Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Ecumenical Learning and Community Based Health Services: Experiences from East Africa

Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Ecumenical Learning and Community Based Health Services: Experiences from East Africa

Article excerpt

Ecumenical learning is an attempt by Christian groups, congregations and churches to include questions of development pedagogics into their context of life and tradition as well as into their linguistic context. This learning tries to link chances and problems of one's own "house" -- oikos -- with those of the "whole world's population" -- oikumene -- and thus to make healing possible at a local and at a regional level with regard to the global situation -- and to accompany and support this healing. By that, theory and practice of ecumenical learning want to pedagogically respect the religious thesis that Jesus Christ is "life for the world" and not only "life for the respective church."

This is how the Zeitschrift fur Entwicklungspadagogik defines ecumenical learning. I would like now to explain how my own horizon was enlarged, how I experienced ecumenical learning. I will describe aspects of different congregation-based health programmes, beginning with one for which I was partly responsible.


My learning in the Moravian Church in the south of Tanzania began when I started to think about the convictions contributed by the Christian Medical Commission of the World Council of Churches in the early 1970s. Dr Martin Scheel, a member of the commission and director of the Deutsches Institut fur Arztliche Mission, (DIFAM), had visited the church hospital in Mbozi before my arrival in 1971. Following his initiative, church members and hospital staff began to think about whether some of the hospital's services should rather be carried out on the spot -- in people's homes. Dr Scheel had raised the question of the local congregation's healing ministry and of the church's healing presence at each place. How could the causes of disease be brought into the open, and how could the underlying circumstances be determined? How would the congregation face these problems in the light of the gospel? He pointed out the fact that the Moravian community in this part of Tanzania had already had good experiences in this regard and encouraged them to go further. All members of the congregation, men and women, have their own responsibility, sometimes more than is normal in other churches. The involvement of everyone has a visible effect on lifestyles: Malnutrition and parasitic diseases were less prevalent in villages where the responsibility for one's own life and well-being was assumed by each member of the population; the same was true regarding alcohol abuse.

As a result of Dr Scheel's visit and through the use of reports of similar initiatives, the model of community-based health care was established at Mbozi. The elders of each place, men and women, were asked to assume a definite role: to form some kind of health committee and to choose village assistants whose task it would be to expose disease-bringing behaviour in their families and neighbourhood; in addition, they were to give first aid where appropriate.

At the beginning, fourteen different villages were involved, many of them in the immediate vicinity of the hospital. There were discussions between the elders and the people; sometimes an entire village and the hospital staff met to discuss together, often involving several hundred people at a time.

In those discussions, there was no lack of thoughtful understanding and sound motives, along with many good intentions. Speaking of my own involvement: when I look back and compare this programme with others, I realize my misinterpretations and mistakes. We, the hospital staff, were too quick. We Europeans -- my two colleagues, nurses and especially I -- had too high an expectation; we were rushing for success, and in our haste we soon took the responsibility away from those who were responsible. Against the initial agreement, the hospital staff quickly took over the management of remuneration of the village assistants. We took over the supervision of the village assistants from the health committee and the elders, who did not have time to prepare themselves. …

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