The concern of our nation with regard to the health of its citizens is manifest in the Public Health Service, which is operated by county, city, and State funds in the hands of physicians appointed as health officers to do everything possible to safeguard people from disease.
These health officers enforce health laws and ordinances, see that sanitary inspection of public buildings is made, that the milk and water supplies are kept uncontaminated, and perform many other similar services for the security of public health. There is also the public health nurse, who spends her time in the homes of the people, administering to their needs as required. We find this nurse engaged in bathing and caring for the mother and newborn babe, providing insulin for the diabetic, securing relief and correction for handicapped children, and performing many other professional services.
These public health workers of the nation are doing a noble work, and are making our country a safer place in which to live. While they carry on public educational endeavor to some extent, they are, through lack of finances, limited to the immediate relief work for individuals through nursing in homes and schools, and the general preventive health educational endeavor brought about through legislative control.
But the general public health education, which is so vital to personal health, is left to private organizations and agencies. And such health education, from whatever source, is seldom effective unless coupled with the persuasive power of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, which calls for restoration of both body and soul. That knowledge alone is not sufficient to change physical habits in the personal life, is evidenced by the scores of physicians who continue injurious practices while acknowledging the harm involved in them.
There are two outstanding principles which should govern all health work in connection with gospel evangelism:
1. Health Education.—This must be made and kept subsidiary to the soul-winning gospel message. It must not overshadow or take the place of the most important message ever given to man to herald to the world. Only as a means of pointing to God's moral law is it consistent to urge men and women to conform to God's natural laws, and this is the place of the health education which God has intrusted to us as a people. This is clearly revealed in that statement which reads, "To make natural law plain, and to urge obedience to it, is a work that accompanies the third angel's message."—"Counsels on, Health," p. 21.
In order to present the health message in connection with a series of evangelistic meetings in such a way that it does not become divorced from nor overshadow the gospel message, it becomes necessary that the health educator and the evangelist shall have but one objective,—the winning of souls. A program which, in more than a score of efforts, has proved successful in combining the health education with the gospel message, is conducted on the following plan:
The graduate nurse (preferably with special training in public work) connects with the evangelistic workers as a health educator and soul winner. Never is this twofold purpose to be obscured in her work. The nurse must be prepared to give Bible studies as she comes in contact with the people in their homes. One of the most effective plans is this: Each evening, the sermon by the evangelist is preceded by a practical health talk and demonstration, kept within the compass of twenty minutes as a general rule, and never to exceed thirty minutes, regardless of interest manifested. It may be considered wise to devote one or two entire evenings, during the series of meetings, to a health lecture; but in case this is planned for, a competent Christian physician should be secured to give the medical lecture.
Evangelists recognize that it is well to have a physician in charge of such a service, because of the avalanche of questions arising in the minds of people afflicted with numerous maladies. The evangelist should, however, assume the responsibility of preaching on the general principles of healthful living and its relation to this movement, at least once during the series, whether or not the services of a physician are available on special occasions, and in addition to the preliminary health talks given each night by the nurse. It is manifestly a part of the work of the spiritual leader to outline clearly the true relationship of health to the gospel message. He cannot rightly stand apart from this, and expect the doctor or nurse to care wholly for that phase of the work. He may very appropriately call to his aid the technical service needed, but there must be a close blending of the medical with the teaching of the evangelist.
The wise and tactful evangelist will ever counsel his hearers to accept and live up to all the light on health reform which they understand to be right; but when it comes to giving them specific instruction for particular maladies, he will refer them to doctors and nurses, rather than pose as a specialist in the technique of health and disease. The human body is a very complex mechanism, and it is sometimes apparent that the one who knows the least about it is the most anxious to prescribe for its ailments. The nurse is always within her sphere in setting forth principles underlying natural law and urging conformity thereto. Through experience in contact with disease, she may also point out the effects of continued transgression of natural law, and as a preventive measure she may thus bring relief to scores who suffer from wrong habits of life. But where there is a pathological condition of the physical organism to be dealt with, the sphere of the physician is reached, and no one should venture beyond his legitimate bounds.
This brings us to the second outstanding principle underlying health evangelism; i. e.,
2. Qualification Through Adequate Preparation.—Persons who engage in public health educational work must have at least an academic foundation in the basic sciences, and organized education in the care of disease, including its cause and prevention, based on actual contact, if the instruction given is to bear the test of investigation by public health workers and educated observers of the world.
In this day of specialization it is necessary to study carefully this phase of preparation before launching out in a large way along the line of health instruction. The person who does not hesitate to promise all things in health through the adoption of some special health hobby, or even sound practice, will no doubt succeed in attracting a certain class of people; but they may not be the class who are permanently benefited by any reform message. A clear, concise teaching of sound health principles may not cause as great a stir as sensational promises of cure; but in the end it will justly receive the support of those who deliberately weigh the sincerity and soundness of the teaching and are in a position to judge of its merit.
This point cannot be too strongly emphasized. If our health education is bizarre, faddish, insincere, or extreme, people may conclude that the message pertaining to doctrines and spiritual life rests upon the same insecure structure of sensationalism.
Washington, D. C.