By Brian Lowther
I’ve given a handful of lectures over the past two years. Most have been fine. Some have been great. One in particular was quite difficult on account of some unexpected cynicism from a few members of the audience. I think the thing that aroused their skepticism was when I said something to the effect of, “in all the world there is no coordinated, theologically motivated endeavor to eradicate disease.”
Three or four people in the audience spoke up with the same concern, “There are already plenty of Christians who do eradication work.”
I agreed with them. And mentioned that there are likely scores of individual believers who are at work in the World Health Organization, the Carter Center or other public health entities. “Their contributions are to be applauded,” I said, “and emulated.” But one of the great developments in Christianity over the past two centuries has been the fruitfulness of the mission agency: a concerted organization of trained people who are theologically compelled to accomplish a specific purpose. There is no equivalent to the mission agency in the world of disease eradication. Establishing such organizations could be essential to the success of eradication efforts currently underway.
This didn't prove very persuasive. Later after my talk, the handful of folks who remained dubious met me in the back of the room to discuss a bit more. “Do you know how much money it takes to eradicate a disease?” One of them said.
I agreed with him and brought up the Rotarians. A little known fact is that Rotarians have been a big part of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative since it began in 1988. Rotary clubs have contributed huge amounts of money and volunteer hours to immunize children around the world against polio and to raise public awareness about the disease. In that time the number of polio cases worldwide has decreased by more than 99%. In spite of this remarkable progress, tackling the last 1% of polio cases has proven to be very difficult. The greatest threat to this program’s success: funding.
A few years ago Rotary International challenged its clubs to raise $200 million in three years. Amazingly, after only two years, Rotarians had raised 87% of that amount.
If each of these congregations followed the Rotarian pattern, over $2 billion would be generated in three years.
The Rotary Foundation raised this impressive sum by challenging each of their 34,000 clubs to raise $2,000 per year, for three years. For comparison’s sake, there are about the same number of Methodist churches in the United States and three times as many Baptist churches. The Hartford Institute for Religious Research estimates that there are roughly 335,000 religious congregations (Protestant/Catholic/Orthodox) in the United States. If each of these congregations followed the Rotarian pattern, over $2 billion would be generated in three years.
Bringing up these facts only served to emphasize how unlikely it is to get every church in America to donate money to the same cause.
We continued to discuss the topic and eventually someone suggested a reasonable first step that the whole group seemed to like: form an organization whose main goal is to connect all of the believers who already work in eradication. These eradication workers could build each other up and inspire one another to pursue the challenging questions about the roots of disease. This new organization could provide the theological motivation to this group, and help them integrate their work with their faith.
There is a similar kind of organization that does this sort of thing for doctors and dentists called the Christian Medical and Dental Association. The CMDA mainly coordinates a network of 16,000 Christian doctors and dentists for fellowship and professional growth. But it also conducts overseas medical evangelism projects, sponsors student ministries in medical and dental schools, and many other good things.
What, or more importantly, who would it take to start an organization like this? What would be appropriate goals for membership, i.e., how many believers are out there who currently work in disease eradication? If that number is relatively small, is this idea not feasible? What kind of low-risk action could we take to develop and test this idea?
I don’t know the answer to any of these questions. Do you? Feel free to leave any thoughts you have in the comments below.