Myths of medical missions

1 Timothy 4.7

Medical mission work must have an vision, a framework for understanding how it fits into the work of God in the world. This framework must come out of our understanding of Scripture. Many times however we can operate on faulty frameworks, wrong assumptions about God, the world, healing and redemption. Here are a few “myths” of medical missions. I think there are many more. Can you identify any and respond?

  • “I can dispense healing”
  • “Healing is from medicine, surgery and scientific advances, and doesn’t have much to do with relationships.”
  • “What ‘I’ do is the key to success.”
  • “‘I’ am the answer for ‘them.'”
  • “I must be in control.”
  • “I am not broken.” (or my brokenness does not interfere at all with my medical work)
  • “If others knew my own brokenness it would discourage them.” (and so I must hide it)
  • “I am defined by my medical training.”

Underlying these assumptions – and others — are two foundational myths:

  1. A distorted view of God
  2. A distorted view of self

What myths can you identify?  I look forward to hearing from you!


The Cape Town Commitment of faith and call to action – – the mission of God

Cape Town Commitment

Here is a rich description of the mission which God calls us to as believers, expressed in the words of the Lausanne commitment at Cape Town, South Africa

This is section 10 of that commitment word for word. It is an exciting and joyous mission. How are you involved?

We love the mission of God

We are committed to world mission, because it is central to our understanding of God, the Bible, the Church, human history and the ultimate future. The whole Bible reveals the mission of God to bring all things in heaven and earth into unity under Christ, reconciling them through the blood of his cross. In fulfilling his mission, God will transform the creation broken by sin and evil into the new creation in which there is no more sin or curse. God will fulfil his promise to Abraham to bless all nations on the earth, through the gospel of Jesus, the Messiah, the seed of Abraham. God will transform the fractured world of nations that are scattered under the judgment of God into the new humanity that will be redeemed by the blood of Christ from every tribe, nation, people and language, and will be gathered to worship our God and Saviour. God will destroy the reign of death, corruption and violence when Christ returns to establish his eternal reign of life, justice and peace. Then God, Immanuel, will dwell with us, and the kingdom of the world will become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ and he shall reign for ever and ever.[53]

A) Our participation in God’s mission. God calls his people to share his mission. The Church from all nations stands in continuity through the Messiah Jesus with God’s people in the Old Testament. With them we have been called through Abraham and commissioned to be a blessing and a light to the nations. With them, we are to be shaped and taught through the law and the prophets to be a community of holiness, compassion and justice in a world of sin and suffering. We have been redeemed through the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and empowered by the Holy Spirit to bear witness to what God has done in Christ. The Church exists to worship and glorify God for all eternity and to participate in the transforming mission of God within history. Our mission is wholly derived from God’s mission, addresses the whole of God’s creation, and is grounded at its centre in the redeeming victory of the cross. This is the people to whom we belong, whose faith we confess and whose mission we share.

B) The integrity of our mission. The source of all our mission is what God has done in Christ for the redemption of the whole world, as revealed in the Bible. Our evangelistic task is to make that good news known to all nations. The context of all our mission is the world in which we live, the world of sin, suffering, injustice, and creational disorder, into which God sends us to love and serve for Christ’s sake. All our mission must therefore reflect the integration of evangelism and committed engagement in the world, both being ordered and driven by the whole biblical revelation of the gospel of God.

‘Evangelism itself is the proclamation of the historical, biblical Christ as Saviour and Lord, with a view to persuading people to come to him personally and so be reconciled to God…The results of evangelism include obedience to Christ, incorporation into his Church and responsible service in the world… We affirm that evangelism and socio-political involvement are both part of our Christian duty. For both are necessary expressions of our doctrines of God and humankind, our love for our neighbour and our obedience to Jesus Christ…The salvation we proclaim should be transforming us in the totality of our personal and social responsibilities. Faith without works is dead.’[54]

‘Integral mission is the proclamation and demonstration of the gospel. It is not simply that evangelism and social involvement are to be done alongside each other. Rather, in integral mission our proclamation has social consequences as we call people to love and repentance in all areas of life. And our social involvement has evangelistic consequences as we bear witness to the transforming grace of Jesus Christ. If we ignore the world, we betray the Word of God which sends us out to serve the world. If we ignore the Word of God, we have nothing to bring to the world.’[55]

We commit ourselves to the integral and dynamic exercise of all dimensions of mission to which God calls his Church.

God commands us to make known to all nations the truth of God’s revelation and the gospel of God’s saving grace through Jesus Christ, calling all people to repentance, faith, baptism and obedient discipleship.
God commands us to reflect his own character through compassionate care for the needy, and to demonstrate the values and the power of the kingdom of God in striving for justice and peace and in caring for God’s creation.
In response to God’s boundless love for us in Christ, and out of our overflowing love for him, we rededicate ourselves, with the help of the Holy Spirit, fully to obey all that God commands, with self-denying humility, joy and courage. We renew this covenant with the Lord – the Lord we love because he first loved us.


Racial Reconciliation

Tim Keller wrote “Generous Justice” in 2010. He speaks there about John Perkins’ strategy for rebuilding poor communities (Perkins has been a leader in community development and racial reconciliation for many years in the USA). I think the principle he articulates from John Perkins is so important for a vital, cross cultural, gospel-shaped ministry of healing.  Keller writes, “In both private charity and government agencies, many of the providers are of a different race than the care receivers. While Perkins insisted that leadership for development be based in poor communities, he also ‘invited outsiders [usually Anglo] to play a critical role in fostering indigenous leadership.’  He did this while many civil rights organizations ‘often radicalized and politicized the role of the outsider at the expense of people in poor communities.’

“These two factors — inviting outsiders to play a role along with insisting that the residents of poor communities be empowered to control their own destiny — meant that the leadership for the community development had to be multi-ethnic and interracial. It is always much easier for the leaders to be of one race — whether just indigenous members of the community or only professional helpers from outside the neighborhood.  But Perkins knew that the combination, if it could be made to work, was powerful. This was one of Perkins’s most important contributions and challenges.  What is best for the poor community — a non-paternalistic partnership of people from different races and social locations — was also one of the gifts that the gospel makes possible.”

Keller goes on to explain how the Bible provides ‘deep resources for racial rapprochement,’ since the depiction of creation cuts the nerve of racism — as all human beings are made of ‘one blood.’  “Why did God create only one human being?  So that no one can say to a fellow human being: My father was better than yours.” Racism has its roots in the pride and lust for power that arose from man’s sinful attempt to raise the tower of Babel (Genesis 11). And it has its healing in the cross of Christ, with the resultant outpouring of the Holy Spirit to break down the barriers that divide the nations (see the account of Pentecost in Acts 2).

So again we find that a gospel ministry to the brokenhearted is led by a team that is multi-racial and multi-cultural — by grace allowing the gifts of the body to be expressed — and showing the love of Christ to the world.


SustainabilityThere is much good talk and fine-sounding theory about sustainability and sustainable development these days.  When I first went to Ethiopia and did community health, I thought that my work should continue beyond my time, without outside financial input.  It was a noble-sounding idea; I didn’t want to create financial dependency but rather wanted to see long-term productive service or ministry.

I would like however to suggest that we might think more deeply about sustainability.  Not to throw away the concept, but to make it deeper, and root it more in the character of God and His kingdom.

Wikipedia defines sustainability this way: “In ecology, sustainability is how biological systems remain diverse and productive. Long-lived and healthy wetlands and forests are examples of sustainable biological systems. In more general terms, sustainability is the endurance of systems and processes.”

So first we need to recognize that sustainability is about the endurance of systems of processes.  For something to endure it has to have continuous input of resources; a plant for example needs sun, water and good soil.  Sustainability is not about my financial resources; it is rather a question about how the system/ministry/project/organization/church will continue to endure and produce fruit beyond my personal involvement.  My most important contribution may not be the money, but resources, skills, attitudes that are far less tangible than money.

The community health project that I did in southern Ethiopia in the late 80’s was not sustainable, i.e. it did not continue after I left. However the individuals that I was able to influence — that Jesus transformed — in the process of trying to do the project, they became the key to sustainability.  Today there are many effective community health efforts there, combining the Word of God with the good works of Jesus.  They are certainly not all from my wife and I!  But by His grace I was able to plant some seeds.  The Good farmer was able to grow up those seeds into a much stronger crop than I could ever have dreamed of.

In writing to Timothy, Paul wrote “But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” (1 Tim 1:5).  Our aim is not just to sustain our work so that it might continue, but to that our work (and instruction) will grow up into a harvest of love.  This means that the heart matters, not just our acts.  To work along with the Holy Spirit and work in the Kingdom of God — the servant of the Lord must also attend to his or her conscience and keep the heart pure. This is only possible by the tremendous power of the gospel, not by finances.

To be sure, the way we handle finances is important!  When things go well and a project or system continues beyond my involvement, finances and resources will still be needed — and we should prepare leaders to take things to the next level (and it may mean we need to continue to put in finances!) Yet money should not be the root issue.  At the root is the character and promises of God, and the character and behavior of the leadership we have mentored or left in place.

Ultimately God is the one who produces the good fruit of righteousness and joy; we read in the previous verse that ‘the administration of God is by faith.” (1 Tim 1:4).

The good news is this. We are not just talking about a machine which we want to keep running. We are talking about something organic, productive, and multiplying fruit. Our aim should be on growth and transformation – whether we are putting in money or not. Our model needs to be less mechanical and more organic; “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.” (Matt 13:33)

The way we go about our health and development work makes all the difference.

Sometimes the thing we want to ‘produce’ can’t even be produced, and our efforts seem to die away.  But the way we go about it, even if our dreams seem to die, can yield fruit if we are working along with the Lord Jesus Christ, keeping to a good conscience and a pure heart by grace.  Don’t be overly discouraged if you don’t seem to have something ‘sustainable.’  Look deeper for seeds that you can plant in others’ lives that can grow up — even long after you may be gone.

Sometimes the thing we want to ‘produce’ can only be produced when led by local believers or the local community, and our job is to come alongside them (partner) and help prepare them for these leadership roles, as servants with a good conscience and hearts of love.

In the end the deepest things are not materials or economics, but love from a pure heart. And if you have not found out where to get these things, look to the good news of God in Jesus.

Where do you struggle with sustainability and might these simple ideas offer some hope?

Christian Social Responsibility as described in the Lausanne Covenant

Lausanne Movement

I think the Lausanne statement on Christian Social Responsibility is a helpful framework for our response to the brokenhearted of the world, and I commend it to you, along with the commentary by John Stott produced below.  Medical missions is an expression of our beliefs about God and man.  We must not just care for those in need, but do it out of the right motivation — a sound biblical framework. The Lausanne Movement helps us, and helps those we serve.

Lausanne Covenant Section 5. Christian Social Responsibility

We affirm that God is both the Creator and the Judge of all people. We therefore should share his concern for justice and reconciliation throughout human society and for the liberation of men and women from every kind of oppression. Because men and women are made in the image of God, every person, regardless of race, religion, colour, culture, class, sex or age, has an intrinsic dignity because of which he or she should be respected and served, not exploited. Here too we express penitence both for our neglect and for having sometimes regarded evangelism and social concern as mutually exclusive. Although reconciliation with other people is not reconciliation with God, nor is social action evangelism, nor is political liberation salvation, nevertheless we affirm that evangelism and socio-political involvement are both part of our Christian duty. For both are necessary expressions of our doctrines of God and man, our love for our neighbour and our obedience to Jesus Christ. The message of salvation implies also a message of judgment upon every form of alienation, oppression and discrimination, and we should not be afraid to denounce evil and injustice wherever they exist. When people receive Christ they are born again into his kingdom and must seek not only to exhibit but also to spread its righteousness in the midst of an unrighteous world. The salvation we claim should be transforming us in the totality of our personal and social responsibilities. Faith without works is dead. The Lausanne Covenant (Acts 17:26,31; Gen. 18:25; Isa. 1:17; Psa. 45:7; Gen. 1:26,27; Jas. 3:9; Lev. 19:18; Luke 6:27,35; Jas. 2:14-26; Joh. 3:3,5; Matt. 5:20; 6:33; II Cor. 3:18; Jas. 2:20)

In the past, especially perhaps in nineteenth century Britain, evangelical Christians had an outstanding record of social action. In this century, however—partly because of our reaction against the “social gospel” of liberal optimism—we have tended to divorce evangelism from social concern. and to concentrate almost exclusively on the former. It may be helpful, therefore, to begin this exposition of section 5 with a reference to two sentences, one of confession and the other of affirmation, which occur about halfway through it.

First, we express penitence both for our neglect of our Christian social responsibility and for our naive polarization in having sometimes regarded evangelism and social concern as mutually exclusive. This confession is mildly worded. A large group at Lausanne, concerned to develop a radical Christian discipleship, expressed themselves more strongly, “We must repudiate as demonic the attempt to drive a wedge between evangelism and social action.” Secondly, and positively, we affirm that evangelism and socio-political involvement are both part of our Christian duty. More will be said about this phrase later.

Christian duty arises from Christian doctrine. So this section is not content merely to assert that Christians have social responsibilities: it goes on to outline the four main doctrines out of which our Christian social duty springs, namely the doctrines of God, man, salvation and the kingdom.

A. The Doctrine of God

It is significant that a paragraph which relates entirely to “Christian social responsibility” should open with an affirmation about God. This is right. For our theology must always govern our conduct. We affirm that God is both the Creator and the Judge of all men. Thus the creation and the judgment, the beginning and the end of time, are brought together (cf., Acts 17:26,31). Both concern all men, for God is not just interested in the church but in the world. He created all men, and all men will have to give an account to him on the day of judgment. Therefore (notice the deduction which is drawn from the universality of creation and judgment) we who claim to be God’s people should share the breadth of God’s concerns. In particular, we should share his concern for justice and reconciliation throughout human society and for the liberation of men from every kind of oppression (see Amos 1 and 2). Justice, reconciliation and freedom—these are more and more the object of human quest in today’s world. But they were God’s will for society long before they became man’s quest. For God loves the good and hates the evil wherever these are found (Psa. 7:9,11; 11:4-7; 33:5). It is written of his King in the Old Testament and applied to the Lord Jesus in the New, “You love righteousness and hate wickedness” (Psa. 45 :7; Heb. 1 :9). The same should be true of us all. “Cease to do evil, ” God says, “learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow” (Isa. 1:16,17).

B. The Doctrine of Man

Social responsibility and evangelism are together part of our Christian duty, for both are necessary expressions of our doctrines of God and man. Particular reference is made to the great biblical affirmation that mankind is made in the image of God (Gen. I :26,27). It is for this reason that man is unique on earth. There is a similarity between men and animals in that both are God’s living creatures dependent on him for their being, but a vast dissimilarity in that man alone is a godlike being with such godlike capacities as rationality, conscience, dominion and love. It is the divine image in man which gives him an intrinsic dignity or worth, a worth which belongs to all human beings by creation, regardless of race, religion, color, culture, class sex or age. Because of every person’s inherent dignity as a godlike being, he should be respected and served, and indeed loved (Lev. 19:18; Luke 6:27,35), not exploited. Only when we grasp this foundational biblical doctrine shall we begin to see the evils, for example, of racial discrimination and social prejudice. They are an offense to human dignity and therefore to the God in whose image man is made. It is not exaggerated to say that to insult man in these ways is to blaspheme God (Jas. 3:9,10). Similarly, the reason why murder is such a terrible crime is that “God made man in his own image” (Gen. 9:5,6).

C. The Doctrine of Salvation

Salvation for many people today is a prohibited word: some are embarrassed by it, others say it is meaningless. Certainly it needs to be interpreted for modern men. So there was a good expectation that the Assembly of the World Council of Churches’ Commission on World Mission and Evangelism at Bangkok in January 1973 entitled Salvation Today would produce a fresh definition, faithful to Scripture and relevant to today. But Bangkok disappointed us. Although it included some references to personal salvation, its emphasis was to equate salvation with political and economic liberation. The Lausanne Covenant rejects this, for it is not biblical. Reconciliation with man is not reconciliation with God, nor is social action evangelism, nor is political liberation salvation. Nevertheless, it is our duty to be involved in socio-political action; that is, both in social action (caring for society’s casualties) and in political action (concerned for the structures of society itself). For both active evangelistic and social involvement are necessary expressions not only of our doctrines of God and man (as we have seen) but also of our love for our neighbor and our obedience to Jesus Christ. Further, although salvation is not to be equated with political liberation, yet the message of salvation implies also a message of judgment upon every form of alienation, oppression and discrimination. Salvation is deliverance from evil, and implicit in God’s desire to save people from evil is his judgment on the evil from which he saves them. Moreover, this evil is both individual and social. Since God hates evil and injustice, we should not be afraid to denounce evil and injustice wherever they exist.

D. The Doctrine of the Kingdom

Section five ends with a challenge to our personal Christian commitment. Christians claim to have received Christ. But do we always remember that when people receive Christ they are born again into his kingdom (John I: 12,13, 3:3,5)? To be a citizen of God’s kingdom is to be submissive to his righteous rule. As such, we are under obligation to exhibit the righteous standards of the kingdom in our own lives. For Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount that members of his kingdom must “hunger and thirst for righteousness” and exhibit a righteousness which exceeds the shallow, formal righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees (Matt. 5:6,20). He also said that we must “seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness” (Matt. 6:33); that is, we must set these things before us as the supreme good to which we devote our lives. We must seek not only the spread of the kingdom itself, nor only to exhibit its righteousness ourselves, but also to spread its righteousness in the midst of an unrighteous world. How else can we be “the salt of the earth” (Matt. 5:14)?

The last sentences of this section revert to the terminology of salvation, but we must remember that Jesus drew no distinction between salvation and the kingdom of God (e.g., Mark 10:23-27 and cf., Isa. 52:7). The salvation we claim (and Christians do humbly claim to have been saved) should be transforming us. “Be transformed,” Paul commanded the Romans. “We are being transformed,” he declared to the Corinthians, using the same Greek verb (Rom. 12:2; II Cor. 3:18). And this transformation, if genuine, should touch every part of us, indeed the totality of our personal and social responsibilities. If not, how can we claim to be saved? For faith without works is dead (Jas. 2:20).

Questions for study:

The Covenant relates duty to doctrine. Take the biblical doctrine of either God or man, and think out what effect it should have on our social responsibilities.
If your local church takes its social responsibility seriously, how will this affect its program?
“We should not be afraid to denounce evil and injustice…” Discuss the implications of this statement.
What has salvation got to do with social action?

Charleston, South Carolina

We all mourn the tragedy in Charleston, where the hatred of one white man for black people turned into murderous rage.  Eight African American Christians are dead.  As a nation we don’t know how to even think about such an evil act. We are humbled by the forgiving spirit of these families and friends.

Pundits are talking about gun control and the confederate flag, both of which are important discussions; however as Christians we are called to a heavenly perspective, and there are some things we should talk about.

This 21-year old man was hoping his rage would turn into a war. Yet there are no shots being fired back. He chose not just to kill African-Americans.  More significantly he chose to kill believers in Christ, those who knew the amazing grace of Christ, who gave Himself for our sins. Satan steals and kills and destroys; Jesus gives life and peace.  There is a world of difference.

The situation does call us all to healing.  There are significant issues surrounding race in American that we do not appreciate as the majority culture (i.e. Caucasian). What efforts are we making to really listen to our brothers and sisters in Christ who are black? Not just with our head but with our hearts.

Remember we talked about healing as shalom. That means wholeness in relationships. We need Christ’s shalom in this situation. This would only come by His grace, as we sit, weep, listen, converse, pray and plan together.  We must speak with one another then we can speak to the nation.

How grateful I am to see brothers and sisters of all races and colors join together in prayer in Charleston. We must not allow this to just be an isolated incident, because it is symptomatic of a deeper dis-ease, a dividing wall which Christ has broken down at His cross.  By His grace may this be the beginning of peace, not war.  The peace of shalom, expressed in words, prayer and action which live out the story of redemption, that Christ has conquered sin and death, and by the power of the forgiveness of the cross invites all to join in one body.

Remember in my last post, I said, “And nowadays we have not just two, but innumerable cultures in the church. Walls says, “Like the old Jerusalem Christians, Western Christians had long grown used to the idea that they were guardians of a ‘standard’ Christianity..” But the church is now very diverse, and in that diversity can more fully express the glory of God and the sweetness of His Son Jesus Christ, who brings us together yet allows us to express His grace separately.”

Let us pray and trust the Lord to enable us to find and create practical bridges between the various cultures representing America, and thus show our unity in Christ in love. But this will take some sacrifice from us as “majority” culture, just as it took from the Jews when they found out that God did not deal exclusively through their culture. Please let us take the time to begin to hear, listen to one another, pray and speak to others of how Charleston might be a stepping stone not to war but to shalom.


The Ephesian Moment — one body, many parts

Health Ministries - Infant PutureMission medical workers want to see healing of the body, the child with malaria, the mother suffering with postpartum depression, the young man wounded in a fight. But there is another body we want to see healed, the body of Christ. In Acts chapter 15 we read, “And some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’ And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue.” (Acts 15:1,2).  As Paul and others shared the good news concerning Christ with Gentile believers, a clash of cultures arose; the Jews argued that a true follower of Jesus must become Jewish, while Paul said ‘no.’

The Jerusalem council eventually settled the matter by a historic decision: God had been taking out a people for Himself from among the Gentiles, and it should not be man’s business to force them into a Jewish culture in order to follow Christ. (See Acts 15:13-29). The purpose was “in order that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by My name.”

Just as there is a oneness and diversity in the human body, so there also should be both a oneness and a diversity of cultures in Christ’s body, the church. This has profound implications for medical mission work, as we want to be sure that Christ’s compassion is expressed in many cultures and many ways, not just through the dominant worldview and culture of Western medicine.  We want to see the ‘best of the West’ connecting with the best of the rest. Think of the cover of Time magazine this past year, where Dr. Jerry Brown, Liberian surgeon, trained in the joint mission program called Pan African Academy of Christian Surgeons, was honored.

Missiologist Andrew Walls says, “Traditionally, observant Jewish society and Hellenistic pagan society could be viewed as distinct entities, and the distinctiveness of each was marked at the meal table. Jews ate with Jews, Gentiles with Gentiles. The events reflected in Acts 15 produced two distinct Christian lifestyles corresponding to these ethnic and cultural divisions, the one for Jewish society and, the other for Hellenistic society. One might expect as a result that these would be two Christian communities, a Jewish church and a Gentile church. The Ephesian letter has not a dream of such an outcome: ‘In union with him [Christ] you too are being built together with all the others to a place where God lives through His Spirit. (Eph 2:22)’” The Cross Cultural Process in Christian History”

“Emphatically, there was to be only one Christian community. That community has become more diverse as it crossed the cultural frontier with the Hellenistic pagan world; and Christian obedience was tending to increase the diversity by developing parallel lifestyles that would penetrate and influence Jewish society on the one hand and pagan society on the other.  But the very diversity was part of the church’s unity. The church must be diverse because all humanity is diverse; it must be unified because Christ is one… The Ephesian letter is not about cultural homogeneity; cultural diversity had already been built into the church by the decision not to enforce the Torah.. Only together, not on our own, can we reach Christ’s full stature (Eph 4:13).”

And nowadays we have not just two, but innumerable cultures in the church. Walls says, “Like the old Jerusalem Christians, Western Christians had long grown used to the idea that they were guardians of a ‘standard’ Christianity..” But the church is now very diverse, and in that diversity can more fully express the glory of God and the sweetness of His Son Jesus Christ, who brings us together yet allows us to express His grace separately.

Good doctors and nurses don’t just treat the liver or heart; they are concerned for the effect of illness on the whole person. Good medical mission workers likewise are not just concerned for the effect of sin and injustice on one particular culture, but on the effect of sin on the whole. God is doing something beyond what we can ask or think, allowing His gracious gospel to transform the cultures of the world to express Christ in different ways yet in unity of Spirit. Medical missionaries — from various cultures — have background and training that is vital to the worldwide missionary task of the body of Christ.


The Work of the New York Medical Missionary Society

I was recently at a meeting where the idea of a medical missions institute was proposed, in order to enable our healthcare missionaries to better flourish in their international settings.  In fact over 65 different agencies send out missionaries from America; if we add Canadians, Indians, Australians, Nigerians, British, South Africans, etc the number of mission agencies involved in cross cultural medicine is significant. I wonder if the time has come to begin to think again about how to better link hands together for the sake of Christ, showing the compassion of Christ to those who are suffering and speaking the words of Christ to bring salvation. The future for medical missions does certainly not depend on just American solutions.

We think we understand what is happening in our world, but a look back in history shows that we are standing on the shoulders of giants.

I have been researching the history of SIM’s response to human needs since our inception in 1893, and so I’m attuned just now to history. I discovered Christoffer H Grundmann, who is a Professor of Religion and the Healing Arts at Valparaiso University, in Indiana.  In the Christian Journal for Global Health he quotes Gordon Dowkontt as writing in the Medical Missionary Record (1897), “To merely talk piously and tell suffering people of a future state, while neglecting to relieve their present needs, when in our power to do so, must be nauseating both to God and man, and certainly is a libel upon the Christianity Christ both taught and practiced, in which He combined care for the whole being of man, body and soul.” He was trying to correct a distortion of Scripture which emphasized the spiritual apart from the physical. The Scriptures shows that Christ cares for both; the root foundation for it all is His work on the cross.

In fact Rev. Roland Bingham, the founder of the Sudan Interior Mission (now SIM), warned against the dangers of a gospel which was so spiritual that it did not allow for God to use physical means (doctors, drugs, procedures, etc) for healing.

However even before the Sudan Interior Mission was founded in 1893 (by an amazing group of three men who went out to reach interior of Nigeria – another story), there were groups of men and women writing and preparing for medical missions!  And we think we are on the cutting edge!

In a Google search for Dr. Dowkontt’s article, I found a Wikipedia article entitled “American Medical Missionary College.”  I would like to include a few paragraphs describing the New York Missionary Society, founded in 1881. If you follow the link you can also read an online autobiography by Dr. Dowkontt in ‘external links.’ Dr. Dowkontt ‘pleads the cause of the specially educated medical missionary.‘  Note that during that era of colonialism and “Christendom,” the unreached of the world were often referred to by words which sound paternalistic (or downright racist) to our ears. I wonder if we could take the passion of this missionary society and work towards a future when East and West, North and South can work together to heal the brokenhearted of the world. Maybe a similar medical missionary society – or a network of them around the world – could be used by the Lord to work towards this end, out of the compassion of Christ.


“We have received a courteous letter from Dr. George D. Dowkontt, of this city, Medical Superintendent of the New York Medical Missionary “Home and Institute,” regarding the subject of “specially trained medical missionaries,” to which we referred in our issue of March 6. Dr. Dowkontt pleads the cause of the specially educated medical missionary. The great need of medical and surgical aid in heathen lands, and the great missionary value of such aid, are referred to, while the scarcity of men both willing and fitted to go is insisted upon. It was for these reasons that the Edinburgh Medical Missionary Society was founded in 1841, and the New York Medical Missionary Society in 1881. The peculiar need for the existence of the latter society, we are told, lies in the fact that medical missionaries must be particularly well educated medically, and American medical colleges are not good enough, and do not furnish sufficient training. Our correspondent adds:

” ‘Allow me to say, in conclusion, that there is great force in the suggestion you made, that we could well spare two thousand out of the four thousand physicians annually graduated in America; and this is forcibly shown in the fact that while in 1880 there was one doctor to 585 people in the United States, there was only one medical missionary to nearly ten millions of the heathen.

” ‘You observe that these could well be spared to go forth and disseminate the gospel. Would to God they were able and willing so to do, then we need not exist; but they must first possess this gospel in their own hearts and lives to be able to disseminate it, and they must further be actuated by the spirit of self-denial which characterized the Great Physician for body and soul, the Lord Jesus Christ, before they will be willing to do so.

” ‘Thank God for the noble men of our profession who have gone forth to heathen lands, as Scudder to India, Parker to China, Livingstone to Africa, and Post to Syria, but oh! for more such men who are willing rather to live to give, than to get.


An Upside down World. Distinguishing between home and mission field no longer makes sense. Christopher J.H. Wright

Chris Wright is the international director of the Langham Partnership.  He wrote “The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative (Intervarsity, 2006). This CT article highlights the changes in Global Christianity, where the “old peripheries are now the center.”  He speaks of our “blindness to the ways Western Christianity is infected by cultural idolatry.”  And that now, with the center of gravity no longer in the West, we have the opportunity to return to ‘normal’ Christianity, not dominated by one geographic locus or territorial center.  In this ‘normal’ mission we will be re-learning the multi-directional nature of mission in the Book of Acts; he points out that our preoccupation with concentric circles has obscured the more complex pattern of mission and movement in Acts.  “What held together these crisscrossing lines of missionary movement all over the international Mediterranean world?  Carefully tended relationships of trust.  He encourages us to recapture the relational, partnering, reciprocal style of missional interchange exhibited in the book of 3 John, where travelling church planters and teachers were to be welcomed in a manner worthy of God.

“Perhaps what we most need to learn, since we so easily forget it, is that mission is and always has been God’s before it becomes ours…  This God-centered refocusing of mission turns inside-out our obsession with mission plans, agendas, goals, strategies and grand schemes…   We ask, ‘Where does God fit into the story of my life?’ when the real question is ‘Where does my little life fit into the great story of God’s mission?”

He ends with a call to us to go back to the Cross and relearn its comprehensive glory.  “It is vital that we see the Cross as central to every aspect of holistic, biblical mission—that is, of all we do in the name of the crucified and risen Jesus. It is a mistake, in my view, to think that while our evangelism must be centered on the Cross (as of course it has to be), our social engagement has some other theological foundation or justification.”

What is God doing in your part of the world as we move towards a model of missions which is not just ‘from the West to the rest?’ In SIM we embrace multi-cultural leadership, although we still have a way to travel on the journey towards the vision Chris Wright is helping us to see here. The cross of Christ speaks of servanthood and sacrifice. That’s the stuff that healing is made of.


True healing is not always what it seems

One week ago today my own mother passed away.  At 87 years, she died in her sleep in the dementia unit of the nursing home. A nurse working there commented, “In my 36 years of nursing I have not seen anyone die more peacefully.”  As a believer, she had trusted Christ for salvation over 40 years ago, just before my own conversion. The sting of death had been removed, and she finally got to go home to be with her Savior.

We mourned as a family this past week, but not like those who have no hope. The cross of Christ is not just a story written for our comfort in times of distress. Christ Jesus actually did conquer death by His own sacrifice on the cross. As paradoxical as it may seem, death was defeated not by a display of worldly power and show, but in the meekness of hands stretched out to receive the nails, and an empty tomb.

Indeed, Christ gained my Mom’s salvation through Calvary.  “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” (1 Ti 1:15). Her salvation depends on Christ, not on herself. That’s why we have the confidence that she went to be with Christ in death.  When Jesus saves sinners there is no partial salvation; He saves all the way from the guilt of sin, the power of sin, and finally from the presence of sin. What a Savior!

So while we mourn for the loss, we also rejoice in hope of the resurrection. A good reminder for Easter week!