by Phil Parshall
My rather extensive reading of Muslim authors, coupled with visits to mission hospitals in Islamic countries, has led me to question some of our traditional medical strategy.
How is it that something so good can be perceived as so bad?
Medical missionaries over the decades have gone forth with the highest level of dedication to seek to express Christ’s love through the art of rescuing lost souls and healing sick bodies. They have deliberately walked away from wealth, fame, and professional advancement. It is not uncommon for a surgeon to leave a potential or realized income of $100,000 per year in order to incarnate his or her faith among a community of desperately needy non-Christians. Long hours, inadequate facilities, and frustrating governmental regulations combine to stretch their faith and calling.
One would therefore assume that Muslim villagers would approach a mission-operated clinic or hospital with utmost gratitude. In most instances, there is no other comparable medical care available within a hundred miles. What a privilege to have excellent humanitarian care extended to them by foreign doctors and nurses along with a competent national staff.
Is this assumption girded with reality or laced with hopeful idealism? My rather extensive reading of Muslim authors, coupled with visits to mission hospitals in Islamic countries, has led me to question some of our traditional medical strategy. Not that our modus operandi has been anything but sincere and sacrificial. Yet, I come to the compelling issue of perceptions. The all-important consideration is the evaluation process going on in the Muslim mind. Without question, he is appreciating the medical care, but is there a larger issue we are overlooking?
Mission hospitals traditionally have stressed a Christian witness within their overall program. There may be a nearby bookroom in which tracts and books are available. Evangelists share the gospel with patients who are awaiting treatment. In the wards there is further opportunity, on a long-term basis, to present the Christian message to Muslims. There is no coercion, rather, one finds a sensitive, loving exhibition of Christian concern for the soul as well as the body. Yet, however right all of this seems to the missionary community, the most compelling issue is how it is being run through the Muslim mental grid.
Inducements. This is the key word. In many segments of the Muslim world the perception goes like this: Medical missions are simply a front for evangelistic persuasion. Mission compounds are high profile realities of wealth, status, and power. Poor village Muslims are easily induced to become Christians through such a compelling institutional strategy that subverts the mind through meeting felt needs of a physical nature. Therefore, though the medical assistance is appreciated, the Christian channel of such aid is often despised.
Perhaps it is time to consider reevaluating all mission compounds in Muslim countries. Should they be altered or reconstructed in order to meet the deeply felt objections of the Muslim community? With gratefulness to the Lord for blessings of the past, we should now be open to a revision in line with the political, sociological, and religious realities of the Muslim world.
Now that we have critiqued the traditional, where do we go from here? My postulate for the consideration of missions working in Muslims countries is as follows:
Staff. There should be two foreign doctors, two foreign nurses, two foreign men trained in public health and preventative medicine, along with a small national staff of dedicated Christians. All should be proficient in the local language and have had considerable training in sensitive cross-cultural living. Each person should have studied Islam prior to involvement with Muslims.
Lifestyle. The staff should not cluster in one area, but rather live in simple rented accommodations out among the people. If at all possible, motor cycles should be used rather than expensive vehicles. Public transportation should be maximally utilized. Efforts should be expended in having the Muslim community donate the use of a building for the medical facility. If this isn’t possible, then a small building should be rented. It is recognized that foreigners have recreational needs different from those of nationals. It is suggested they take regular breaks in a nearby large city, rather than construct a recreational facility where they live. The financial profile of the ministry should be commensurate with the immediate surroundings.
Ministry. Ten beds should be the maximum size. An outpatient facility should be open in the mornings only. Complicated surgical cases should be referred to the nearest alternative hospital. Patients should pay at least a portion of their medical fees. Field workers should stress the preventative aspects of medical care. Evening classes should be held in villages.
There should be no formal gospel propagation. Only personal witness and friendship evangelism should be practiced. Sensitive, contextual literature can be discreetly shared with Muslims who express a more specific interest in the things of Christ. The name of the facility could be something like "Haven of Hope" or "Refuge of Peace."
The staff should strictly conform to the social expectations of the Muslim community by refraining from eating pork or doing anything that would cause offense. Maximum interaction with Muslims is to be encouraged, professionally as well as socially. This would lead to a natural and unstructured sharing of the Christian faith.
Institutions self-perpetuate. Bound into them are cohesive strands of tradition and emotional attachment. They become almost sacrosanct-untouchable and unassailable. But, I plead for an objective assessment in light of our responsibility to incarnate the Savior within the Muslim community. Light attracts. Have we really presented Christ in the most attractive manner possible? Is it time to make even radical mid-course corrections in light of contemporary realities?
Change is preceded by data gathering, analysis, a great deal of prayer, consensus, and then implementation. Throughout the process, one spiritual quality will be observable. That quality is courage. This new age of missions demands just such an amalgam of faith, vision, courage, and, most importantly, implementation.
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