t’s no coincidence that at every session of the General Conference Executive Committee the mission statement of the Seventh-day Adventist Church is read to the full committee—lest we forget. The mission of the gospel’s proclamation utilizes the three methodologies of preaching, teaching, and healing. These modalities, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, have served the church well throughout the decades.
In considering our Adventist global health ministry, it is important to recognize that service to others—caring for the welfare of the whole person—is as much the goal of the church as is caring for our own personal well-being.
The clarity of the health message is often fogged by those who would seek to embellish or improve upon its simplicity. The beauty of its focus upon Jesus, the author of all health, is sometimes hampered by the ornamentation we seek to hang upon its precepts.
Circling the Globe
Today we see a global Adventist health work that is truly remarkable. One hundred sixty-eight hospitals are being operated by Adventist agencies. In the United States some 100 of these utilize the most modern evidence-supported techniques.
Florida Hospital, for example, with its multiple facilities, is helping to lead the way in health care and is promoting lifestyle through the Disney Celebration City. The Loma Linda University (LLU) Medical Center is renowned for its cardiac surgery, as is Washington Adventist Hospital. The LLU Medical Center has led the world in proton therapy, with Dr. James M. Slater as a pioneer in this area. Under the visionary leadership of Dr. Lyn Behrens, Loma Linda University and Medical Center once more embraced the concept of health care as a health ministry, and Dr. Richard Hart, president since March 2008, has ignited a zeal for mission reminiscent of 100 years ago.
It was in the first half of the twentieth century that Adventist medical professionals, in a wave of energetic missionary zeal, established the work of the church in health care across the globe. Hospitals in Sydney, Australia; in Tokyo, Japan; in Hong Kong, China; in Taipei, Taiwan; and in Penang, Malaysia, stand as modern giants in the field of medicine.
Adventist Medical Schools
The Adventist Church has three medical schools—Loma Linda University in California, Montemorelos University in Mexico, and River Plate University in Argentina; more are being carefully planned in Africa and the Philippines. Dental schools established in Loma Linda, Montemorelos, the Philippines, and Korea teach hundreds of Adventist young adults, while more schools are in development. Our nursing schools are more than 50 in number, and thousands of nurses are trained each year. Postgraduate education in public health taught as extension schools from Loma Linda and Montemorelos has enriched the lives of thousands of students.
But we must not forget the small mission hospitals, some in places so remote and underserved that the efforts of a single doctor can impact lives far beyond the imagination. For every one we might mention, there are scores more—steady, dedicated, giving men and women turning their backs on fame and fortune to bring hope, comfort, and a message of salvation to the oppressed, weak, hurting, and neglected masses.
Service for others is enriching to all concerned. But it takes a lot of flexibility and ingenuity for a doctor, trained in a setting where advanced technology plays a significant role in medicine, to adapt to the mission hospital setting.
Despite dramatic cutbacks in budgets during the past 20 years, the Adventist Church still supports a solid core of foreign medical missionaries. Their ranks are swelled by hundreds of volunteers who spend some time each year in service to others.
Missionary work in isolated, far-flung regions is difficult yet rewarding. If we were to visit Heri Adventist Hospital, just across the southern border of Burundi in Tanzania, we could find Dr. Alvin Rocero doing surgery in a small operating room, delighting in his new anesthetic machine, struggling with his antiquated operating room lights, and basking in the joy of electricity generated some three to four miles away in a small hydroelectric plant set up for them by the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA).
Thousands of miles away in India, Adventist physicians serve some of the millions of residents on the subcontinent. A team of eye surgeons—some five in all—ran a temporary eye camp for cataract surgery. They performed thousands of surgeries.
The first Chinese hospital to be accredited by the Joint Commission International for hospital accreditation is the Sir Run Run Shaw Hospital, whose staff and processes all run on a plan introduced by the Loma Linda University Medical Center staff. The legendary Dr. Gordon Hadley spent half a dozen of his “retirement” years training and guiding the hospital’s development, and it’s no surprise that there is a growing Adventist community surrounding the hospital.
The husband-and-wife team of Oscar and Eugenia Giordano narrowly escaped with their lives in the turmoil of the Rwandan holocaust, but today they lead programs making churches centers of health and healing.
In Rwanda’s Mugonero Hospital is a memorial garden, in which are buried the remains of some 3,000 slain in the troubles. Quiet rivers flow, trying to wash away the horrors of the bloodied bodies they carried into Lake Victoria, but the hospital is open for service. Dr. Silas Gomes and his wife, from Brazil, recently arrived to join the national team of doctors and nurses. As a surgeon, Dr. Gomes brings a skill invaluable to the team.
In Chad, which borders on Darfur, are young missionaries James and Sarah Appel, a doctor-and-wife team whose e-mails vibrate with the raw horror of medical work in the region, as well as the delight they experience in service.
Working in the country of Niger, former youth pastor Jason Brooks incorporates health into his ADRA ministry, but he would be useless without the support of his wife, family, friends at home, and the team he works with there.
Close to the shores of Kendu Bay on Lake Victoria a small, stone Adventist hospital is open to hordes of people living with HIV and AIDS who come regularly for medicine. The hospital team works long hours of surgery, treating dozens of medical conditions, while the business office struggles to scrape funds together to keep the medical facility operating.
In Gimbie, Ethiopia, a child sits on his father’s knee. The child probably has tuberculosis, but the coffee crop failed this year and the father has no money to pay for treatment. The hospital is also running in the red. The facility’s young administrator is full of idealism but finds it hard to find the cash to operate the institution. It’s thought of as strange, but the hospital allows patients to stay until the families scrounge together payment; it’s cheaper to wait than not get paid.
In South Africa, Maluti Hospital carries 30 percent of the AIDS burden of Lesotho. Dr. Jorge Rodriguez and his wife recently lost their son in a motor vehicle accident, yet in spite of their sorrow and grief they have returned to Maluti to help others.
Dr. Wilbert Hurlow, an accomplished surgeon, struggles with administration at Kanye Hospital and wonders how to cope with the flood of need. Kanye, located at the border of the Kalahari Desert, is one of Botswana’s main hospitals; countless numbers have streamed through its doors.
Malamulo Hospital in Malawi has been in existence even before Loma Linda University and Medical Center. It’s set in the rolling hills of Makwasa, a region of poverty. A flagship some 20 years ago when Gil Burnham and his wife, Ginny, brought in millions in aid money, the hospital now is struggling. Adventist Health International is attempting a turnaround of Malamulo, and LLU’s president, Dr. Richard Hart, is imbuing students with missionary zeal.
Ishaka Adventist Hospital in Uganda, and Yuka and Mwami Adventist hospitals in Zambia are others with similar challenges.
Across the blue Indian Ocean is Madagascar, with its colorful quilting of rice paddies and cities lined with stalls of fresh produce. The church’s medical work has seen resurgence there ever since the doctors incorporated a fee-for-service program.
In the Caribbean are Adventist hospitals, all working against tremendous odds. In Kingston, Jamaica, the hospital is being renovated. In Trinidad a hospital on the auction block has been revitalized and transformed by a British-trained national neurosurgeon.
It is not only hospitals that serve. The church operates hundreds of medical and dental clinics. Places such as Papua New Guinea boast clinics that have been adopted by local congregations. A local church, putting $5,000 to $10,000 a year into equipment and maintenance, can completely revolutionize a clinic’s function.
Nearly 70 dental clinics serve in many lands. In Bangladesh Dr. Milan Moskala is renowned as the gentle saint who feeds the children and helps with their schooling after finishing his work in the dental clinic.
God’s hand is over our mission work, because the work is His, but it’s sometimes a low priority in the thinking of most Adventists.
Whether it’s through an extremely well-equipped and world-renowned hospital such as Loma Linda, or a struggling mission hospital in a remote world region, the health message of the Seventh-day Adventist Church shines as a brilliant jewel. What a privilege is ours to embrace and be blessed by its light!
Allan R. Handysides, M.B., Ch.B., FRCPC, FRCSC, FACOG, is director of the General Conference Health Ministries Department.