Keeping Faith in Faith-Based Organizations

By Carol Seiler, Commissioner9781610979238

In his recent book, Keeping Faith in Faith-Based Organizations: A Practical Theology of Salvation Army Health Ministry (Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2012), Salvation Army International HEalth Secretary Major Dean Pallant provides a tremendous amount of research and in-the-field observation on the topic.

The book offers a formidable bibliography and vocabulary, and the reader must be prepared to spend time chewing the material. With significant insight due to experience, the focus on India and Africa study the complexity of transitioning from hospitals to primary care approaches.

In reading through the economic analysis and discussion of the perils of professionalization of health services driven by western funders, I had to wonder why professional health care brought to Zambia “under the guise of western donor pressure” would be so much less desirable than church volunteers building relationships, especially when looking for responses to the health needs of the poor. My own filters as a nurse from North America resisted the negative sense of western world views. As an officer, I have served as a health volunteer in low income or free clinics, including at adult Rehabilitation Centers. I carry a bias for healing health care practices and for bringing knowledge and skill to improve wellness.

While I agree that focusing on “survival of the fittest” and “market driven exploitation” of the poor are not healthy, in reading I also sensed a strong anti-entreprenurial perspective.

Without giving away the ending and recommendations, Pallant leans heavily on the value of congregations and social capital that “moves beyond the hospital and biomedical framework.” Having the time and skills to engage in “deep listening” is not to put aside medical expertise, but to prevent further exploitation of the poor as a commodity in a competitive setting. Then, access to real healing can occur.

Understanding that this is a role for the faith-based organization in health ministry, I see the principles in my own experience in Army programs in North America. As a whole, it reinforced my conviction about the incredible value of being The Salvation Army–a faith-based organization engaged in health ministries.

Frontier Press regularly releases titles that address both the social and spiritual ministries of The Salvation Army with an aim to develop relationships and build transformation.

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