SIM’s first Asian medical missionary, Dr. Andrew Ng, served for years at Galmi hospital in Niger, and later provided leadership for SIM from Asia. He always had a youthful vision for how Jesus is shaping the world, and a special love for Jesus’ work in medical missions. And while he just went home to be with his Lord, Andrew left me with many lessons. One of those lessons was about institutions. “Think about Mother Theresa,” he would say. He could see that she and her institution had a world-wide impact.
Here is how Wikipedia defines institution: “An institution is social structure in which people cooperate and which influences the behavior of people and the way they live. An institution has a purpose. Institutions are permanent, which means that they do not end when one person is gone. An institution has rules and can enforce rules of human behavior.”
Are you looking for lasting (even permanent) change? Try building up institutions! Hospitals of course are one type of institution. Let’s not just ‘do’ our medical ministry, but ‘leave’ hospitals where people love Jesus and continue to serve those broken in soul and body. That means that part of our Christian effort is to invest in local people in order to build leadership and good governance, with a heart for this ongoing mission of Jesus!
Gordon Smith makes an excellent case for institutions in his Gospel Coalition article with this title: Want to change the world? Invest in institutions.
But hospitals are not the only kind of health institutions. Hospitals and modern healthcare are important places to care for the brokenhearted. [The good Samaritan needed a place to care for the wounds of his new friend, and we have much in the 21st century to offer to relieve physical suffering.] But there are other kinds of institutions — some of which operate outside of bricks and mortar — social structures or organizations with governance and leadership that allows people to work together for good. For example, an institution with a mission to:
- do excellent hospice care
- enable children to have access to clean water, sanitation, nutrition
- build communities of individuals who will counter the poor health effects of local superstitions and beliefs that are tied to poor health
- do good public health education
- come alongside others (e.g. local government or community) in order to enhance response to disease outbreaks (epidemiology), promoting disease control or good local health systems
- enable local churches to see the opportunites around them to be good neighbors by investing in critical needs such as handicapped ministries, HIV and AIDS ministries and the like
- the list is almost endless
As Gordon Smith points out, we have a tendency to suspect anything with structure and authority. But rightly developed, institutions remain a key to healing our world. Let’s not just plant churches, but institutions that flow out of the work of those churches. Thank you, Dr. Andrew.