Writing and speaking on all-things-missional is largely conducted by church planters, pastors, and theologians — or at least that’s the way it seems when scanning blogs, new books, and conference programs. But not so long ago, New Growth Press released a missional book edited by Dr. Sam Logan called Reformed Means Missional that aimed to broaden the conversation partners. While Sam was working on this book, he was on Biblical’s faculty and enthusiastically shared the themes that would appear in the chapters. One of the themes was health care. He enlisted Dr. Susan Post, president of Esperanza Health Center in Philadelphia (now a member of Biblical’s board of trustees), to describe missional health care as it is practiced in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Philadelphia.
Esperanza Health Center was founded in the late 1980s by a physician who desired to use her medical training in the poor neighborhood where she and her husband chose to live.
Resources were scarce so she asked her church small group for help with assisting patients with their needs. The result? Patients who were connected to church people got healthier faster. Caring for the “whole person” became the health care model for medical practice and church ministry that became the Esperanza Health Center.
Susan wrote, “Today Esperanza Health Center receives fifty thousand visits from members of our community annually [which] continues to be the poorest in the city…. Esperanza’s missional foundation has not diminished; rather, it is the basis for all decisions and requires developing tangible strategies for health-care delivery that are biblical, allowing us to participate in God’s work through his church as a vehicle for bringing healing, restoration, wholeness, and transformation to individuals and our community.” (p. 122)
Her chapter lists several ways that Esperanza Health Center lives out its missional calling. I commend her chapter to you, but here I offer four ways to do health care missionally that come from her chapter. It’s likely that these four ways are transferable to other ministries because they embody God’s “moving toward this sin-broken world to bring about restorative shalom.” (p. 112)
Taking the first steps toward our patients is often necessary. Esperanza staff are committed to an incarnational health care model where “coming near” is valued and where patients are considered partners in their health care and overall well-being.
Reaching out to the neighbors by speaking their language is a key to sustainable presence. Esperanza staff and volunteers are bi- or multi-lingual so that they can speak the language of the community around the Center. In so doing they model the love of God and bridge the gap that can hinder the relationship between patient and medical provider.
Missional hiring is essential. The leadership of Esperanza defines this as a process of discernment on the part of both the leaders and the candidate. Esperanza looks for people who are committed to Christ, who listen to His word, who are committed to Esperanza’s model of holistic health care and are equipped the skills and compassion that enable them to carry out their responsibilities. Hiring within the community makes it more possible for Esperanza to understand the ways of the community and be responsive to changing needs.
Partnering with the community is foundational to transformation. Esperanza’s model of medical care includes training and discipling what they call “community health promoters.” These promoters work with volunteers who carry out health care initiatives in their churches or neighborhoods. This model makes a giant step forward with “helping a community raise its own health status.” (p. 126)
These four ways—taking the first steps, speaking the language of the neighborhood, missional hiring, and partnering with the community—are values as much as they are actions. When done in the name of Christ and for His glory, those who use them are making a difference.