In working to connect the ministry of Christ with the needs of these women to design appropriate programs, I draw on the practices of medical anthropology. Medical anthropologists recognize the role of social relations and cultural values in the social reproduction of health behaviors. They examine health as a dynamic interaction between the mind, body, and spirit in cultural contexts. Christianity promotes the value of wholeness and individual connectedness to the whole. This is where the stories of Jesus’ healing come in.
In my reflections of the healing ministry of Jesus, I realized that Jesus extended the healing arts beyond clinical “powers” to bring individuals to awareness of the wholeness of life. He especially reached beyond the mainstream social realm in his healing to link marginal individuals to the community and to more fully experience the Kingdom of God. Christians are called to further Christ’s healing ministry by being open to all who need healing of any sort, particularly to the poor and the socially excluded. We are called to embrace the healing needs of others in our identification with Christ.
In the past, church members did this by visiting the sick and taking “a dish.” In rural areas, they also helped out with farm and household labor tasks. But times have changed. Most people work outside of the home and we send flowers and cards instead of food. And we use electronic prayer chains. But increasingly, churches are engaged in healing activities that address a wide range of health, healing, and wholeness issues. They participate in nutritional programs such as SHARE, WICKS, the Backpack program, MOPS, and TOPS. They donate food to local food pantries and send money for world hunger relief. Churches host aerobic, yoga, Tai Chi, and meditation classes at low costs to members and the community. In some cases, larger churches are hiring parish nurses and staffing free clinics such as the one being organized in Kountze Memorial Lutheran Church about six blocks from Creighton University.
I believe Jesus meant for us to engage in healing and health issues quite seriously. Medical anthropologists motivated by the teachings of Liberation Theology look deeper to the structural factors in the local economy and society that usually accompany poor health and unhealthy lifestyles. From this perspective, the church is called to recognize the conditions of inequality in our society that contribute to poor health. We are called to engage in non-judgmental care-giving programs that help individuals with few resources to better care for themselves as fully integrated members of our society.
I pray that as Christians, we will integrate Jesus’ healing ministry more fully into our ministry programs. That will mean different things in each community, depending on the needs and the resources available. If we look, we can see people in our communities who need wholeness and healing. And if we open our hearts, we can find some resources to help them more fully experience the Kingdom of God through healthy lifestyles and mutually supportive relationships.
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