Engaging Church Leaders in Health Print {sharethis label=}
Organizations working in global health are increasingly recognizing the value of working with faith leaders to share health messages and educate their congregations. CCIH member Doug Fountain recently shared his experiences preparing students at Uganda Christian University to share health messages in a piece in the latest issue of the CCIH Connector.  
Reaching Out to Church Leaders on Health
by Doug Fountain 
I was invited to write this after an exchange in the CCIH LinkedIn group about engaging church leaders in health. My experience is one of many good examples out there. While I worked at Uganda Christian University from 2004 to 2012, we established a semester-long “Health and Wholeness” course that is required for all students.
More than 16,000 students have completed the course since 2006.The course covers hygiene, sanitation, nutrition, diseases, HIV/AIDS, maternal/child health, addictions and fitness. It prepares students to be “health leaders” in their families, churches and communities. Some students subsequently established community programs reaching more than 10,000 households. Students learn that health is not an absence of disease, nor is it something you ‘get’ from a doctor. We focused on “wholeness”, defined as:
A state of personal physical, mental, spiritual, and social health, in which a person knows their value in the eyes of God, their families and their communities, and where they are empowered to make good health decisions.
Reaching Clergy
Our students included seminarians preparing for ministry. Two things became apparent. First, reaching clergy during this formative period influences their ministry. Some later told me they developed sermon plans using our course material! Second, seminarians brought limited theological perspectives on health. Some churches run hospitals and promote curative health. Others emphasize healing ministry. Most students had reasoned, scripturally driven views about sin, grace and Jesus; fewer could describe how God relates to our health.
Health professionals hope the Millennium Development Goals may cause the church to focus on health the way that HIV/AIDS helped the church address sexuality. If there is no uniting theology or rallying vision for health, then why not rally around the MDGs? “Why not MDGs!” is hardly a rally cry for the church.
As we unify around theology of health, let us do so without turning away church leaders in the process. Leaders do need updated information, but growing impatient and labeling them “out of touch” hurts. Recently I heard someone say they had lied to a church leader about promoting a family planning practice that their particular church frowns upon.  Disagreement should lead to discussion, not deceit, for the long term benefits of everybody involved. 
So how do we reach out to church leaders?
1. Appealing to theological foundations. Here is the most important message in health: Love the Lord your God with all your heart (social), soul (spirit), mind (emotion) and strength (physical); also, love your neighbor as yourself (esteem). Sounds like a good start to me.
2. Strategically engage students and continue providing them practical information.
3. Respect them for the leaders they are, as you expect them to do for you.
Doug Fountain is a CCIH member and consultant specializing in global health and international higher education. He is developing a medical volunteer program, helping organize the new Christian Journal for Global Heath, and (with his wife Dr. JoEllyn Fountain) recently published a book on planning for universities in Africa. Access their new website atwww.developinghighered.org
Last Updated ( Thursday, 19 September 2013 19:36 )