Global Missions Health Conference Focuses on Whole Person Missions

More than two thousand participants attended the annual
Global Missions Health Conference 9-11 November 2006.

Dr. Florence Muindi remembers the bell on the missionary church in her rural Kenyan community. Growing up she attended Sunday school with the missionaries’ kids. And she remembers the missionaries who staffed the medical clinic. While their impact on the impoverished area was substantial, it was also limited because (1) the approach was not inter-connected between the physical, spiritual and social needs of the people and (2) the work ended when the missionaries went back home.

Muindi told the story of her own mission work in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where from the beginning she wanted to take a more holistic approach.

Ì¢‰âÒRight from the onset we realized this would be holistic ministry,Ì¢‰âÂå Muindi told the audience at the transformational development pre-conference for the annual Global Missions Health Conference (GMHC) at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, USA, 9-11 November 2006.

Ì¢‰âÒWe realized it would take an integrated approach for change to occur,Ì¢‰âÂå Muindi added.

Holistic mission became the focus of the three-day event that drew more than 2,400 students, mission workers, agencies, organization representatives and healthcare professionals. The GMHC is the largest medical missions conference of its kind.

As a plenary speaker, Muindi spoke about her experience in holistic missions, calling it Ì¢‰âÒThe Emerging Strategy.Ì¢‰âÂå She described her prayerful work as centered not on projects, but on a total commitment to God and on service to the poor that would empower them rather than create dependency or imply superiority on the part of the missionary. Ì¢‰âÒI want to serve the poor at a level that they can identify with me,Ì¢‰âÂå Muindi said.

Her long-term commitment, evident faith practice and close relations with the poor translated into a holistic model that she said goes back to Jesus. Ì¢‰âÒIt was about being Christ to the people,Ì¢‰âÂå she added.

Her work led to the formation of Life in Abundance, International, which is now operating in several African countries and in hundreds of communities.

While the history of traditional missions must be overcome in the Developing World in much the same way that the colonial model must be overcome, holistic models are working in more and more areasÌ¢‰â‰۝a sign that the Spirit of God is involved. Ì¢‰âÒThe strategy for missions has shifted,Ì¢‰âÂå Muindi emphasized.

Community-based organizations and training national believers in church planting are two examples Muindi cited. By demonstrating, training, delegating and enabling disciples, today’s missionaries are emulating Christ. This model also includes phasing out ministry and glorifying God the Father. Ì¢‰âÒThis is the model he left us with,Ì¢‰âÂå Muindi reminded her audience. Ì¢‰âÒTransformational strategy is what God seems to be approving. He is also actively spitting out what is not transformational.Ì¢‰âÂå

Holistic Ministry in Disaster Relief
Perhaps the place where this distinction is most obvious is in disaster relief. While recent worldwide disasters have brought great opportunities for global outreach, they have also underlined the importance of a transformational development approach. Dr. Ted Yamamori, an advisor to the GMHC and former international director for the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, noted the upswing of evangelical response in particular to worldwide disaster and the subsequent consideration of mission philosophy.

“More evangelical ministries and churches are recognizing the importance of holistic ministries,” he said. However, he added, this is neither new nor emerging. Rather, it can be traced back to the 1974 Lausanne Covenant and further back to Christ’s ministry.

What may be new, at least for evangelicals, and especially for nationals now involved in missions, is a reversal of the old model of preaching and then serving, to a holistic model of serving then preaching, Yamamori shared.

Holistic Ministry and Compassion
According to Steve Saint, son of martyred missionary Nate Saint, Ì¢‰âÒHalf of the world’s population does not know God loves them and the best way to tell them is to show them compassion.Ì¢‰âÂå He echoed the call to holistic mission during his sessions at the GMHC.

“We have an incredible opportunity in front of us now to partner as true partners with our brothers and sisters all over the world,Ì¢‰âÂå Saint encouraged his audience. He is working to train indigenous people in dentistry and basic medical procedures and prescriptions through his company, ITEC.

Partnering with nationals is important in Dr. David Thompson’s work as director of the Pan-African Academy of Christian Surgeons, an interdenominational and international organization dedicated to establishing surgical training programs for African doctors at existing Christian hospitals in Africa.

Thompson called for compassion, but cautioned Christian missionaries to have pure motives and not to view compassion as a tool for evangelism. Ì¢‰âÒWe need to be treating the sick because we love them and because we love them we tell them about Jesus, too,Ì¢‰âÂå he said.

Thompson’s plenary session focused on inspirational missionary histories as examples of sacrificial Christian lives. An estimated three hundred people committed themselves to full-time mission work in response to Thompson’s call for new missionaries.

Holistic Ministry in the United States
In addition to global medical missions, many at the GMHC learned about transforming their medical work in the United States to include whole person care.

Dr. Dan Fountain, who chaired the pre-conference, said that along with this type of work worldwide, Ì¢‰âÒThis is a model that needs to expand right here in the US.Ì¢‰âÂå As director of the Global Health Training Program at King College in Bristol, Tennessee, USA, Fountain has been instrumental in developing workshops to train health professionals in serving the poor domestically and internationally.

Dr. Harvey Elder, from Loma Linda, California, USA, and Dr. Sherry O’Donnell, from St. Joseph, Missouri, USA, led a breakout session entitled, Ì¢‰âÒCare for the Whole Person,Ì¢‰âÂå in which they discussed in detail how healthcare professionals in their own culture can incorporate the spiritual and emotional aspects of care into their practice. According to O’Donnell, spiritual questions become a part of patient histories and prayer becomes a part of an office visit.

Ì¢‰âÒSometimes as Christians we say a prayer at the end and say that’s care for the whole person,Ì¢‰âÂå she added, Ì¢‰âÒIt’s not. Causes of illnesses are multi-dimensional. We have to involve therapy for each of these dimensions.Ì¢‰âÂå

Addressing the whole person is its own reward and joy, Elder shared. Ì¢‰âÒThis is why you went to school to become a healing person.Ì¢‰âÂå

Ì¢‰âÒIt’s time we take back healthcare for the United States,Ì¢‰âÂå O’Donnell added.

This year’s GMHC also provided exhibitors and participants with a new web-based format to communicate job openings, short-term volunteer opportunities, training options, equipment and supplies, services and more on the Mobilization Center. The networking opportunities present at the GMHC continue in part through this new forum.

Rebecca Barnes is a freelance writer and editor in Louisville, Kentucky. She can be reached at