Why Support a Hospital in Africa?

May, 2009 Pastor’s Monthly Newsletter Article Over the past few years, our congregation has worked to increase its support of Selian Lutheran hospital (near Arusha, Tanzania) and the Arusha Lutheran Medical Center (in Arusha). Under the guidance of Dr. Mark Jacobson, Selian has grown from a small medical dispensary with ten beds to a 120 bed, full-service hospital. They recently completed construction on the Arusha Lutheran Medical Center, an even larger facility in the town of Arusha. A 5K Walk/Run is scheduled here at Saint Peter for Saturday, May 9 to raise funds for Selian. (See cover article.)

So why is it that we feel compelled to offer our support to a ministry that is so far away from where we live? The instinctive first response is that they need our money, and that our money can accomplish something helpful through their ministries. Actually, that is not one of our top reasons for supporting Selian.

The primary reason we have made this commitment, of course, is because our Lord commands us to. Numerous times in the Gospels, Jesus claims that care for the needy among us is a fitting response to the grace we have received from God. We offer that care not because we imagine we can eliminate the need ("You will always have the poor with you ..." - St. Mark 14:7). We offer that care because that is what forgiven people do. The natural response of one who has experienced grace is to extend grace. Our support of Selian Lutheran Hospital is one expression of that response.

The second reason we support Selian, is that we have been called to be a witness to the world of the presence of God among us. Jesus spoke of this in many ways. We are a light, shining in the darkness. We are a city set on a hill. We are yeast that is mixed into flour. We are salt that seasons food. God desires to have an impact on the world, and has chosen to do it through faithful believers. While our meager support will never dramatically altar the realities of rural Tanzania, our support of Selian's ministry can make a dramatic difference in the lives of those who receive care there. In doing so, we make a statement about who we are, whose we are, and what our purpose in this world is.

The third reason for our partnership with this hospital is the hope that we might learn from them what mission and ministry are all about. The medical professionals at this facility could all have made a comfortable living practicing their healing arts in more affluent communities. But they have embraced the call from God to work in this setting, and offer themselves to a dramatically under-served population. In doing so, their sacrificial efforts provide a glimpse for us of what it means to love God and neighbor with heart, soul and mind.

As many of you know, a group of us from Saint Peter are planning to visit Selian this June. Following that visit, I hope to bring back a much more detailed report of their ministries, and what God is accomplishing through them. But my hope is that this article might set the framework for that visit, and help us all to think through how we will respond to the grace of God, make a difference in the world, and become a witness to others of what God can accomplish when we offer ourselves in service.