Fuller Seminary campus hosts three-day conference on medical missions and ministry
How does one witness to the Christian faith when engaging in healthcare ministry? “By living lives and doing ministry that provokes questions to which the gospel is the answer,” said Bryant Myers, Fuller professor of transformational development, in a talk given at the 2009 West Coast Healthcare Missions and Ministry Conference held September 17 to 19 on Fuller’s Pasadena campus.
Dr. Myers and Provost Sherwood Lingenfelter were two Fuller faculty members who spoke in plenary sessions at the conference, held annually to equip and connect those interested in the healing ministries, from medical professionals to mission pastors.
In Myers’s talk, “The Whole Gospel: Health and Healing as Christian Witness,” he stressed that we are witnessing all the time, with our whole lives—and that those we are helping will notice where our focus lies. “Whatever you are perceived to put at the center of your medical program, that is what you are witnessing to,” he said. Is the credit going to God, or to the medical technology we are using?
“When healing happens, there needs to be an explanation” of why we are doing what we do, he said, and we can better communicate that explanation when we are nurturing our own spiritual lives. “As activists, we tend to jump over the ‘being’ to ‘doing,’ and this is dangerous to spiritual health,” he noted.
Those who serve in medical missions, he continued, must get beyond a Western emphasis on the physical and scientific to understand and overcome the deeply rooted primal worldview—a belief in demons, spirits, and other unseen forces—held by much of the world. “We have a challenge to show how we do what we do without reinforcing the primal worldview,” he said. “Are we explaining the miracles of our medical healing with God as part of the explanation?”
Dr. Lingenfelter, in his talk on “Misplaced Priorities in Mission,” discussed lessons we can draw from one missionary’s experience establishing a food coop in Papua New Guinea. The coop ran very well while he was on site and in charge, but three months after he turned it over to local management, the project collapsed. This was because, said Lingenfelter, the local community “defaulted back to cultural patterns that were part of who they were. We all default to our own cultural patterns—what we know; what we’ve done before.”
To address this challenge on either the mission field or in a medical clinic, “you need to intentionally incorporate discipleship training into your work,” Lingenfelter said. Training must go beyond technical skills to focus on what it means to be a “covenant community” that acts on Christian principles rather than defaulting to cultural patterns.
“How do we address conflict as Christians? How do we address failure? How do we work together when we don’t agree?” These are the kinds of questions we must work through, he said, in cultivating “covenant community medicine.” But this is not easy, he said, and suggested that roleplay exercises must be part of such training. “It requires creativity, thinking deeply, and asking for God’s help,” he said.
Five other plenary presentations were given in the course of the conference, including one by Fuller alumna Ana Wong-McDonald (PhD ’99) on “Spirituality Recovery: Using Spiritual Interventions in the Process of Transforming Persons in Christ.” Numerous workshops were also offered over the three days on a wide range of healthcare topics.