Healing Ministry as Christian Mission

by Revd Dr Arul Dhas T.

Date added: 21/10/2016

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Healing Ministry as Christian Mission

Arul Dhas T

(Chaplain, Christian Medical College, Vellore)

21.10.2016, Contextual Mission in India, ECC, Whitefield, Bengaluru

 A paper from the Mission Theology in the Anglican Communion Conference in ECC Bangalore, 16th - 21st October 2016. For the other five papers from this conference click here.

1. Introduction:

Healing and wholeness is understood as the central part of Christ’s threefold ministry (Preaching, Teaching and Healing).  Jesus preached about the Kingdom of God mainly through parables.  He taught through his sermons and his life example how we should live in view of Kingdom values with one another, with the creation and with God.  He also healed many people who were sick and suffering, wounded and broken.  He did this through the healing miracles and signs.

Shalom in Hebrew means total wellbeing, healing and wholeness.  Both in the Hebrew Scriptures and in the New Testament ‘Shalom’ is considered as the important goal of one’s life.  Other scriptural expressions like ‘salvation’ also have the similar manifestations in the life together.  In this paper, I would like to argue that Christian Mission has healing and wholeness as its objective.  This is true both in Indian context and in other contexts.  Restoration of the broken relationships and the bodies comes under the healing ministry that Jesus did during his earthly sojourn.

One of the chaplains in Christian Medical College, Vellore, late Rev. A.C.Oommen likened a hospital to a temple.  The patients and their relatives are like devotees.  The hospital staff – doctors, nurses, allied health professionals and others are like poojari’s of a temple.  They come to the temple to have a darshan of God.  We are facilitating that process of meeting with God.  This is meant to be achieved by our compassionate care, procedures and treatments.  To a large extent, this analogy gives an idea of what the healing ministers are doing or what the missioners should be doing in the context of doing mission.

To start with, I would like to underline the fact that Christian mission is the mission of God (Missio Dei).  God has a plan for the creation. We human beings along with the whole creation have a significant part to play as long as we are alive.  With all our talents, opportunities and our being we are called to participate in God’s mission.  Lord Jesus understood that He came into this world to accomplish/ fulfil God’s mission in his Nazareth Manifesto (Luke 4:18-21).  In the Johannine version (John10:10) he said that he came so that human beings will have life and life in its fullness.  Mission of God is all life affirming mission.  Life negating activities are just the opposite of the mission of God.

It was true that many mission hospitals were and are used by the churches to convert people to christianity.  It is important that the vulnerable nature of patients and their families should not be misused and manipulated to bring in more christians through conversion.   It is unethical, inhuman and unchristian to do so.

2. Healing as the Nature of Mission:

In the Hebrew Scriptures, God is understood as the healer.  In the place of Marah, when God made a statute and an ordinance He said “...I am the Lord who heals you” Exodus 15:26.  Paul Tillich understood that we human beings are alienated from God.  We have a broken relationship with our creator, with one another and with the nature.  We are broken and wounded for different reasons.  Some times our physical body is broken.  In other occasions, our mind or the soul are broken.

The context of our society clearly communicates that we are wounded in different spheres.  We are divided in India due to caste, class, creed and religion.  On the one hand  we are a shining India.  On the other hand we are a disfigured lot.  We are in a land where millions do not even have one decent meal a day.  Our food habits and lifestyle are definitely direct reasons for the countless physical ailments we experience as the nation – diabetes, heart related illnesses, etc.  The way we relate with others is connected with the type of isolation and loneliness we experience which push us into many illnesses connected to psychological wellbeing.  We can go on listing out the links between our brokenness and our contexts.

The good news of shalom promised and proclaimed in the Biblical pages by all means is a good news to all.  Shalom, as we know, is not ‘peace’ as it is written in English.  It includes total wellbeing, healing, wholeness or completeness.  Definitely, it includes physical, mental, social and spiritual dimensions.  Even, salvation from the New Testament may be understood as the part of shalom.  Therefore, if the Scripture has to set a goal for the creation or for the human beings, it is shalom.  When we talk about the mission of God, it is towards shalom, towards healing.  In this sense, goal of mission is wholeness and healing of the whole creation.

3.Witnessing as the Method of Mission:

How do we participate in the mission of God?  Over the centuries different methods have been proposed.  Some methods were even violent compromising the value of God’s creation.  Describing them as mission is faulty and unhelpful.  This may be because of the faulty understanding of mission.  Many christians are of the opinion that more converts they produce during their life journey, the more rewards they will receive for accomplishing God’s mission.

We can observe the links with the commands of Jesus in Matthew 28: 16-20 and its interpretation which has been influential for this kind of thinking.  Often John 20: 19-23 and its reasonable interpretation is neglected conveniently in our whole discussion.  The method of God’s mission which Christ asked us to be part of is what we see in Christ himself.  The Nazereth Manifesto in Luke 4: 18-19 should wake us up to see the larger picture.

Jesus witnessed to the love of God and the kingdom of God through his life, teachings, suffering, and even death.  He invited his disciples to follow him.  Binding up the brokenhearted and recovering sight to the blind was understood by Jesus as part of his mission.  In the whole life of Jesus, we see love of God and Kingdom of God being witnessed in unmistakable terms.

4. Christ as the Embodiment of Mission:

In the Pauline understanding of Jesus, Philippians 2: 5-11 plays a major role communicating who Jesus was like.  As a follower of Jesus, this is what is expected of any believer.  Identifying oneself with the community context is a required minimum for a disciple.  Christ in his being embodied reconciliation, healing and transformation.  This is visible not only in what he said but also in what he did.

In the Johannine description, Jesus is portrayed as the ‘Guru’ to be followed (John 13:14).  Mission of Jesus was to lead a life which will reflect the heart of God and can be imitated by his disciples.

I would like to share a discussion or rather debate about a candlestand in front of a big hospital (Christian Medical College, Vellore).  There are many who are very critical of having a candlestand in the hospital.  Whom do they worship when a patient relative offers some flowers or keeps some incense?  Is he/she not expressing the devotion to the only God?  In fact through the candlestand, we are providing an opportunity for people to remember the divine in the midst of pain and suffering.

There was a survey conducted in Vellore to find out the reasons for many who became christians in 1980s.  More than 80 percent of those who became christians became so due to some of their involvement with the CMC hospital.  It is the untiring compassion and care which was shown towards people by the healthcare personnel with no ulterior motives which made this possible.  Those who are in the healing ministry need to constantly share God’s love in the context of Kingdom values.  This is the mission for which they are called to.

5. Church as the Centre of Mission:

The congregation or the faithful community is the context in which healing miracles were performed by Jesus.  By and large, congregation or the faithful community forms the base for the mission.  When hospices were started as an initiative of the church in early centuries, this dimension was very clear.  In the beautiful parable of Jesus in Matthew 25:36, Jesus commends on those who did their mission well during their lives. He put the words in the mouth of the king saying “I was sick and you looked after me”.  When hospice or hospital does the ministry of healing, the community is doing the mission as is described by Jesus.

I would like to mention one scenario from a christian hospital.  It was a time of worship in the hospital chapel.  Time has come to share the Holy Eucharist.  The leader invited people to come forward to receive the sacraments.  He also mentioned that those who accept that Lord Jesus Christ died for our salvation are welcome.  A hindu patient relative from a distant place came with his external marks indicating that he is still a hindu.  When asked quietly, the hindu said he believes in Jesus.  The priest gave the holy sacraments to him.

Questions emerged from among the chaplains and other christians of that hospital.  Was it right that sacraments were given to someone who was probably not baptised?  As christians what is our calling and mission?  Should we focus our attention to define the centre of God’s love demonstrated in Christ? Or should we spend our time, energy and resources to define the boundaries of christian faith?  What is the mission of the church in a world of brokenness and woundedness?  Could there be a church without a membership register where God’s invitation to be part of the fellowship is extended to everyone?  In fact, we do see in the New Testament the traces of such an open church whose mandate is to heal the brokenhearted.  In such a church, baptism is used as a welcoming ritual rather than a discriminating ritual.  Eucharist is celebrated as the foretaste of God’s love and sacrifice rather than to exclude people from the fellowship.

There was another occasion in which a muslim came to an open chapel.  It was the time for him to say his prayers.  He spreaded the towel near the pulpit and started prostrating and praying as he usually prays in a mosque.  It was great that a muslim felt comfortable to pray to God in the christian hospital chapel.  It is very important that those who are in the healing ministry are open and inclusive so that anyone who wants to show their devotion finds some place comfortably.

6. Whither Healing Ministry? (Challenges)

Of course, from the beginning of Christian faith, ministry of healing had a special place in the church.  Particularly when the hospice became the mission of the church, the body of Christ demonstrated the compassion in an unmistakable term.  However, it is important to look at the scenario today.  If healing is part of the mission of God, are we as the followers of Christ continuing that spirit in us today?  How do we fulfil the burden of Matthew 25:36 “I was sick, you looked after me”? 

When Dr. Ida Sophia Scudder built the Christian Medical College, Vellore, she told ‘we are not building a medical school, but the Kingdom of God’.  In the early part of the twentieth century, mission was understood well in this broad sense.  How is it in the mission hospitals today.  Out of more than 600 protestant mission hospitals before independence, the number has shrunk to nearly 300 mission hospitals today.

The commitment of the Indian Church to participate in the healing mission has come down.  Mission hospitals are seen as income generating places by the church leadership.  Today we see that healing mission is accomplished through even people beyond the official church itself.  Do we demand similar trust from the people of God as we had in the past?  The answer may be strong ‘no’.  Modern hospitals which are the face of Church’s healing mission sometimes are the centres responsible for many people becoming economically poorer.

In the context of western medicine, we need to look at the setting of pharmaceutical industry and medical equipment industry.  Much of the healthcare research are undertaken by the pharmaceutical companies with conflicts of interest.  Medicines for some common illnesses are not accessible to common people since they are made very expensive.  Healthcare expenses are said to be one prominent reason for pushing many people below poverty line.  One single admission in a hospital is enough to bring this predicament to ordinary people.

Another problem is that the native medicinal practices are disregarded by the modern medical practitioners.  All the wisdom and experience we have in the Ayurveda, Unani, Siddha and Homepathic systems are not at all recognised by the western medicine.  Sometimes it makes us think whether this has anything to do with the christian mission practices and its in-built arrogance.  If this is part of God’s mission to bring forth healing and wholeness, why don’t we include native wisdom?

One more aspect could be traced in the medical mission.  This is to do with the lifestyle of the healthcare professionals/missionaries.  Normally this is not reflecting the simplicity which we see in the life of Jesus Christ.  Therefore the disparities between community members are intensified.  Some of us get confused whether healthcare mission is a means to an end.

Lastly, I would like to make a comment on the healthcare education and training.  Dr. Valson Thampu in one of his recent lectures highlighted the fact that the goal of any education/ training is to serve.  However, in today’s messed up priorities,  those who get trained and those who acquire more degrees use their training and degrees to stay away from service.  In this context, Jesus’ statement “not to be ministered, but to minister” has much relevance.

The healthcare trainees should be trained in the spirit of Christ to do the mission of God with compassion and sensitivity.  Here again, since many healthcare training centres are charging huge fees for the training, it is a challenge to instill the spirit of mission onto the trainees.  Cultural sensitivity and fair amount of community orientation is required among them to provide appropriate care.

7. Priority areas of Church’s mission today:

With regard to the healing ministry in Indian context, I would like to highlight few areas which should be focussed in our agenda.  The following priorities are often neglected if someone is commercially minded.

a) People living with HIV/AIDS:  People with incurable illnesses are facing multiple challenges in their lives.  Particularly those with HIV/AIDS need to face the additional challenge of moral and religious ostracisms and condemnations.  Therefore, the church and the related organisations should come forward with their programmes and projects to support such people.

b) Women health: In our society, inspite of growth in different sectors women are still in a neglected position.  Anything connected to women gets low priority.  A christian should pay close attention in this area to rectify the mistakes.

c) Community health: Much of the health care professionals make their dwelling in the towns and cities where they could earn good money.  The church needs to take a different route focussing on the villages and ordinary communities.  It is not to say that we need to ignore the needs of the urban communities.  The church needs to be there where it is most needed.  That is its mission.

d) Mental health:  Mental health is another area the church and the christian health professionals need to focus.  Probably the reason why this is neglected is that the outcome is not so pronounced as the other areas of health fields.

e) Elderly:  The elderly normally do not have much power.  Therefore, it is the objective of the church to side with the powerless to bring forth health and wholeness.

f) Dying with Dignity:  Palliative care is a recently developing field where God’s mission should find an expression clearly since others who are money minded will not go for it.

8. Conclusion:

I have tried to highlight few aspects of Christian Mission from a healing ministry perpective.  What is mission and what it entails is defined from the large perspective of shalom.  While we are aware of the mistakes we have committed in the past in the methodology of our mission, we are called to follow the witnessing model in our mission.  There are many challenges in the ministry of healing – in the mission hospitals and healthcare training centres.  In our land where healthcare and health training is a successful commercial enterprise, it needs christian commitment to remain in a missionary mode of the healing ministry.  Finally we have also identified few priority areas for the mission of the churhes and christians today.

Revd Dr Arul Dhas T.

Revd Dr Arul Dhas T.


Articles by Revd Dr Arul Dhas T.

Healing Ministry as Christian Mission (21/10/2016)

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