Since my dissertation for medical mission events in the Ilocos Region, Philippines has been approved, I am going to start putting a few posts together that look at some aspects of this. I particularly focused on the role of churches in medical missions who wish to have long-term impact in their community.
A. What are Medical Mission Events? A medical mission event is a one-time (or at least short-term) activity where medical people come into a community to provide various types of health care. These include medical screening, hygeine training, general medical treatment, dental screening, tooth extraction, eye care, minor surgery, circumcision, etc. It may include other care such as evangelism, acupuncture, relief packs, film-showing, and pretty much whatever can be put into a short period of time.
Medical mission events are extremely popular in the Philippines. On the positive side, they do sometimes bring needed medical care into a community that lacks even basic services. Churches often like them because it gives themselves an opportunity to advertise themselves, and do something for the community. Local government (barangay) officials like them because it, once again, shows an effort at helping a community, and makes the leaders look good.
Some remote places rarely or never have medical missions. Some cities have them occur quite regularly. Some specialized medical missions also come to larger cities such as for major surgery, cleft palate repair, and the like.
B. What type of mission is medical missions? Medical mission events can be categorized a number of ways. One way is to say that medical mission events are a form of RELIEF missions. Relief missions is work that involves the short-term meeting of a specific felt need, particularly with help from outside sources. This is as opposed to DEVELOPMENT missions, which is the long-term meeting of felt and and real needs, particularly through the utilization of internal resources (with perhaps some material and knowledge transfer from outside sources).
Another way to classify it is to say that it is a form of SOCIAL MINISTRY. This is to contrast SPIRITUAL MINISTRY, which focuses on the classic religious activities of evangelism, church-planting, discipleship, and church growth. However, medical missions often incorporate both spiritual and physical activities (as well as training) so some would describe medical mission events as being HOLISTIC or WHOLISTIC MINISTRY. Some people prefer the more traditional spelling of “holistic” while others (to emphasize care of the whole person within the whole community prefer the spelling “wholistic.” I prefer the latter spelling, but I am amazed at how heated some people get over this issue of spelling. Spell it however you want… doesn’t bother me.
3. Who does medical missions? In many parts of the world it appears to be assumed that foreigners do medical missions. Reading missions literature, it is hard to find many articles on nationals providing medical care for themselves. In this case a foreign mission team (church-based, NGO, or other organization) will partner with a local host and do medical missions in that country.
However, in the Philippines, locals do a lot of medical missions as well. In this case local medical doctors and nurses will go with a team (again, church-based, NGO, LGU, educational organization, etc.) and work for one or more days at a remote site.
Sometimes the medical mission is viewed to be a religious activity and evangelism and other “spiritual” activities will be included. In other cases it may be strictly secular or humanitarian.
I have been involved in two organizations in the Philippines (NGOs) that do medical missions. Dakilang Pag-Ibig DIADEM Ministries primarily does medical missions in Northern Philippines. Bukal Life Care & Counseling Center (I am presently with) does mostly counseling and CPE chaplaincy training, but does periodically still do some medical missions. With Dakilang Pag-Ibig, evangelism is a major part of the medical mission. With Bukal Life, we often do have evangelism, but we commonly focus on psychoemotional counseling and relationship building.
4. So are Medical Mission Events good or bad? This is a COMPLICATED question. Good people strongly disagree in this area. I will try to give a fairly balanced response… but will save that for the next post (Part II)
More on This in My Book: Healthy Christian Medical Missions