Beware Medical Missions

Frederick Lugard, a British colonial administrator and Governor at distinct times of Hong Kong and Nigeria, included this estimate of medicine and preaching in his report on the “Rise of our East African Empire” (1893):

I think the most useful missions are the medical and the industrial, in the initial stages of savage development. A combination of the two is, in my opinion, an ideal mission. Such is the work of the Scotch Free Church on Lake Nyasa. The medical missionary begins work with every advantage. Throughout Africa the ideas of the cure of the body and of the soul are closely allied. The “medicine man” is credited not only with a knowledge of the simples and drugs which may avert or cure disease, but owing to the superstitions of the people, he is also supposed to have a knowledge of the charms and dawa which will invoke the aid of the Deity or appease His wrath, and of the witchcraft and magic (ulu) by which success in war, immunity from danger, or a supply of rain may be obtained. As the skill of the European in medicine asserts its superiority over the crude methods of the medicine man, so does he in proportion gain an influence in his teaching of the great truths of Christianity. He teaches the savage where knowledge and art cease, how far natural remedies produce their effects, independent of charms or supernatural agencies, and where divine power overrules all human efforts. Such demonstration from a medicine man, whose skill they cannot fail to recognize as superior to their own, has naturally more weight than any mere preaching. A mere preacher is discounted and his zeal is not understood. The medical missionary, moreover, gains an admission to the houses and homes of the 10 natives by virtue of his art which would not be so readily accorded to another. He becomes their adviser and referee, and his counsels are substituted for the magic and witchcraft which retard development.

Meredith Kline had a point.

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2 thoughts on “Beware Medical Missions

  1. Kline does have a point. I’ve been on medical missions before, and I never functioned on behalf of a church. I view the medical mission as more of what he describes in the scenario where a group of Christians set up a medical clinic as a mercy ministry. I have no problem with a church (or churches) lending financial support, but the church should not be the overseer of a medical practice of any kind, missions-oriented or otherwise.

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  2. Haiti is a great example . Lots of stuff, medical and otherwise has been expended here for decades by the church and well meaning people. The Bishop who ordained me once said that our small denomination would not send any money for charity in general, that we would only send it to one or two of our churches there to preach the gospel. He furthered that Haiti will change when two things happen. First, voodoo has to end. Second, perpetually corrupt governments have to go away. This only happens when a people by and large embrace the truth of the gospel.

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