Medical Mission Events in the Philippines, Part IV

Partnership is necessary, albeit unpleasant at times. Some churches often do not desire to work with local government because of mistrust. NGOs often feel the same way about churches. These feelings are, sadly, often justified. Creation of solid partnerships is done due to necessity, not because it is easy or enjoyable.

Theoretical Proposition Two.  In medical missions, it is not simply what one does, but why one does it. This is because motive affects action. Good motives lead to effective ministry, while unsound motives lead to failure. Good motives in medical missions should have at least three characteristics. First, the medical team should be centered on Christ. Medical mission teams should use Christ as their example for ministry, and should seek to have the same love He has for those in need. Second, the team should be focused on the wide variety of felt and actual needs of the community. Outsiders should make a genuine attempt to give relief to the community and provide a vehicle for long-term improvement. Third, the medical team should seek to empower the local body of believers to help effectively their own community.

Theoretical Proposition Three.  A clear understanding of the goal(s) of the medical mission should be part of the planning from the beginning.It could be argued that this is simply a corollary to the first two propositions; however, the importance of this finding justifies special attention. Interviewees disagreed considerably on some points, including the goal of medical missions and the appropriate follow-up.

With regards to goal, many interviewees focused on spiritual change, while others on the wholistic side. This difference relates to Ballard’s description of attitudes regarding Christian social ministry. He describes five of them. Interviewees tended to focus on ulterior motives or on wholism. Rather than supporting one attitude and attacking another, it seems reasonable simply to note the difference in goals, and promote dialogue between outsiders and hosts to ensure that they share the same goals. The same can be said in follow-up. Others saw the role of follow-up to be with the local church or community. Some saw it as, at least in part, in the hands of the outside NGO. A miscommunication or misunderstanding between parties as to their roles on a long-term basis can result in follow-up work not being accomplished.

The difference in attitudes between the different parties is important. Most interviewees noted the importance of members of the medical mission partnership to act with the right motives. Many also noted the importance of evaluating the success of the medical mission in both implementation as well as short-term and long-term results. Differences in parties will affect how things are done and how they are evaluated.

Theoretical Proposition Four. Doing medical mission events poorly is NOT better than doing nothing at all. Poor medical services may be worse than the services already available in the area. It can also lead to unwarranted mistrust of local medical services. Mission events with no long-term strategy and no skills transfer can lead to dependency in the community, and encourage local government and organizations not to improve local health care. Medical missions that are not built on a healthy partnership can be used by local government and individuals for political ends. Local churches may use medical mission events simply to try to lure members away from other churches.

Theoretical Proposition Five.  Medical Missions need to be planned based on solid prior research, which must not only attempt to see “how” to do the medical mission, but first “if” the mission should be done at all. Some sites do not want a medical mission, and many sites that want this type of ministry do not need one. There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all medical mission. Ones done without research may appear to be effective in the short-term, but there is no reason to expect their effectiveness as a long-term strategy for wholistic ministry to the community.

Theoretical Proposition Six.  A medical mission must always be thought of as a part of a broader, and cyclic, ministry. In some cases the medical mission team needs to plan periodically visits as a form of medical relief. In cases, skills transfer needs to happen so the community can continue on in a cycle of self-development. In other cases, the outside organization may need to change its strategy over time. For example, it may transition from medical care, to training, to capital equipment transfer. Regardless of the case, if the long-term strategy does not occur, continued transformation within the community should not be anticipated. Related to the above, a medical mission event should not be thought of as a single event. Rather it should be thought of as part of a longer-term strategy for ministry. While there may be times where one might choose to do a medical mission event with only short-term relief in mind (such as after a disaster), this should not be the norm.

Theoretical Proposition Seven. Medical mission events are not really about medical, dental, surgical, or eye care, or any of a myriad of services that can be provided. Rather, medical mission events should be about providing health, in the broadest sense. Perhaps a definition of wholistic health such as that developed by Lifewind would be appropriate. In the Community Health Evangelism model (CHE), good health is defined in terms of four good relationships: with oneself, others, God, and the environment. Another possibility would be to look toward wholistic growth as a model of good health. This model looks to Luke 2:52 for its inspiration. The verse states, “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” Thus, good health is defined as growth mentally, physically, spiritually, and socially. Regardless of the model, one’s definition of health should go beyond physical and curative health.

Theoretical Proposition Eight. An unhealthy tendency to cut corners on medical missions always exists. Some interviewees made this point indirectly. However, it was observed directly in a number cases by the difference between how interviewees say medical missions should be done and how they actually do medical missions. This study did not investigate this disconnection between theory and practice. It could be hypothesized that lack of resources or over-commitment (keeping too busy doing many medical mission events) results in missions being done differently from the recommendation of the interviewees. Since this research studied the beliefs of the interviewees more than their actions, for now the tendency to diverge from the recommended form is noted with caution.

Theoretical Proposition Nine.  Training should take on a lead role in all medical mission events. Team members must be trained before the mission as well as while they are on-the-job. The community must be trained, gaining skills previously absent. Training requires the transfer of material resources to ensure that the training can be applied.

Training should not be defined narrowly. Rather, it should be based on the needs of the community, including health and hygiene education. It could include spiritual discipleship, too. It may also include community development and livelihood aspects. The possibilities are vast. Again, the needs and desires of the community must be primary.

Theoretical Proposition Ten.  The local church must take on a role in the long-term ministry in the community. In those situations where a viable, self-sustaining body of believers does not exist, development of a local church should be a planned, intentional, outcome of the strategy utilizing the medical mission event. Where a church already exists, it should be empowered to minister effectively in the community. The reasons for this are simple. First, the local church has long-term presence that outsiders do not have. Second, the local church is able to provide the spiritual ministry lacking in other entities in the community.

Sometimes, more than one local church exists in the community. Since partnership is important in the ministry work, it is desirable to create a cooperative, rather than competitive, relationship among these churches. Medical missions should not be used as a method to draw people away from one body of believers into another.

Theoretical Proposition Eleven.  Evaluation and monitoring are necessary. They should be accomplished to make changes in an individual event or in the next cycle of work. Also, they should be done to make improvements on a long-term basis. Evaluation and monitoring should be carried out intentionally, honestly, and incorporating metrics. Not doing them can lead to failure to learn or to take advantage of new opportunities that arise.

Theoretical Proposition Twelve.  Medical missions and the broader long-term ministry in a community are spiritual work. The ministry is God’s, not people’s. This dimension of the work must be remembered in all of the research, evaluation, goal-setting, strategizing, and training involved in the activity. However, the spiritual dimension must never be used as an excuse to ignore the more mundane (or mechanistic) components of preparation and implementation. In fact, proper planning and strategizing should freely and fully incorporate prayer, meditation, seeking God’s will, and other activities that are often considered as more spiritual. These different activities should be considered complementary and synergistic.

Relevant Book: Healthy Christian Medical Missions