Two parties happened last week separated only by an ocean. I don’t mean the the World Cup. The first party in Tübingen, Germany didn’t sound like a party at all: “Christian Responses to Global Health and Development International symposium 50 years after ”Tübingen I”Deutsches Institut für ärtzliche Mission (Difäm). Tubigen 1 was a landmark analysis of what religious bodies should do with the astonishing assortment of healthcare assets accumulated over the years. World War Two may not have ended war, but it certainly ended the colonial empires under which those religious assets had been accumulated. So the churches had to think hard, fast and deep. In the process of thinking about their own assets, they ended up framing the subject for the brand new World Health Organization, too. The thinking turned out to be more radical than the doing. Great thinking lasts even longer than great wine, so the party was very appropriate because much of that thinking is still useful a half century later. Maybe the thought has matured long enough to be acted on. If so, let’s party.
The inquiry by the churches was informed by public health professionals and was influential in the formation of the World Health Organizations’ commitment to “health for all” and the focus on primary care instead of hospitals. To read those old documents would lead one to expect that the church would have zero hospitals by now, given the extraordinary opportunity envisioned through global primary care. But 50 years later religious bodies still manage hundreds, perhaps thousands, of faith-based hospitals all over the world . So we are still wondering what people of faith should do next with their “Religious Health Assets” as Dr. Jim Cochrane called them in his plenary lecture for the event.
The pictures on this blog show the other party going on four thousand four hundred and thirty miles miles away on the Eastern side of Winston-Salem where another group was trying to figure out what to do with their historic religious health assets. They were using methodology developed in Africa by the African Religious Health Assets Program, with some help from the same German group above. The process, now called “CHAMP” (Community Health Assets Mapping Partnership) focuses on identifying both tangible and intangible qualities of those assets relevant to health. The issue is still about “assets” but goes way beyond formal medical clinics and hospitals. The process radically focuses accountability for the full range of assets by making that full range visible. This is looking for exactly what the vision of “health for all” missed because it wasn’t quite radical enough, stopping as it did with primary care medical professionals.
As the pictures show, the brilliance of the process lies in its humanity.
This broadens the view to include all sorts of things beyond formal medical clinics. In order to this, you simply must have a way to blend the intelligence of those who understand the history in all its nuances, the hopes gone array, the plans yet unfulfilled, the people in all their complex caughtness. And the intelligence of those who still find the thread of possibility with which to weave unconstrained by the narrow business models so limited by payment in cash and coin.
There are many healthcare assets on the map of Winston-Salem, many with a link to the hospital the North Carolina Baptist Convention founded four decades before Diafem. Later, physicians founded clinics for the poor and the twisty, complicated history of a tobacco company’s interest in the medical health of its Black workers added more. But before all those medical assets came the churches.
The CHAMP process convened at Wetnz Memorial UCC Church, a small but historic congregation about three miles east of the historic heart of East Winston-Salem near Winston-Salem State University. Rev. Renee Griffin opened us in prayer. Beside pastoring, she works in a senior services center in Greensboro, so she knows the complex health challenges so entangled in race and poverty. Many of the 20 “seekers” brought both history and multiple personal qualities to bear on the task. The day before a similar gathering of “providers”, blessed by Wentz Memorial’s Rev. Maria Jones, lent their complex insight to the multi-layered map of assets. Blending is not just mechanically adding to the list of ingredients, anymore than baking is just setting the flour next to the herbs (and, yes, butter, as my pastry chef daughter would insist). It’s all about the artful blending.
Surely this is all known, isn’t it? Can’t you just look in the phone book or ask the public health department or…somebody….maybe the United Way? And what’s the point of all the finding-out, anyway? Isn’t obvious that there simply is not enough to go around? Why waste time on assets, when we need to focus on fund-raising or building the missing pieces? Actually, nobody does know all the assets; not in Winston-Salem, or Germany, or where we looked first, in Zambia. We don’t know because we usually don’t ask; we just leap right to asking about “needs” which almost always turn out to highlight the demand for more of what professionals and providers (such as me) tend to have available. We assess needs and find out the world needs more of…us.
Jim’s words are still being edited for publication, but this can’t wait to be shared: “The Christian faith is expressed in the body of Christ, the ekklesia, the public gathering of believers. As the body of Christ, the ekklesia exists not for itself but for the sake of the world. An historical, existential expression of the call to lifeand the demand to take responsibility for life, it is the place of formation and encouragement that enables one to do so. Leaving aside all accouterments and encrustments, those who identify themselves with the Christian community and its traditions are thus accountable for a faith that claims to find its life in giving its life away.
“Asset-based language helps not only because it points us in the direction of what people or communities have with which they and others can work and upon which one can build. More deeply, it points to capabilities and capacities embodied in human persons that are directly related to health or, more generally, to life – not just life surviving, but life flourishing, not just individually, but in relation to others and to the earth itself.” (ask Jim for the manuscript: firstname.lastname@example.org )
In Zambia or Winston the question that confronts us all is not how to manage what we don’t have, but how to be accountable for what we do have. Much of what we have is each other, the ekklesia, which can only become available through the arts of trust, imagination, hope and, yes, deep accountability for life.
We are only beginning to live into that full and deep appreciation.
The story of the Christian Medical Commission and World Health Organization is told in the second chapter of the book Jim and I did, Religion and the Health of the Public (Palgrave, 2010) and in even more accessible (and free) form on page 21 of the Barefoot Guide to Mobilizing Religious Health Assets: (http://issuu.com/dougreeler/docs/barefoot_guide_3_the_book_v2?e=5408751/2959085 )