Navigating a path to sustainable Chinese medical mission participation

Take a look at some the challenges that Chinese Christian doctors could face as they consider God’s call to missions. And this article doesn’t even begin to address the cross-cultural issues of Eastern and Western medical worldviews!

As you consider these hurdles, let’s not think ‘it can’t be done!’ Rather, let’s think that “God is the God of the impossible.”  How might God move us as Western mission workers to include and partner with missionaries from other cultures.  Not so much to use them for ‘our’ work but to bless them for the sake of the Kingdom of God.

At the same time let us use our resources not just to do ‘our’ work but to develop spiritual leadership for medical missions which is diverse — celebrating and demonstrating the Kingdom of Jesus.

Challenges?  Yes. Opportunities? Definitely.  Needed? Leadership. Why?  Because this reflects the character of God and reflects His glory.

Jesus taught us, “With God all things are possible.”  Matthew 19:26

 

Finding meaning as a Christian in mission

is a trauma and critical care surgeon who recently left clinical practice to homeschool her children. She teaches at Harvard Medical School, and has contributed to the literature on surgical critical care and medical education. She and her family live in the woods north of Boston.

This is her journey from medical mission mayhem to meaning.

Third culture leadership

William Dryness points out two parallel realities in our world: (1) the mobility of our times, and (2) the changing demographics of Christianity.  Not only are the majority of Christians no longer “Western,” but they are increasingly found in countries with young and growing populations, frequently among the poor, and exhibiting a vital evangelistic faith.

What are the implications for missions?  How must traditional mission organizations adapt to these new realities?

Based on the two realities (mobility as well as increasing impact of non-Western Christians) traditional missions will need to consider:

  • Missions must re-imagine ourselves as learning structures. This means that communication is not one way (from the West to the rest) but mutual sharing across cultural boundaries.
  • Dryness talks about “third culture leadership.”  Mission leadership should include prominently ‘bridge people’ who embody (ethnically and experientally) the diverse realities of our pluralistic world.
  • Facilitation of multiple forms of witness (where the grand strategy is under leadership of the Holy Spirit).
  • Longer term regional strategies, based on mutual exchanges and regional parterships.

I know that as a mission we are increasingly seeing the Lord develop “third culture leadership.” This is not a matter of Western vs. non-Western, but a mixture of gifts, ethnicities and cultures working together in leadership.

I have an Indian friend and brother trained in medicine in India, but also quite famliar with our Western ways, working in a Western mission agency.  In problem solving, he understood how we as Westerners want to go on a ‘straight line’ from problem to solution. Yet as an Asian, he is also quite comfortable ‘meandering around’ with a problem until a solution could be found.  Eventually, he said, either way would get us to a solution.  “When I do it as an Asia,” he added, “it may take me longer to get there, but I’ll have everyone with me when I arrive!”

So we need each other. There is no one right way and wrong way to tackle the serious problems we are facing in the world, whether we are considering impoverished medical care or impoverished friendships. We need cultural bridges, or third culture leadership.

How are the realities of mobility and increasing leadership from non-Western Christians impacting your efforts?

Preparing for the field

What would I say to someone just preparing to leave to serve Christ in cross-cultural missions? Here are some of the things I hear myself saying to young people at SIM who are in orientation or training:

  • Prepare for a marathon, not a sprint. Missions is a learning experience which spans years, not just months.  We often go with high expectations of changing others but forget that also there are many ways we also need to grow and change.
  • Don’t shortchange language.  Take all the language that is possible.  I had an experienced mission doctor in Ethiopia tell me at the end of his career, “I thought I’d just be able to pick up the language by working; I was wrong. I am sure I lost a number of patients just because I didn’t understand all they were saying.” [As an internist of course I believe the history is the MOST important thing in the patient encounter!]
  • Don’t be surprised by the challenges of living cross-culturally. In our first term we experienced a home break-in; physical illness in ourselves and our children; delay in assignment; conflict with a fellow language school student who was later removed from the field; plus the adjustments to the sights, sounds and culture.  Would I trade it for something easier? No! Was it something I could have prepared for better?  Yes, by adjusting my expectations down just a little.  Medical folks like me tend to go for perfection.
  • Get cross-cultural training before you go.
  • Learn to love people more.  Ministry is all about relationships.  Look at how Jesus cared for those around him. He observed them, listened to them, befriended them, lived among them, cared for them, spoke God’s word to them.  People are the center of ministry, not projects and programs themselves.
  • Embrace your own gifts and callings, but also your own weaknesses.  God will use you as an individual with the strengths you have, but will also work through your weaknesses [which will be more obvious to you as you encounter the stresses and strains of cross-cultural living]. What an adventure!  Live in His grace, not by your own efforts.
  • Make friends, not only foreigners, but local people. You will treasure those friendships someday and they will treasure you. Find a mentor among colleagues but also among local people.
  • Stay close to Jesus and the Word of God. Don’t neglect Scripture, Sabbath, and a balance in life of ministry to self, family and others.  It’s amazing how often we can get busy with work [like we are trained to do] and neglect the inner life of the soul.  “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flows the springs of life.”
  • Enjoy the journey. While it is not all bliss, it is deeply satisfying to be used by God to serve others with compassion and find joy even in little things.

How to prepare medical missionaries

We polled about 100 of our SIM medical doctors, nurses and health professionals, asking them how they would prepare new medical workers for cross cultural mission.  Here are some of their responses:

  • Emphasize language learning; too many medical workers do not get adequate language — and it becomes a career weakness!
  • Prepare them for teamwork including multicultural team training
  • Help them build a good theological and missiological foundation for medical missions, including a robust biblical theology of suffering
  • Emphasize the importance of building healthy marriages and families (for the married ones) and healthy relationships for all
  • Burnout prevention; maintaining margins
  • Developing ministry vision
  • Help them articulate how medical missions is a calling (“real ministry”) and thus begin to form a new ‘identity’ as medical missionaries or healthcare workers
  • Explore with them options for ministry that may be beyond the usual preparation of medical professionals; for example simple ideas such as using home visits to minister to others physically and spiritually
  • Impart to them a vision for eventually becoming leaders in healthcare missions, and learning leadership together with local believers in the context of ‘doing’ mission

Do you have other suggestions from your perspective? I’d love to hear from you.