When I was in Nigeria recently with World Missions on an evaluation trip, over and over again the Nigerian churches told us about how effective the missionary hospitals were in the early years. In today's economic climate it's not feasible for denominations to set up state of the art hospitals, but when I came across a recent newsletter from Nema Aluku, the Health and HIV Program Manager for World Renew, I was inspired to share what we are doing.
"As we drove down a lakeshore road en route to Lichinga, Mozambique, to meet with World Renew partner staff and interact with people on the frontline in health and HIV care in remote Cobue, I found myself drifting way back in time, reflecting on my life as a young girl in rural Malawi. I have specific memories of all the mission centers I lived in with my parents and siblings. A sense of peace swept over me, “peace which passes all understanding.” (Philippians 4:7)
I reminisced about innocence: on the fragile and unpolluted minds of the children and folk in Malindi and the area around Lake Malawi. I marveled at the blue water, ecosystem, and hilly landscape as we drove into the highlands and dropped to low attitudes within minutes. The beautiful setting left me wondering, as I daydreamed, whether I had lived in this region in my childhood. I didn’t recall that particular view of Lake Malawi or those particular meandering roads leading up to isolated villages where homes dotted the sides of the main tarmac road. Suddenly, memories from my past engulfed my mind. The sight of a man riding a motorcycle brings a smile to my face as I recall riding a motorbike with my father. I remembered the excitement of hanging on tightly to his jacket, his reassuring voice keeping me at ease as we zoomed around the village. That was me! I recalled my childhood as I saw a group of little girls playing in the red soil, jumping up and down, singing without a care! That was me! Hah! How time flies!
A chill came over me as I recalled some challenging times we endured when I was a child living along the lake shore. The days when my mother rushed me to the health center so that I could be treated for malaria. Worse still, the long nights she spent praying as I struggled with hallucinations caused by a high fever from cerebral malaria. Yet, here I was, reliving my childhood bittersweet memories. What would have happened if the mission hospitals were not there? What if the missionary nurse or doctor was not there? Medicine? Lab kits? Neo-natal care? Community clinics? What if the nursing schools were not opened and manned by caring Christians? What if? We all valued the services and care that we received at these facilities: the lessons that mothers received from nurses and midwives; the counseling from the chaplain and the visitation from the mothers union. For some, the health center was a meeting place to encounter Christianity or learn more about faith in God. The health center, as I recall, was a melting pot for the cross and the crescent!
As we drove through this remote part of Mozambique, I could not help but wonder at how diverse and unique Africa is. From the historical and religious backgrounds to the political and socioeconomic context all brought together like a puzzle. Yet here we are, fifty or so years after independent Africa, and the signs of poverty, desperation, and political turmoil are ever so near. Yet, from this quagmire of struggle, there are glimpses of hope and diversity. There is renewed energy for mobilizing Christian health care services in remote, hard to reach are as of our region. Yes! Seeing it first hand is uplifting and mind boggling: questions about how historical Christian health care efforts have slowly fallen through the cracks swamp my mind. Many of the mission health centers that were once deeply cherished by communities and are still needed by them now stand in ruins or are barely functioning. Yet, in this seemingly desperate environment, women from faraway lands — England and USA — are working collaboratively with local community members to restore Christian health care in remote areas. What seems impossible to humans is made possible through Christ. The zealousness with which World Renew’s community health teams are being brought under the umbrella of “mission” leaves many speechless. Our volunteer health care providers sometimes walk over 200kms through rough terrain, rain or shine, to reach out to all regardless of tribe, religion, age, or health. World Renew’s Life Teams reach out with love and compassion to all who are living with economic and environmental challenges.
Christian health care is still relevant in Africa as an integral part of community transformation. Through the establishment, refurbishment, and twinning of hospitals and churches to community partnerships, communities are empowered and transformed to take charge of their health while churches are ministering to unchurched individuals. Looking back at my childhood, I cannot ask for anything more than good health. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!” (Philippian 4:13)
What can you do?
As I reflected on my journey to good health on the drive to Lichinga, I realized that often missionary health facilities are the center of community life. Even today, they draw hundreds of patients because of their compassionate care for those who are ill. Yet, the facilities are run down and poorly managed. They lack supervision, have high staff workloads, and are short on supplies and equipment. World Renew is working through our existing partnerships in communities to bring about health reforms through Christian health facilities. We need to carry out research and document health trends to build partner and church capacity to effectively manage and run health facilities that are sustainable through community and church structures. Research should inform the direction of health reforms, especially where Christian mission health care is concerned.
What is the future of Christian health care in this region? World Renew partners like PAG Kabale in Uganda are eager to begin community health center programs in their area. Based on what we have learned in Mozambique, empowered community members can do wonders. They can, with technical support and encouragement, run and manage medical equipment that measures blood count levels for people living with HIV and AIDS. So, through research, exchange learning, twinning of health facilities in and outside the region, and church to community partnerships, Christian health centers can be revived. All it takes is commitment, enthusiasm, and patience."
Does your church support any medical missions/health care initiatives?