My previous columns focused on (1) engaging in ministry with the poor; (2) developing principled Christian leaders for the church and the world; and (3) creating new places for new people and revitalizing existing congregations. The final ministry focus area is (4) combating the diseases of poverty by improving health globally.
In the Hebrew tradition, a human being was a living nephesh: body-soul unity. When a person’s relationship to God was right, that person was said to be in shalom (healthy-wholeness-peace). In the early Christian Greek tradition the right relationship with God was called soteria (salvation). The active aspect of soteria is sozo, which gains a wider meaning in Luke 7:1-10.
In this story, the Centurion asked Jesus to diasoze (heal) his servant – not his spirit, but his physical body. The Centurion returns home to find the servant in hygiainonta (restored to health). In this passage, sozo and soteria are intimately linked with hygiaino (hygiene). You could say that salvation means good health.
It’s no wonder the Council of Bishops included global health in its four ministry focuses. The world cannot fully realize salvation until its people are delivered from illnesses attacking the body as well as the soul.
Through its Global Health Initiative, the United Methodist Church is fighting diseases such as malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis while supporting health education, advocacy, and infrastructure. Our denomination has operated hospitals and clinics in Africa for more than 160 years. More recently, Holston Conference has joined the fight against malaria by raising money for the Nothing But Nets campaign. A donation of $10 will purchase an insecticide-treated bed net that can protect a family of four from malaria-infected mosquito bites. Nothing But Nets also teaches people how to use the nets for best protection and helps provide communications, community-based health workers, and lifesaving medications to prevent and treat the disease.
Holston Conference is also a leader in ministry to persons with HIV/AIDS through our “Strength for the Journey” retreats. I’ve personally attended the retreat and experienced the joy and celebration of being with people who are often shunned as if they are lepers. I’ve received many letters from the participants, thanking Holston Conference for the opportunity to experience God’s grace, love, and care at Buffalo Mountain Camp.
It is my profound belief that by pursuing these Four Areas of Ministry Focus, we will find opportunities to be in partnership with the Holy Spirit in proclaiming Christ to people in meaningful and dynamic ways