Health Evangelism--Bridge to Islam

Reaching the Middle East

HERSCHEL C. LAMP Medical Secretary, Middle East Divisio

ONE of the greatest evan­gelistic challenges con­fronting the Seventh-day Adventist Church is un­questionably the 125 mil­lion people living in the countries of the Middle East, the vast majority of whom are Moslems. In the division member­ship of about 2,300 Ad­ventists probably less than ten are converted Moslems.

This shocking disparity between the number of former-Moslem Adventists and the total number of Moslems in the divi­sion field can be partially explained by the fact that evangelism during the nearly sev­enty years of Adventist mission work in the Middle East has been largely directed at the Christian minority.

Bridge of Understanding Needed

The situation can be understood when one realizes the formidable communication barriers confronting the preacher who at­tempts to reach the Moslem mind through the usual evangelistic approach which builds on the premise that his hearers ac­cept the Bible as the foundation of spiritual truth. In the Middle East there are great obstacles to this type of approach—obsta­cles rooted in profound religious and his­torical prejudices. Lacking a bridge of un­derstanding, the church has not been able to effectively convey its message to the Mos­lem people.

In searching the Index to the Writings of E. G. White for a way of escape from this seeming evangelistic impasse, I found that the key words "Moslem" and "Islam" are nowhere listed as subjects for comment in her writings. This does not mean, how­ever, that we have been left without specific and significant counsel that can be ap­plied to meet this great challenge. In Coun­sels on Health, in the section entitled "Phy­sicians and Evangelists," pages 543-548, there is a suggested solution. The key quo­tation is found on page 545:

It is well, in presenting the truth to unbelievers, first to present some subjects upon which they will agree with us. The principles of health and temper­ance will appeal to their judgment, and we can from these subjects lead them on to understand the binding claims of the fourth commandment. This work our physicians can help in doing. When the people see the value of instruction given re­garding healthful living, it gives them confidence to believe that the teachers of these principles have the truth in other lines.

Usual Method Not Suitable

Teaching the health message in connec­tion with public evangelism is not new. For years it has been a valuable adjunct to the preaching of Bible doctrine. Most often the health presentation takes the form of a ten- to twenty-minute talk given as a spe­cial feature, an added attraction, that hope­fully will encourage listeners to come and stay for the evangelistic sermons. In other campaigns a qualified medical or paramedi­cal worker, such as a doctor or nurse, is periodically given the full lecture period on several occasions for the presentation of a health topic or series of health topics in order to add variety and additional in­terest to the series of meetings. Such tech­niques, however, are not ideally suited to reach Moslems, who would not attend a meeting that was patently Christian and evangelistic in character even if an inter­esting health lecture were part of the pack­age offered in the promotional advertise­ment.

The approach outlined by the messenger of the Lord is quite different. Notice: from the very first, subjects should be presented upon which the people will agree—specif­ically subjects on health and temper­ance. These topics will appeal to the un­believers, win their confidence, and enable the gospel worker to lead them on to un­derstand and accept the special doctrinal beliefs to Seventh-day Adventists. Further­more, the plan can and should be carried out by Christian physicians. This is clear from a reading of the counsel:

The presenting of Bible principles by an intelli­gent physician will have great weight with many people. There is efficiency and power with one who can combine in his influence the work of a physi­cian and of a gospel minister. His work commends itself to the good judgment of the people.

I am concerned because so many things engage the minds of our physicians which keep them from the work that God would have them do as evangel­ists. . . .

I hope you will exercise all your capabilities in this work. Present the importance of present truth from the physician's standpoint. The educated phy­sician will find entrance in our cities where other men cannot. Teach the message of health reform. This will have an influence with the people.—Ibid,, pp. 546, 547. (Italics supplied.)

A Pilot Project

Encouraged by these pointed testimonies, the writer conducted an eight-week series of evangelistic lectures in Teheran, the capital city of Iran, during the summer of 1966, as a pilot project to test the evangelis­tic approach outlined above. An initial source of optimism was the excellent success of seven sessions of the Five-Day Plan to Stop Smoking held during an eighteen-month period in the major cities of the Middle East. The Five-Day Plan helped people to stop smoking. It also won friends who opened up their hearts and expressed other health needs, both physical and emo­tional. It was the Five-Day Plan, too, that led in the choice of location for the experiment. In Teheran we had received such a friendly and openhearted reception that it encouraged further spiritual exploration.

The meetings were held in the Advent­ist Center auditorium, a relatively small hall seating only 150 persons. Consequently advertising was modest, consisting of only one newspaper advertisement and the dis­tribution of 10,000 handbills, some of which were mailed to the names we had gathered from Five-Day Plan participants the year before. Personal invitations were also given to the students attending the regular Eng­lish classes held twice weekly at the Center. The series was entitled "Science Speaks" and was advertised as health lectures for the general public.

A Health Questionnaire

On the opening night each guest was asked to give his name and address on a numbered registration card that matched the number on an attractive blue folder bearing on its cover the series title "Science Speaks" in the Farsi language and the coat of arms of the Adventist Center. In the folder was a personal health profile questionnaire, which was used by each person to evaluate his own individual health status and habits by answering a series of twenty health questions during the course of the meetings. Each night a summary of the lecture in the Farsi language was distrib­uted to be placed in this folder, which was kept on file by number at the Center until the final night of the meetings.

The series of lectures was divided into three groups given in the outline below with some explanatory comments.

Physical Health Subjects

These were the confidence-building lec­tures on subjects of health and temperance that were designed to meet the people where they were with practical health in­formation and counsel. The subjects pre­sented were:

1.       Cancer. This was chosen as an opener because of the subject's high interest value and wide public appeal.

2.       The Twin Keys to Health. A presen­tation of the need for factual knowledge on health coupled with intelligent prac­tical application. An important lecture because the people were told that find­ing health was in fact a search for truth, which demands an open mind and at times considerable personal courage. The appeal to objectiv­ity and intellectual honesty was planned to be a valuable refer­ence point for later lectures.

3.       Our Unseen Ene­mies. A study of germs and infectious dis­eases with emphasis on the preventive role of immunization.
4.       You Are What You Eat. A general presentation of the basic nutrients in food.
5.       The Basic Seven. A discussion of food groups in relation to a balanced diet and meal planning, illus­trated by an actual food demonstration.
6.       The Burden of Overweight. The haz­ards of overweight and a solution to the problem of weight reduction with empha­sis on temperance and self-control.
7.       A Tale of Six Houses. A story of dis­ease transmission by contaminated water, food, fingers, and flies—illustrated by flan­nelgraph.
8.       The Leaf That Kills. The dangers of tobacco reinforced by a Farsi-language ver­sion of the film One in Twenty Thousand.
9.       How to Help Your Doctor Help You. Doctor-patient relationship for good health care.
10.       A Bottle of Sorrow. The dangers of alcohol, illustrated by the film Verdict at 1:32, also in the Farsi language.
11.       Protect Your Heart. A general sur­vey of types and causes of heart disease with special emphasis on preventive factors.
12.    A double feature—Be Good to Your Teeth. Diet and hygiene in dental care. What Shall We Drink? A discussion of caffeine beverages.
These meetings were made personal and practical in several ways. First, by conduct­ing a fifteen-minute question-and-answer period at the beginning of each meeting. Second, by giving free diagnostic tests to anyone desiring them. On night number four there was a free urine test for diabetes.
On the sixth night each person was meas­ured and weighed and was told what his ideal weight should be. A weight reduc­tion clinic was organized which met weekly for the next six weeks with gratifying re­sults. On night number eight all smokers who wanted to stop smoking were organ­ized into a group that met on three consecu­tive nights for assistance in breaking the tobacco habit. At the eleventh lecture every person had his blood pressure taken. The services provided were simple ones but were greatly appreciated.

Mental and Emotional Health Subjects

These were the transition lectures de­signed to bridge the gap between physical health and spiritual health by showing the intimate relationship between mind and body. These three lectures were the best attended of any in the series.

13.    What Your Emotions Can Do to Your Health. A presentation on psychoso­matic medicine.

14.    Secrets of a Happy Home. Counsel on the prevention and treatment of un­happy marriages.

15.    The Sick Mind. A lecture on mental illness in which case histories were related to illustrate that emotional problems which can create both physical disease and men­tal disorders are frequently basic philosoph­ical and spiritual problems. By this time the audience was aware of the close rela­tionship between the physical, mental, and spiritual aspects of man's health, and con­scious of the enormous influence of emo­tional and mental causes in present-day dis­eases. At this point I candidly confessed (but without apology) that as a Christian physician I could talk about these complex problems only as a Christian, from my own personal philosophy of life and from my own experience in dealing with such prob­lems among my patients. Our search for health, I reminded them, is a search for truth which demands open-minded in­quiry even into those areas which at times may seem unfamiliar to us.

Spiritual Health Subjects

Despite the frank admission at the end of lecture 15 that the remaining eight lectures would unavoidably be of a spiritual and religous nature, the audience attendance remained essentially unchanged in number and composition. This in spite of the fact that 169 of the 222 persons who registered during the series were Moslems-71 per cent of the total attendance!

It was in these last eight lectures that an effort was made to present spiritual truth "from the physician's standpoint." If the purpose implied in the series' title and con­fidence in the speaker were to be main­tained, it seemed necessary that the spirit­ual lectures should have some scientific relevance, and definite practical applica­tion to the everyday problems of life.

Since most of the listeners were Mos­lems, little attention was paid to specific scriptural references by chapter and verse. The doctrinal messages were presented largely in narrative or conversational form as a philosophical discussion and per­sonal testimony of belief. The final subjects were:

16.    Textbook for Healthful Living. The Bible as a guide to achieving perspective, meaning, wholeness, and health in our modern world.

17.    A Suffering World—Why? A pres­entation of the basic cause of disease, suf­fering, and death—the origin of evil.

18.    The Worst Disease. The Greatest Cure. The need for divine aid in solving the problem of sin. The plan of redemp­tion as revealed in the Old Testament.

19.    The Great Physician. Christ, the di­vine Son and Saviour of the world.

20.    Beginning Again. How to solve the problem of dealing with the guilt of past sins through an understanding of the new birth and justification by faith.

21.    Power for Daily Living. Power through prayer and the study of God's Word, emphasizing the fact that wrong habits of eating, drinking, and thinking can only be truly corrected by divine aid.

22.    A Doctor Looks at Death. The Bible teaching on the state of the dead.

23.    What Does the Future Hold? A clos­ing message of hope for the future based on the second coming of Christ and the promise of a world of righteousness with­out pain, sickness, and death.
At no time during the series was an ap­peal made for personal public surrender to Christ. Specific calls were made to the lis­teners, however, inviting them to open their hearts to the messages of God, and ap­peals were made encouraging each one to seek God for himself in the quietness of his own thoughts in his own home, asking for divine guidance in his life.
There is not enough space to relate here the personal consultations, the friendly dis­cussions, and rich prayer experiences we had with many of these precious souls. It is too early, too, to see what the fruits of these meetings will be. Only time can reveal the results that will come from the personal contacts made and now being followed up by ministers and lay workers. Several facts, however, stand out in clear relief. The peo­ple of the Moslem world are receptive to the vital truth we bear and can be per­suaded to listen with respect and apprecia­tion if we make use of the bridge of under­standing so long available to us in the message of healthful living.

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HERSCHEL C. LAMP Medical Secretary, Middle East Divisio

May 1967

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(Copyright 1966 by Christianity Today.Used by permission)

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