|Date||October 1, 2004|
She was 19, beautiful and intelligent, about to start her training as a medical assistant. The world was her oyster. That is, until she woke up paralysed from the waist down by transverse myelitis, a rare disease in which the body destroys part of the spinal cord. Overnight she became bedridden, unable to control her urine or stool. Her supportive family took her to local doctors, then to Kathmandu, and finally to Indian hospitals, but as the weeks went by with no improvement they began to take her to witch doctors and other local healers. Finally they gave up, and Manju was brought home. She had given up hope of walking, but was determined to get around as best she could, hanging onto furniture and walls to at least make it around her house. After a year and a half of this existence, she was brought to Pokhara to consult a Buddhist healer. By this point she was quite depressed, and had given up hopes of walking, marriage or work. She was staying near one of our nurses and thus heard of the existence of the hospital. Soon after she came we could see her stubborn determination to ‘get back on her feet’, both figuratively and literally. She has worked hard on using what muscles were left her by the disease, and has learned quickly how to best use them. With foot splints and crutches she began walking around the hospital, refusing help when she fell down; she has also learned to control her bowel and bladder. While here she heard about Jesus, and has made him Lord of her life. She now wonders, ‘Was it God who brought me here to this hospital?’ We look forward to what she – and God – will make of her life. We have arranged for her to get into a course to learn office skills, and it is such a pleasure to meet her from time to time, growing spiritually and developing as a person.
Integral mission Which change in her life was more important? The physical one, of us teaching her to walk again? The social one, of enabling one who is completely dependent on her family to become self-supporting? Or the spiritual transformation, of her finding the peace, joy and eternal security found only in Jesus Christ? We would say wholeheartedly that all are important for her as an individual loved by God. To focus on one area only to the exclusion of others would leave her as less than a whole person. Focusing on only her spiritual need without attention to her physical and social need would leave her with belief but still in a desperate situation. Neglecting the spiritual by focusing on only the physical and social rehabilitation would leave her as a monument to man’s, or our, greatness, without acknowledging the One who creates and heals. Integral mission is all about effecting total transformation in people’s lives, the kind of radical change Jesus and his followers brought about in the New Testament. We read of Jesus saying not just, ‘Be healed’, but also, ‘Your sins are forgiven’, with both aspects brought together in the simple statement, ‘Your faith has made you well’. Integral mission means loving the whole person and wanting to see God’s transforming and healing power working in all parts of people’s lives. It is a love that desperately shares a person’s desire to walk again, to work again, to be free of drug addiction, and at one and the same time wants to see that same person be transformed into a child of God with a hope not just for their future on earth, but for their eternal future as well.
Contrasting ways of working ‘Holistic mission’ is a term often used for this. While it is a good term, it has come to be associated with development work done by, or even just paid for by, Christians. When one looks around the world at what is done under the name ‘holistic mission’, one often finds simply ‘good work, being done by good people’, in which it is hard to find the aroma of the living God at work. At times, this kind of ‘mission’ is indistinguishable from that done by secular aid agencies. Is this really the church’s mandate? The Bible is very clear on this: people without Christ are lost. To neglect telling of the great news of God’s saving grace falls far short of the biblical mandate.
Contrasting with people simply doing development work are those who are involved in exclusively evangelistic ministry. While we are all called to different roles in the church, for the church as a whole to ignore people’s physical and social needs would also fall short of the biblical ideal. In 1 John 3:17 we read, ‘If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?’ When Jesus chose to illustrate God’s greatest commands, to love God and to love neighbour, he did so with the story of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), an intensely practical example of what love for neighbour implies. While Jesus clearly said that to love God is the greatest commandment (Mark 12:28-31; Matthew 22:36-40), we may be surprised to find that ‘the entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.”‘ (Galatians 5:14; see also Romans 13:9,10). James makes it clear that to speak about faith without practical evidence of that faith in acts of love for others is hollowness: ‘What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such a faith save him?’ (James 2:14). God obviously expects that a real love for him and faith in him will compel us to show compassion to the needy.
Somewhere between these two types come those who do development work as a means of spreading the gospel. This may look from the outside much like integral mission, but the reasoning rings a bit hollow. As we watch Jesus in action, we see him healing the sick, bringing people to repentance and forgiving sins all for the same motive: his deep love for them. Jesus did not perform works of healing to create an opportunity to preach to those people; he did both out of his compassion for them. This type of ‘means to an end’ thinking leaves us rightfully open to the accusation of duplicity in our motives, and will make many doubt our sincerity.
Development of the whole Integral mission involves development of the whole individual, as modelled in Jesus’ own development as a boy: ‘And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and men’ (Luke 2:52). Jesus grew – in wisdom, physically (stature), spiritually (favour with God) and socially (favour with men). This is a model not only for our own personal development, but also for how Christian development or mission should look. Our ministry should be bearing fruit in development in all of these four areas of people’s lives. We will seldom see all happening at the same time, or in the same person, but, over time, integral mission will bring about a radical transformation in people’s lives that will make others sit up and take notice.
Interserve is involved in integral mission through, for example, its support of poor patients at the hospital in Pokhara, Nepal. While only a minority of the staff are Christian, several of the Christian staff there are there because of a real call from God to minister to the whole person. Whether or not they have heard the term ‘integral mission’, they are living it out daily in ministering to the disabled and those affected by leprosy in practical and spiritual ways. Seeing the lame walk again, useless hands made to work again, broken hearts made whole again, the unemployable being put to work, are all everyday occurrences at the hospital. At the same time many, but certainly not all, of those treated come to know Jesus as the One who brought about the healing in their lives, and go on to bring this good news to others in remote parts of Nepal.
We all need to be involved in this kind of mission in our home countries as well, in our churches and neighbourhoods, families and communities, bringing about change in all areas of our own and others’ lives. Thinking of the parable of the good Samaritan, where is our road? Surely it is where we are, right now. And who is our neighbour? Surely those with whom we rub shoulders every day. If the people in our congregations become drawn into an active, holistic love for our neighbours, we will see a growth in maturity and numbers in our churches. Thus the ‘great commission’ (Matthew 28:18-20) and the ‘great commandment’ both will be fulfilled – or, more accurately, the ‘great commission’ will be fulfilled as part of the ‘great commandment.’ May God convict us all to such a ministry.
The family are Interserve Canada Partners serving in Nepal with International Nepal Fellowship – working as a Medical Director and surgeon at the leprosy hospital.