Church Missions That Create Lasting Change
By Rebecca Barnes
Hundreds of families living in a high desert in the Middle East understand what it means to be hungry every day. Meals may only be found a few times a week rather than three times a day in the refugee camp where men cannot work to feed their families, women cannot find healthcare to keep their children from dying of diarrhea or disease spread through a lack of adequate sanitation.
Relief comes sporadically; a bundle of clothing and some vitamins from one charitable organization or another. Donated food packages with bags of flour, rice, oil, salt and tea, will last for a few weeks. Volunteers arrive sometimes with antibiotics and pain relievers, sometimes immunizations for children.
This sort of relief solves the immediate needs of people that so often move Christians to be compassionate. But, once the clothing has been worn out, the vitamins taken, the food and medicines consumed, the needs return. Churches interested in creating an ongoing and enabling missions program understand this cycle of giving and dependency and look to more sustainable models for missions.
Stan Rowland, Director of Community Health Evangelism for Medical Ambassadors International in the USA, developed the concept of “community health evangelism” or CHE, as a way to meet both the spiritual and physical needs of a group of people, with the ultimate goal of changing lives.
“God is in the business of changing lives. True and lasting development cannot take place unless individual lives are transformed,” Rowland writes.
This philosophy leads to a different definition of accomplishments for church missions. Instead of counting how many houses a short-term team built in a rural village in the developing world, for example, the CHE model would dictate counting how many lives are changed.
“We measure success, not with projects, but with people putting what they have learnt into practice and then teaching others,” Rowland writes.
Through the lens of healthcare this means short-term teams not only bring temporary relief with medicines, but they bring more permanent solutions with preventative care and education in health and sanitation practices that will stop some sicknesses long-term.
Rowland reports on one project in Buhugu, Uganda, where the community chose 12 people to undergo training and to in turn train others in water purification. Local trainees and workers from 10 villages protected 40 springs from contamination and built a 13 km gravity-feed water system that provides clean water for more than 10,000 people. As a result, the incidence of measles in the area has been reduced by 40 percent and deaths due to diarrhea have been reduced by 30 percent.
With the old model of supply-and-demand missions, measles vaccinations and diarrhea medicines may have been sporadically supplied by short-term teams, or even given out long-term. Either way the people in these communities would have been left dependent on outside medicines to stay healthy. With the CHE model, the people in Buhugu were empowered to heal their own communities, by understanding what was sickening them in the first place and making a change.
Additionally, Rowland’s CHE model also introduces biblical instruction. “We believe that the basis for all health care should be a blend of curative and preventative care balanced with biblical instruction,” he writes. Daily training includes both physical and spiritual topics. In this way the CHE program acts as a Christian discipleship effort and a healthcare solution for a community.
Physical, spiritual, emotional and social needs can all be addressed through CHE. Everything from clean water and sanitation, to agriculture, nutrition, disease prevention, and childcare, honesty, forgiveness and compassion, can be covered through training sessions.
“We also train people to help others with emotional and social problems,” Rowland writes. Spiritual topics include lessons on salvation, evangelism, living under God’s control, and how to lead Bible study groups.
“The intent is to raise up local nationals as volunteers who will be models and share the physical and spiritual truths they have learned with their neighbors,” Rowland writes.
Once a few people have been trained in this way, they train others, so that the program is transferable. Ideally, it multiplies and is ongoing, just like the good news of Jesus.
CHE programs in cross-cultural contexts provide a sustainable missions outreach. This model can be based in a church setting, it can lead to church planting, or church growth in the communities in which it is implemented.
Perhaps the most important aspect of this missions model is the ownership communities feel. Rather than importing a project and volunteers from another community, CHE uses local people to work in their own culture, among their own neighbors, to meet needs.
Another example of how a CHE project can change a community is the work done in conjunction with the Presbyterian Church in one developing nation. According to a report by Rowland, among 38 villages in a 2,400 kilometer area some 400 CHE workers labored successfully to bring healing and transformation to their people.
Spiritually, 1,619 decisions for Jesus Christ were made with 508 people baptized. The CHE workers also led 42 Bible studies with 2,936 people involved.
Physically, medical staff saw 20,834 women and children at antenatal and well-baby clinics, vaccinating 6,441 children.
CHE workers also made 9,704 home visits to their neighbors, teaching lessons, making checkups and more.
Community members dug 1,775 new pit latrines and built 1,258 rubbish pits. Some 1,457 families received a “Healthy Home Award” for completing five major health interventions with their family in that year.
After four years, the number of churches in this area grew from two to 36.
This article “Church Missions That Create Lasting Change” by Rebecca Barnes is excerpted from Church Central Newsletter, Sept. 2008.