Friday, October 18, 2013

India - in no particular order 4...a lesson from the hospital

During our India trip this year we spent some time visiting health projects - and CSI places a high value on its hospitals, which, for the early missionaries, were a vital part of the process of creating community and making relationships. In healing the sick they not only obeyed Christ's mandate but fostered relationships with the local community based on the meeting of needs. Contrary to some misinformation, at no stage in the history of Christian missions was help and treatment conditional on accepting Christ, though of course there was always the hope that the kindness and compassion shown in missionary hospitals might inspire patients and visitors to explore the faith that was its source.

CSI hospitals today still treat all comers - though rather confusingly in modern India they need to charge for their services in order to survive, so find themselves caught between the free but basic provision of government hospitals and the state of the art, gleaming chrome aspirations of private medicine.
The CSI hospitals are still  held dear, both as a link with those missionary origins and as an expression of an essential outworking of the Church's DNA- but I'm not honestly sure whether they have a place today - though like many other treasures of the past, they are surprisingly hard to let go.
So even the barely functioning hospital at Chickballapur was an essential item on our itinerary - and I'm so glad it was, for it was here that we encountered one of the clearest demonstrations ever of what vocation can mean.
You see, there has been trouble at the centre in our link diocese of Karnataka Central, trouble closing diocesan offices and meaning that some salaries have gone unpaid in CSI projects for weeks and months. Yet at Chickballapur staff came in daily. One sister who strained at the hospital 40 years ago has never stopped coming in to give the care that she knows is at the heart of her calling. Wards were mothballed, dustsheets covered disused equipment - but, said the medical director
"People still choose to come to us to die....because we don't treat death as a mechanical failure but as an essential part of being"
Time to consider a change of focus, perhaps? to move from hospital to hospice? to let go of some of the treasures of the past in order to hold the Christ-light in the present?
Something for our churches to consider too?
Just possibly.

And, of course,a  change of focus need not mean abandoning vocation.

One of our group, who had been considering nursing, was so inspired by this that she went home with her mind made up. To love your work so much that you carry on regardless of salary - just because you have to - that's vocation, right enough.
What inspired us most of all, though, was a rural nursing dispensary - from which student nurses, on placement from the main CSI hospital in Bangalore, went out to isolated settlements, - where their presence and work in health education was having a significant impact. The women and children in these tiny hamlets were simply not going to get to any hospital - of whatever stamp - but with nurses appearing in their community, offering immunisations, wise advice and a rapid first response to more serious ills their over-all health was improving hugely. Further evidence that competition with the shiny trappings of American-style health-care might not be the best route forward for the church's ministry of healing in Inda? 
I don't know - but it might be worth considering.

Back in Bangalore, we encountered another nurse, still driven by her vocation some 2 decades after her official retirement - or perhaps she was simply an angel in disguise.
Mrs Hopi qualified as an SRN at the Middlesex Hospital in London before even I was born, and nursed for many years in both the UK and her native India. Now she lives in a retirement home right next to the CSI hospital and visits the geriatric ward there daily without fail. Her presence there is, quite simply, transformational.
You see, the very existence of elderly care units is a challenge to traditional Indian culture, a sign that western influence is taking its toll on the extended family, that elderly parents can no longer expect to end their days cherished by their children and grandchildren, and with a guaranteed place in their home.
Many now work abroad - so an elderly parent, frail and confused - is a huge worry.
The CSI hospital offers loving care, ensuring that physical and emotional needs are met - but Mrs Hopi loves and cares for the SOUL.
She clearly knows and loves each one of the long-term patients dearly. She reads the paper to them, prays with them, sings to them - every single day.
As our stay in India went on, our less-than-tuneful group learned rapidly that singing was part of the essential package expected of visiting Christians.
On the geriatric unit, it was, triumphantly - the perfect language.
When we had exhausted our small repertoire, I turned instinctively to the Sunday School songs my own mother had learned from the CIM missionaries in Chefoo between the wars...and as I began to sing, Mrs Hopi and the patients soon joined in.
"Wide, wide as the ocean..." we sang - remembering the truth that God's love does indeed reach us wherever we may be
"Jesus loves me, this I know" (and Mrs Hopi taught me a new verse, singing with  the earnest,  simplicity of a child who knows that every word is true)

When we left, she asked me to give her a blessing - but I knew who had really been blessed by the day's encounter...

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