Medical Missionary Objectives

HEALTH EVANGELISM: Medical Missionary Objectives

Secretary, General Conference Medical Department

Once when traveling by train from Madras in South India to our Nuzvid hospital, three hundred miles to the north, I was joined by a young physician from another evangelical mission. This young man was a heavy smoker, and also indulged his taste for Scotch and soda. Obviously he was not of fundamentalist stock, and yet in conversation he was deeply devoted to his work as a medical missionary.

On the journey we fell into a discussion of our work and the reason for the sacrifices we were making- in being identified with such a program. While we had much in common, it was obvious that fundamentally we were wide apart. He stated that he was in the mission field because of the satisfaction he realized from bringing relief to those suffering with disease. His activities were confined entirely to the purely medical or surgical benefits he could be stow upon his patients. The appreciation of his patients and the joy of seeing health and happiness where there had been disease and suffering, were to him adequate reward to justify any sacrifices he was making.

Perhaps there is much in this attitude to call forth admiration, but I find my own convictions on the matter well expressed by Paul, when he said, "Woe is me if I preach not the gospel."

ADVENTIST OUTLOOK.—Recognizing these two general viewpoints behind the impelling motives to medical missionary work, could we not with profit take stock of our own objectives in so extensive and costly a phase of our denominational work?

First of all, we should get it straight that commendable as the humanitarian motive is, that is not of itself the reason for the wide spread medical ministry of the Advent people. Our work is decidedly humanitarian, but it is more.

Adventists carry on the medical work for the same reason that they publish literature, con duct Christian schools, and support an extensive evangelistic work. It is an integral part of the program exemplified in the life of Christ, and outlined to us so beautifully and consistently in the Spirit of prophecy. With our health message coming to us on such good authority, it is not surprising that the Advent people have given so large a place to this instrumentality for the' finishing of the work.

A program calling for hundreds of thousands of dollars annually over the world field should be well understood, and should certainly be effectively integrated with other features of our denominational work.

First of all, there should be no overemphasis of medical enterprises at the expense of other important departments. There should be a proper balance of emphasis which apportions to each department of the work the support which it can most effectively use in proper proportion to the development of other features of this over-all program.

Role of Our Medical Work

What, exactly, is the role of our medical •work? We hear it variously referred to as "the entering wedge," "the right arm," and as "the last feature of our work to be closed." These expressions indicate that medical work will be one of the first agencies to be employed in a missionary program, serving as the entering wedge; that it will serve an important purpose in the maintenance of that work as the right arm of the message; and when other forms of gospel ministry are being eliminated by religious intolerance, the ministry of healing will be the last of our gospel ministries to be closed.

We gather from this that the medical work, then, is more than an entering wedge, an instrument to facilitate the first opening, and then be cast aside. Medical ministry must be conceived, developed, and established on solid and permanent lines. It is not a credit to our people that in many mission fields, and in the home bases, once thriving medical institutions are now only a memory. Nor is it more to our credit that some of these institutions are operating under circumstances and with physical facilities making creditable work difficult.

IMPORTANCE OF CONTINUITY.—When an institution is closed for any reason, the foregoing effort in its establishment and maintenance is largely a loss. When we permit an institution established and maintained for years in good faith to fall into circumstances which lead to its closing, we are not keeping faith with the good men and women who sacrificed to give birth to this work.

Take a typical case as an example. In one place in India a providential opening led to the establishment of one of our most promising hospitals in that field. By acting quickly and with united counsel we seized upon an opening which we learned later was very much desired by another and much stronger society. The church members of the other society complained rather reproachfully to their director for permitting such an excellent opening to fall into the hands of the Adventist mission. The director made reply to this complaint in a Sun day morning sermon. He said in substance, "Don't be too alarmed over what you see the Adventists doing. They are putting up a nice little hospital. They will run it for a few years, and then on some count will peter out, and we will then take over a good thing."

This rather challenging announcement was reported to me, and I very definitely determined that no such thing was going to happen. The hospital prospered, and was serving an increasingly useful role in our mission program. But times changed. Those who with deep conviction had laid the foundation of this work were no longer in the field. Replacement for a doctor going on furlough was not provided or arranged for in time. The hospital had for a time been financially a liability. A convenient solution was to close. Thus by a committee action an institution, strategically located and having proved its great potentialities for aggressive mission work, was now, nine years after its promising opening, brought to a very inauspicious end.

Continuity of Policy

The blow to the cause in that area still hangs heavily over our work. Unfortunately this is not an isolated instance. I wish to make two observations on this question of continuity of policy.

First, medical institutions should not be established on the urge or pressure of an individual or a group of individuals if there is not a reasonable unanimity on the part of the responsible committee or administrations involved. Because of the large financial commitments involved in starting hospital work, mission fields as well as home conferences and union conferences should enter into such commitments only with the full 'support of the di vision or General Conference administration.

Second, once a medical enterprise is established with full counsel and in good faith, let any steps toward the closure of such work be taken only by the higher responsible commit tees involved, and with a full sense of the tragedy of such unfortunate backward steps.

Granting that our medical work is not only the entering wedge but the continuing right arm of our mission work, what is to be our attitude toward this feature of our program? It is hardly consistent that we should demand for our medical work a standard of staffing or of physical plant and facilities out of proportion to that which we can provide for our other branches of work.

If our schools and churches are of necessity operating on a tight program financially, it is reasonable that our medical work should share in such limitations. Just how far down we should permit the collapse of their standards is a matter which should receive earnest study. This is a question directly related to the fore going question of the actual closing of institutions. If a hospital is permitted to run down to the point that it is no longer representative, or if it is started with such limited facilities as to be required indefinitely to do an inferior grade of work, this situation is not necessarily a preferable alternative to actual closure.

In the mission field a medical institution need not be elaborate to be effective. There are, however, certain minimum standards below which we should not drop in our urge toward economy. In my visit to the various hospitals of this field I find several places where there is much to be desired, not by way of luxuries, but in the matter of absolute essentials. A simple water system in a hospital is not a luxury. Neither is an inexpensive diagnostic X-ray ma chine, but at the time of my visit, not one hospital in the entire division possessed such functioning equipment. Neither are modest but good buildings luxuries.

I recognize that our medical plants in this division are in their present condition because of the very commendable urge to expand and enter new territory, to open new institutions. Where new projects are opened at the sacrifice of established work we are well advised to study seriously whether we are strengthening our over-all work by such technique. If we were to think of our medical work as merely the entering wedge, it would be quite consistent to conduct this work in temporary quarters or in mobile units. But, recognizing it as not only a continuing phase of our work, but as the last to be closed, our every policy should reflect this conception.

A Means, Not an End

I do not find either in the Scriptures or the Spirit of prophecy any ground for the idea that our medical work is established merely to create good atmosphere and cordial relationship with the world about us. It should do this certainly; but if that is all it does, it will fall far, far short of its purpose.

Our medical institutions, if they are anything, are first, foremost, and always evangelical. The medical feature is but a means. It is not of itself the end. Recognizing it as but a means, let us see well to it that as a means it is a most effective one.

What are the specific ends we wish to realize through the medical work? We might think of our medical work, at home and abroad, as a beaded screen upon which we project for all to see the life, the love, the mercy, and the salvation of our Lord. This will be accomplished in the interview in the examination room. It will be accomplished in the operating room, at the bedside, in the wards, in the laboratory, in the treatment rooms, in the business office, in the dining room, and in the chapel.

This revelation of our Lord will be accomplished by the physician who in humility recognizes that the patient will, in his simplicity, look to him, his healer, his physician, as the personal embodiment of the religion professed. It will be accomplished in the business office, where transactions will be in the spirit of the first Christian Healer. Every employee of the institution will recognize that in a very real sense he is an assistant of the chaplain. Such an attitude will do much to facilitate the achievement of our ultimate objective, the winning of many to the kingdom of God.

As EDUCATIONAL CENTERS.—We are too often content to limit our vision to the confines of our institutional estate. The actual medical work we do is of value. The operations, the treatments, the diagnoses, and the consultations are all a part of the picture. This is, however, but one of our means. These are not the ultimate objectives.

If our work stops with this purely professional program, we are limiting the expanse of our usefulness to the immediate group of patients we reach; and in case of our work's being cut short, we preclude the possibility of its being perpetuated in another form or in other hands.

Most of our home base institutions are training centers. Many of our mission hospitals are not. One need not be in an institution long to note the marked difference in atmosphere between the training and nontraining hospital. In the training hospital or sanitarium the place is electric with the spirit of expectancy, inquiry, achievement, and learning. The nontraining institution falls into a formality, a routine, which unavoidably is reflected in lowered effective ness of the efforts of the staff. The training institution perpetuates in the lives of those who go out from its doors the means for further, accomplishment in other places.

Here in the mission field we have many dispensaries and maternity units. These should be multiplied many times. This is a means of accomplishing by very small investment what we are unable to undertake by more expensive methods.

Institutions which for good reasons cannot undertake a formal training - program should always have some form of on-the-job training." This is first of all essential to the continued life of the institution, and it is a means of pro viding a fair grade of help not otherwise available. Every institution has the opportunity of doing some form of simple health instruction work for the local community. This can be made a project of considerable value, either in our home-base institutions or in the mission field.

—To be continued in May

 

 


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Secretary, General Conference Medical Department

April 1950

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