East-West Church & Ministry Report
Vol. 6, No. 4, Fall 1998, Covering the Former Soviet Union and East Central Europe

A Holistic Approach to Medical Ministry

Henryk Wieja

Recovering From the Fortress Mentality
I come from Poland, a country strongly influenced by the Soviet Union, the leading country in the Soviet Bloc. Former communist countries are going through a very dramatic change. Things that took decades to develop in Western culture are occurring in Poland at cosmic speed, sometimes in only months. The greatest problem, however, is that there are no models to follow in this very difficult transition, and it is very difficult to find people to assist us as mentors. The greatest challenge for the Christian church--which Western missionaries often do not understand--is the mindset, a heritage of several decades of communism: people tend to respond the way they think they are supposed to respond, not revealing their true understanding.

We Christians feel a sense of urgency, not knowing how long these open doors will last. For lay leaders, however, this urgency is combined with a high dimension of impatience, because we observe on all levels--political, government, business, and even church--a crisis of leadership. In the past, leadership was very corrupt, which pushed many churches to develop a legalistic fortress mentality to cultivate their own identity. But this produced a Christian subculture or a Christian ghetto, with less and less influence in society.

The Case for Christian Counseling
Our churches are slowly recovering from this fortress mentality, but they are not recovered enough to support the Foundation for Life and Mission, which I head. Our ministry is not very representative for my culture. According to research in Sweden, 49 percent of patients expect a physician's concern to be wide ranging, not just strictly medical. How does the situation look in Poland? Sixty-one percent of patients expect from medical personnel expressive functions, or efforts directed to emotional needs, even more than in Sweden. Patients have an emotional vacuum that they expect filled. According to the World Health Organization, health is not just a lack of disease but good physical and emotional well-being. In different parts of Europe, 30-50 percent of patients were found to have no organic disorders whatsoever when they came to the doctor. More than 30 percent had complaints of a psychosocial nature related to marital and family relationships and environmental problems. Only 39 percent of patients focus on instrumental functions, medical knowledge, medical expertise, equipment, and professional qualifications. The main challenge before us is to focus on the person of the patient, to see him as a whole being. The person should be the subject--not his complaints, not his problems, not his disease, but his whole person. And here we need a wider perspective.

Medical doctors are in a very unique position in our part of the world. There is little Christian counseling and no psychoanalysis. It is very humiliating to go to a counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist, for emotional disorders. Yet all of these troubled people end up in medical clinics. This is the reason for the statistics above. These are the needs of the patients. In Luke 17:19 we see the definition of well-being. Christ says about the leper, "Your faith made you well." This is the wellness; this is the wholeness that we want to promote in our society--not just a lack of symptoms, not just treatment that removes complaints, but wholeness, wellness, for those who enter into a secure relationship with Christ. Christ defines eternal life in John 17:3 as entering into a personal relationship with God. Faith is not knowledge about God but a personal relationship with God. Hurting, suffering people are receptive to this comforting message, discovering what it means to be in personal relationship with God. God's goal is not just health of individuals, but the individual's salvation through a personal relationship with God through Christ. Any so-called gospel focusing on physical health only, and not on well being, is a false gospel.

A Crying Need for Medical Mentoring
At the early stages of the transition from communism to a free-market economy, those introducing a false gospel were often present in our part of the world before the whole true gospel came. It is not always best to send people who do not know the language and culture, who spend years studying the language and never becoming fluent, who try to replace nationals in the ministry. But there is one area in which we are desperately crying for help. This is the mentoring process. When there are medical missionaries who are better skilled, better trained, and have dealt with better equipment, they can be mentors for those of us who may not have resources to implement this knowledge to meet people's needs.

Let me share with you the philosophy of our medical center: John 13, which talks about a sacrificial lifestyle. John 13:17 is extremely important. I go back to this passage at least once a year to meditate, pray, fast, review my life, and consider the model Christ left for us to follow. Here we see in verse one that, "Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love." First, we have to discover what God's love is, in Greek, agape. In our profession, we need this agape love. Unless we have this agape love in us, unless we are the carriers of the Holy Spirit, and Christ in us, the hope of glory, we will not be able to fulfill the ministry that God gives us as missionaries in the medical field. Do you know why our clinic is so successful that it receives national attention now? Because agape love gives incredible security; it transforms you to live in agreement with yourself, in ownership of yourself, because you can give up, you can resign from something if you possess this something first. In our profession as medical doctors as long as we look for self-fulfillment and self-realization, and as long as we feed our own egos, we will not be fulfilled. It is a serving attitude and sacrificial ministry that are so attractive to hurting people.

Dr. Henryk Wieja is president of the Foundation for Life and Mission, Ustron, Poland, which he founded in 1990 (http://www.silesia.pik-net.pl/forum/misja). Excerpted with permission from a talk given in November 1997 at the Consultation on Christian Medical, Dental, and Health Ministries in the Former Soviet Union and East Central Europe, Wheaton, IL. Audiocassettes of this talk are available from the Institute for East-West Christian Studies.

Henryk Wieja, "A Holistic Approach to Medical Ministry," East-West Church & Ministry Report 6 (Fall 1998), 1-2.

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1998 East-West Church and Ministry Report
ISSN 1069-5664

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