In today’s world, many Christians and non-Christians would raise their eyebrows at the thought of opening a mission hospital in our generation. Surely the day of mission hospitals is past? Perhaps they served a purpose in the days of David Livingstone. But today?
When we were involved in planning a mission hospital in Madagascar, over 20 years ago, many objections were raised against such a venture; and many people still raise doubts today.
Here are some reasons why a mission hospital is often considered outmoded or inappropriate:
1) It’s a way of forcing people to be converted, in order for them to obtain medical help.
Non-Christians sometimes talk like this. Of course, medical missionaries would love everyone who comes to their hospital to be converted, but Christians know that true conversion is not something we can force on anyone.
Conversion is a work of the Spirit of God, convicting people of their sin and drawing them to put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. And, just as Jesus treated all who came to him, so mission hospitals treat all-comers in the name of Christ and without any strings attached.
Indeed, it is the caring example of Jesus for those in need that mission hospitals seek to follow — ‘He went around doing good’ (Acts 10:38).
2) It produces ‘rice Christians’ and weak churches. People become Christians for what they can get out of it.
There is no doubt that nominal Christians, hypocrites, exist in the fruit of mission hospital work. But then, sadly, do we not find people like this in all churches? And was there not Judas, Ananias and Demas, even in New Testament days? But this did not stop Jesus or the early Christians from caring for those in need.
3) Medical work leaves no time or energy left to evangelise.
This assumes of course that evangelism and medical work are entirely separate activities. In fact, in Madagascar a medical missionary has opportunity, in the ordinary course of his activities, to speak a word for Christ, pray with a patient, give a relevant tract and address the particular spiritual need of the patient and their relatives. Evangelism is the very life of a medical missionary.
4) It costs a lot of money, which could be used for evangelism or distributing the Word of God.
It is true that it costs money. But do we not spend money creating opportunities for evangelism in our churches? A mission hospital’s money is spent caring for those in physical need. And what better stepping stone could there be to proclaiming the answer to the world’s deepest need, reconciliation with God?
5) It makes people think that Christian mission work is fulfilled by social action, taking away the priority of evangelism.
There is no doubt that, for some people, medical and social projects are all that are needed to show God’s love. But if we are truly evangelical, then proclaiming the good news of salvation from sin through Christ, in all we do, is our first duty.
6) Governments should provide health care; and open gospel witness is not possible in many countries.
It is difficult for those of us in the UK to realise how poor some countries are. The provision of comprehensive health care is just not possible for many governments. Mission hospitals are still greatly needed in the world.
It is clear though that some countries do not allow open Christian witness. Mission hospitals may not be the answer in many places, but we do believe that mission hospitals are still valid in some countries — and Madagascar is one of these.