Friday, May 25, 2007

Can Church & Government Partner to Meet Human Need?

I’m in Durban, South Africa this week on a “vision trip” to see what God is doing in this area and to see if He is inviting my church to participate with Him in any way. I am seeing many things.

I’m here with two women, Caryn and Pam, who work with the women’s ministry in our church. Several of our women have become burdened about the AIDS pandemic and have been catalytic to our church becoming available to serve in this arena. Yesterday we visited an AIDS hospice in one of the suburbs. A former senior housing facility that had gone out of business, this 6-story structure was purchased by a church 5 years ago and now services 100-120 dying patients.

The plight of AIDS is so far reaching that the government as well as the population in general is overwhelmed. When a church congregation steps forward and says it wants to help the government says, “Please do.” Therefore, the church secured the capital for the purchase and renovation, provides a steady flow of volunteers and established the mission statement to bring dignity, compassion and care to those “infected and affected by AIDS”. The government provides significant grant money annually to fund the utilities, buy meals and pay salaries of doctors and nurses.

You can imagine my “American look” when the hospice administrator was telling us the story. I asked, “You mean the government gives grant money to provide medical staff and medicines without restrictions on doing ministry?” Their reply, “Of course.”

Lest you leap to conclusions about “strong armed, manipulative religious proselytizing” allow me to share with you about our experience. We thought we were there to simply see what the hospice was doing, take a brief tour and some notes and pray about any future involvements or support. Instead we were asked to make “pastoral” visits of the patients. What does that mean?

There is one chaplain for 100 patients. He is totally overwhelmed and welcomed our assistance in making visits. We went to the 6th floor and just began going from room to room to see if anyone wanted to talk. Every single patient wanted a visit! We would sit or kneel by their bedside and inquire about their day. Sometimes they would share some of their story. We were on a women’s floor and everyone of them was in their 20’s! Most had one or more children being kept by a family member or institution.

We held their hands, patted their shoulders, cared about their pain and allowed them to shed their tears. People with AIDS often are not touched nor spoken with because of fear of the disease and shame associated with their plight.

At some point in the conversation we would ask, “Would you like some scriptures read or a prayer?” Every single one of them wanted that. Note: our perspective was that we were there to comfort and care. If reading a scripture or saying a prayer would not be of comfort we would gladly do the visit, offer our love and care and that would be that.

With each scripture reading there was an unusual sense of peace that would come upon the patient. With the speaking of prayers bodies would relax and become less agitated. We prayed for their children, for God’s comfort and in some instances we prayed for healing.

I assumed that the mortality rate in a hospice was 100%. At this writing the mortality rate at this center is 60%! Once these patients receive some nutrition, medication, and soulish care 40% of them improve and are able to be discharged and return to their children and homes.

To me this partnership between “church and state” is brilliant. The benefit of this ministry is so clear recently a group of Muslims made contributions for the purchase of needed equipment even though they knew all the work was being done in the name of Christ and that some patients were becoming Christians.

Can church and government partner to meet human need?


Christina Rothman said...

I was encouraged to learn that the African government is so willing to help it's people and allowing people of faith ministries to join them. That raises hope. I am looking forward to hearing more from you Pastor Scott on what God has placed on your heart and what His vision is for our church. We have all been praying for you.

jill o said...

I'm so proud of you brave, vulnerable people who are not ashamed of God and his love. Who willingly sacrifice time away from loved ones, the security of their world and home to go and nurture other souls. Thanks for doing this.