Medical Evangelism in Developing Countries

Adapting to different settings and conditions.

ALBERT S. WHITING, M.D. Ngoma HospitaL Kibuye, Africa

As the health message developed in the formative years of the Seventh-day Ad­ventist Church, the concepts of gospel min­istry and medical ministry were often com­bined in the work of one individual who taught, healed, and preached the Word. Our early missionaries were often minis­ters who spent much of their time treating the sick or physicians who spent much of their time in gospel work. The advance of knowledge and education has separated the minister and the physician into divers and distinct areas of labor; yet their work is often brought together, not in one individ­ual, but in the team concept. This coopera­tion has been well demonstrated in many successful Five-Day Plan programs There is continued opportunity for the minister and physician to unite their ministry, espe­cially in our many mission fields, where healing of soul and body must go together. Our ministers have been sent out as for­eign missionaries to all parts of the world, and when they reached their field they often found underprivileged people who were sick, suffering, and poor. Medical work followed and fulfilled the great need of these people. Our mission work has grown from these early beginnings. We now have large mission organizations in­cluding many hospitals and dispensaries. In our work emphasis has been on treating the sick and relieving the immediate suffer­ing. Missionaries have taught the people the evils of tobacco, stimulants, and intoxi­cating drink. And thus our health message has become part of our mission work in both word and deed. But have we done all we can for the people of the world who have such great spiritual and physical needs?


In developing countries our health mes­sage must have more emphasis, because the people are more unhealthy. Uncleanliness, poor dietary habits, infectious diseases, and parasitic infestations are rampant. The physical condition of these people dulls their minds to the acceptance of and ad­vancement in the Christian way. To help them requires a knowledge of their peculiar needs.

Whether the people drink tea or coffee may be relatively unimportant to the more serious question of having enough food to maintain life. It would be better for the children to eat clean meats than to die with kwashiorkor—a common protein-de­ficiency disease of many areas. Teaching health to primitive people the same as one would teach it to a Western civilization does not necessarily make the people more healthy. And yet our goal is to make all healthy in body, mind, and soul. We must adapt our message to the needs of the peo­ple. (I don't mean change the message, but apply its principles to the needs.) Therefore, the first rule of health evangelism is adapt­ability.

Twenty at the Cost of One

"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." All would agree to this adage, but do we always practice it? Our early reforms in the realm of health were both therapeutic and preventive. Modern medical therapy has advanced to unbeliev­able heights. We as a people continue our message of prevention in the realm of tem­perance, exercise, and diet. In the Western world programs of therapy often precede programs of prevention (we treated polio with hot packs, now we prevent it with immunization). In developing countries with limited budgets, prevailing ignorance, and general lack of facilities, therapeutic medicine falls behind our Western stand­ards and preventive medicine is often lack­ing. Ideally we treat the sick and prevent the well from becoming ill, but sometimes we lack the resources to do both. Which should we do? "A stitch in time saves nine" applies to the practice of preventive medi­cine. In application it means that we might prevent diseases in twenty people at the cost of treating one sick person. In other words, for a given amount of time, effort, and expense we can do more good by pre­vention than by cure. If we teach the peo­ple to be healthy, are we not doing more good than giving an injection to someone who is already sick? Is not this our health message—to teach the people to live healthfully? Our second rule, therefore, is to put prevention before cure.

Why Prolong Life?

Many physicians who worked on the pub­lic health report on smoking were smokers themselves. Right knowledge does not al­ways mean right practice. Why prolong life? For what reason? If we practice our health message we will be more efficient workers for Christ, mentally more alert to the gospel message and the influence of the Holy Spirit, and thus better prepared for a deeper spiritual experience, which will lead us to eternal life. Health is part of God's restoration process. So our third rule is to connect the health message to spiritual re­alities. We are healthy for a reason. The laws of health are God's laws. A combina­tion of adaptation, emphasis on preventive medicine, and spiritual help spells greater success for our evangelistic endeavors.

Applying the Principles

In developing countries the people are poor, their diet is inadequate, and infec­tions and infestations prevail. We are obli­gated to promote health just as we promote the various departments, such as home mis­sionary, MV, Sabbath school, education, et cetera. Health cannot be separated from any of these departments. Why not estab­lish a separate department such as health and welfare? A health and welfare secre­tary could be appointed. This person prob­ably should be a minister rather than a physician. His promotional work would be in the areas of hygiene and sanitation, preventive practices and services, temper­ance, welfare and relief work. He would chairman a committee that would have as members physicians and other medical per­sonnel, teachers, and evangelists. The phy­sician would need to give technical advice on health and disease, provide health liter­ature, give health talks, supervise and par­ticipate in preventive medical services, such as maternal and child-care clinics, as well as practice therapeutic medicine. In large programs more than one doctor would be needed. (Today the public health physician does not practice thera­peutic medicine.)

Promote on All Levels

Promotion would be carried out on all conference or mission levels. There would be health and welfare budgets, offerings, Sabbath rallies, workshops. Local church health leaders could be elected. There would be health instruction in the baptismal classes. A person would not be bap­tized if he drank beer, and also he would not be baptized if he did not have and use proper toilet facilities—equally important to health. There would be cooking classes, gardening demonstration plots, immuniza­tion clinics, Five-Day Plans, and health curriculums and programs in our schools. All these endeavors would require the co­operation of the minister, educator, and physician.

In former days we have effectually started new work in many areas by establishing a school. Why not take a health educator (like those trained at Hen i Hospital in Tanzania) and send him to teach the peo­ple, not the three R's, but how to live? He should first demonstrate by his own life and home the benefits of healthful prac­tices, and then teach those about him. The health principles could be adapted to the immediate needs of the people, the cause of their diseases pointed out, and spiritual need for being healthy emphasized. The people would not only be healthier but would know the truth for these last days.

These continual efforts of promotion would bring results. Our people would be obviously more healthy than those about them. Our work would gain favor with the people and their governments. The health message would truly be a right arm of the gospel.

Our medical work has done much good in the healing of individuals sick of soul as well as of body. It has put our mission programs in a favorable light before the world. Yet we are not realizing the full po­tential of our health message with the peo­ple who need it most. Many times we have failed to adapt ourselves to the needs of the masses. All too often we have tried to treat disease in the caldron of ignorance and pestilence by a pill when the real long-range solution lies in preventive measures. Our medical endeavors are represented by institutions which are lauded for their good works. But a greater work would be accom­plished if a transformation could be seen in the lives of the people in the way of health­ful living.

Teamwork Needed

Ministers have stood apart from physi­cians with some sort of respectful wonder­ment, and doctors perform their modern miracles of therapy often to the neglect of the real spiritual and physical needs of the people they serve. Unity is needed, espe­cially in the areas of the world where there are great ignorance and physical need. It is imperative to meet the people where they are and teach them a better way of life, us­ing the enlightened methods available to our respective disciplines—medicine and ministry. One cannot succeed without the other.

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ALBERT S. WHITING, M.D. Ngoma HospitaL Kibuye, Africa

August 1967

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