pastors in Central America have little theological training and minimal knowledge when it comes to the wholeness of what the Church is called to be in this world. Enrolling pastors to be our tour guides and logistics person is a terrible misuse of the human resources He has given His Church. Admittedly the video doesn’t give us much information about the rest of the local churches involvement so I make comments from a limited understanding but my experience has been consistent with what I have critiqued above.

If we recall how Jesus and then His disciples/apostles (primarily Paul) went about spreading the good news of the coming of the kingdom we never encounter them waiting to bring in the big guns (in this case the NorthAmerican group riding in on their big white horse-or in a big yellow bus) in order to get a foot in the door to a community. This is how it has been explained to me in my own setting. Pastors like to use groups from outside the country in order to attract more people and to make it more likely they’ll get a foot in the door of a difficult community. I just don’t see how that is biblical. When I hear this explanation the first thing that comes to mind is “Why is that pastor or his church finding it so difficult to enter a particular community?” What is the history of this community and why might it be so difficult to enter in? What about the church our pastor friend is sheparding and what about the pastor himself? Is it a healthy church whose members truly demonstrate the love of Christ to all or does it have struggles that are making it a poor example thus making the unreached community more resistant? Is this pastor a true servant or have we been duped into helping someone who simply knows the right things to say to the foreigners to get them interested in a project that primarily benefits the pastor and makes him look good?  Difficult questions to be sure but believe me I don’t bring up these types of questions without some knowledge that this is exactly what happens in some instances.  But once we understand more thoroughly what is usually a very complex situation we can better help this pastor and his church strategize how to make an effective entry. How often do we approach our attempts to spread the good news by asking such probing questions? Not very often I dare say.

There is so much more that could be said but as blog entries are not chapter in books I must keep it short. For example another important question that comes to mind is what does it reinforce in the minds of the local communities when they see the local church bringing in outsiders who stay for a week, see lots of people in the clinic, and then leave? Seems to me it reinforces the common belief that little gets done right unless someone from outside comes in to help. This reinforces the fatalistic worldview that most of the worlds poor have and tragically continues the cycle of dependency that so plagues so many of our efforts at helping the poor live healthier lives.