Birth of a Good Idea

The only thing that may be more uncomfortable than watching sausage made is watching an idea happen. At least one can eat the sausage and be done with it. An idea is chewed, coughed up, chewed and coughed up any number of times until the original is well beyond recognition. I know this because I have had many ideas, most of which are now just intellectual compost. And I also know that sometimes the world ends up with a good idea that justifies all the indigestion.


Tubigen, Germany has been home for really big ideas for centuries: Hegel, Nietzsche, Moltmann worked here. Up the hill from the University is the jewell-like “Tropiklinic” and German Institute for Medical Mission (www.difaem.de). We met here this week, convened by the World Council of Churches and DIFAEM as the “Strategy Group on Health and Healing.” Conversations like this have happened here many times since the 1960’s. And every now and then, something big emerges. I think I just saw it.

We were listening to Prof. Bernard Ugeux carefully describe his work in Eastern Congo rehabilitating young girls accused of witchcraft, thrown into the streets and shunned. It is a bitter story, even offered in his priest’s hopeful voice and anthropologist’s systematic detail.


Noticing the pattern, I asked psychiatrist Ehab El Kharrat whether he saw a similar framework to his work with alcohol and drug recovery in Cairo. (Ehab on the left, Bernard on the right. Dr. Vijay Aruldas in the middle). It reminded me of the journey with diabetes in Memphis.


And then the magic happened, which might have slid past if not captured on index cards by Dr. Gisela Schneider, the physician who leads DEFAEM. Within a few minutes Manoj Kurian roughed out the map on the computer, which then acquired the name “integrative programmatic framework for transformation.”

Ehab, also a Presbyterian Elder, noticed a profound theological level to the pattern. And then somebody put the Holy Spirit — “Spirit of Freedom” — underneath. Witchcraft, drugs, diabetes–all conditions in which God moves to transform. Alleluia, indeed.


More chewing and coughing is needed. But can’t you see what an astonishing advance it will be for Christian health organizations to have a distinctive framework in which to see their individual “best practices” so they add up to…..transformation? Right now we have a clutter of pretty good practices that help, sort of, to fix a lot of different medical problems that catch our attention. And we argue that faith-based organizations perform as well as anybody in delivering that clutter, which is less than inspiring.

Actually, miracles as Bernard and Ehab see, are not uncommon. We have not had a way to see the pattern of those miracles so that we can be accountable for creating a natural channel for God’s healing work. And without a common framework, we have not really had a way to be attentive to the evidence of that healing.

It is well below freezing as the snow feathers down quietly the day after. But something shook this sacred ground and I can still feel it. A good idea is alive.

– Posted on the journey

About garygunderson

Vice President, Faith Health, Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, NC. Author, Leading Causes of Life, Deeply Woven Roots, Boundary Leaders and Religion and the Heath of the Public. Secretary, Stakeholder Health (Health Systems Learning Group).
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