By Mariellyn Dunlap GraceThe West Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church has entered into Covenant Relationships with four areas of the world: Congo, Mexico, Russia, and Southeast Asia. These strategic partnerships include prayer support, financial giving, training and discipleship, and relationship-building across oceans, boundaries, and cultures.
“The greatest mistake in the treatment of diseases is that there are physicians for the body and physicians for the soul, although the two cannot be separated.” - Plato
The Global Health Initiative of the United Methodist Church is grounded in the concept of holistic health, emphasizing that physical, emotional, and spiritual health are dependent on each other. When Jesus healed the paralytic in Mark 2:1-12, he forgave the man’s sins before also renewing his physical body. One without the other would be incomplete.
The Global Health Initiative, which continues to be a major focus of the General Board of Global Ministries, includes ministries that fight against malaria, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and other infectious diseases; build clinics and train doctors; educate communities about disease prevention; and reach out in compassion to those in need of healing.
Within the Mission Partnerships of the West Ohio Conference, the United Methodist Church in Congo and Russia, and the Methodist Church in Mexico, are combining determination with innovation while focusing on ministries of health and wholeness. For instance, in the North Katanga Conference, a vast region in the Democratic Republic of Congo, ‘healing every sickness’ begins with simple precautions such as mosquito nets and clean water, neither of which is readily available in most Congolese villages. Enter the United Methodist Church…
Congo: North Katanga Conference
Throughout the North Katanga Conference, diseases such as HIV/AIDS, cholera, malaria, and typhoid fever spread at alarming rates. As part of its initiative to combat these ailments, the United Methodist Church drains ditches to prevent mosquitoes from breeding, thereby decreasing the number of people infected by malaria. In other communities, church members help elevate shops onto bricks to slow the spread of typhoid. They also dig underground drainage systems to keep flood waters from going into homes, again to curb malaria. Mosquito nets purchased through the ‘Imagine No Malaria’ campaign by the United Methodist Church are also a vital component of preventing malaria, especially in children.
Contaminated water is another source of disease and death in many rural communities. In the Congo, women and children walk several miles each day in search of water. The North Katanga Conference is working to dig as many deep wells as possible to address this need. In these same areas of the Congo, the inaccessibility of medical care has long complicated treatment for those who are ill. Today, local healthcare clinics created and operated by United Methodist churches offer rooms for treatment, hospitalization, prenatal care, delivery, and postpartum care.
Training centers, such as Lupandilla Nursing School, have been built and rebuilt to train people to care for the sick. Twenty years ago, students sat on stone slab benches to learn; now a new school of nursing has been erected, complete with individual desks and chairs. Scholarships are even offered to young women who have been victims of violence, and these training and job opportunities help to restore their dignity. Construction of Kamina Hospital was halted due to the violence in the Congo from 1996 to 2001. Since peace has returned, the UMC has been working to raise funds to complete the buildings, purchase medical equipment, and hire highly-qualified doctors.
Even with the care now offered by United Methodist clinics in the Congo, certain medical conditions or emergencies require treatment at a hospital. But hospitals are scarce, the nearest one sometimes being more than 200 miles away. In a conference the size of Texas with no paved roads, it can easily take a week to travel 150 miles. Through a ministry known as Wings of the Morning, the United Methodist Church offers air transportation for those who need it most. These flights bring hope to the otherwise hopeless in the form of medical supplies, Bibles, pastors, and mission teams, as well as evacuation of critically ill and injured villagers to hospitals in larger towns.
With so many needing help, the West Ohio Conference is spearheading an effort to raise funds for a new airplane that will enable Wings of the Morning to expand its ministry. A refurbished Cessna Grand Caravan – at a cost of $1.6 million – will enable Wings of the Morning’s pilot to nearly triple his capacity to carry people and supplies to and from remote towns and villages. This means that entire villages will have better access to healthcare – and that the gospel message will be shared in places yet to be reached by the love of Christ.
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).
Mexico: Oriental Conference
For the past 15 years, the West Ohio Conference has been sending VIM teams to a clinic at a non-denominational church in Nuevo Progreso, Mexico. During that same time, a Methodist Church in the neighboring colonia was growing to the point that it could support a medical clinic within its own complex. Both the VIM medical teams of the West Ohio Conference, and the Manos Juntas Medical Clinic of the Oriental Conference, have been growing into vital entities serving the medical needs of people in Mexico. Now, the two have joined hands to serve even more of God’s children.
In January 2011, it was decided that West Ohio and Manos Juntas would join in full partnership, working together to provide medical care for the local community. A new clinic building was reconstructed in Iglesia El Buen Pastor in Colonia Francisco Madera, Nuevo Progreso. The clinic has three patient exam rooms, a new pharmacy, triage areas, a supply area, and a waiting area for the patients.
In Spring 2011, five missioners from the West Ohio Conference, seven from the Oriental Conference, two translators from Texas, and three doctors from DIF (Desarrallo Integral de las Familias), the social services agency of Mexico, joined together to treat 171 patients in a two-day clinic. Though West Ohio will continue to send six medical teams per year, thanks to Manos Juntas, patients are now able to receive ongoing care. Staff from Manos Juntas handle all referrals for further medical treatment, often finding needed services at no cost to the patient.
Sometime in the future, a team of leaders from West Ohio, OhioHealth, Manos Juntas, DIF, and the local community, will meet to begin developing a Community-Based Healthcare Worker training program to meet the unique healthcare challenges of their communities. In addition, DIF is considering using the Manos Juntas clinic as a vaccination site, which would greatly improve the health of hundreds of children in the Nuevo Progreso area.
“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10).
Russia: Volga District
In Russia today, 2.5 million people are addicted to drugs, and 5.1 million use drugs of some kind. Sixty percent of drug users are between the ages of 16 and 30, and more than half of all deaths of people ages 15 to 54 are attributed to alcohol. (Sources: http://en.rian.ru, www.npr.org) Yet Russia’s healthcare system is not well-equipped to treat addicts, and state-run facilities often have low success rates. Few specialized addiction rehabilitation centers are available for the high percentage of Russians addicted to alcohol or drugs.
Twelve years ago, Lubyova Varonina had two sons addicted to drugs and nowhere to turn for help. Desperate to save her sons from a lifetime of addiction, this daring woman found a piece of run-down property 60 miles from the nearest city and, with the help of Samara United Methodist Church, began turning it into a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center. A rundown building with rotted floors and no heat or electricity was soon transformed into a house of hope.
Today, the rehab center is also a working farm, where residents tend gardens and livestock that also supply their food. Several barns and pens hold pigs, cows, and horses, and a hand-dug root cellar keeps a large supply of potatoes, pickles, and tomatoes readily available. Nearly all of the 10-15 residents have been addicted to drugs and/or alcohol for more than 10 years. Several have tried to reintegrate into society but returned to their addictions without the structure and support of the rehab center. Yet they hold fast to the belief that if anything can heal them from their addictions…faith can.
In addition to the rehab center, every United Methodist church in the Volga district has a ministry that reaches out to addicts and helps those who struggle to maintain their sobriety. The United Methodist Church in Russia has become a place where those seeking to overcome addictions are welcomed and valued…where they can experience the love and compassion of Christ first-hand.
Often, the ministry a church does outside its walls is just as impactful as the worship that happens inside. For Ulyanovsk United Methodist Church, that meant creating a unique ministry inside the walls of a local state-run neurological hospital for children. Today, every child admitted to this hospital is given a doll and a marker; the doll’s face is purposefully left blank so the child or parent may draw their own. Doctors and staff then use the dolls to explain some of the medical procedures the child will face.
Besides providing the dolls, church members also offer Bible classes to parents and hospital staff, who have welcomed the United Methodist Church with open arms. During special occasions, members from the Ulyanovsk church also offer worship services. Ulyanovsk UMC even created and furnished a children’s playroom in that section of the hospital – a place where children and parents can perhaps forget their fears even for a short time.
“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (Psalm 23:4a).
Worldwide, the depth and breadth of ministry being done in the name of Christ by the United Methodist Church has the power to change multitudes of lives for the better. Inspired by the holistic, compassionate outreach of the United Methodist Church in Congo, Mexico, and Russia, may we take to heart these simple lessons…
- The Church should be concerned with spiritual, physical, emotional, and mental health.
- Sometimes only God can truly heal, rescue, and restore.
- Compassion can open the doors to minister beyond the immediate.
- Working together toward God’s vision can bring about God’s kingdom in this world.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’ Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’” (Matthew 25:34-40).
Will you be part of God’s global mission?
For more information on The Four Corners of the World: West Ohio's Global Mission, contact Dee Stickley-Miner at dstickley [at] wocumc.org, Mariellyn Dunlap Grace at mgrace [at] wocumc.org, or call 614-844-6200.