NEWTON, Kansas (Mennonite Mission Network) – For more than 120 years, Mennonites have realized Jesus' call for holistic ministry through founding and serving in clinics and hospitals around the world, often through alternative service programs organized in response to military drafts. Many of these organizations became fixtures in the communities in which they were built, and are now operated by local professionals.
In 1953, Roland Brown saw these changes firsthand when he moved to Taiwan with his wife, Sophie, for alternative military service with Mennonite Central Committee, and served as a doctor in a small clinic in Hualien. Their ministry was soon transferred to the General Conference Mennonite Board of Missions (later Commission on Overseas Mission, COM), a predecessor agency to Mennonite Mission Network. In 1954, they helped open Mennonite Christian Hospital, a 35-bed hospital that has since grown to become the largest Mennonite hospital in the world, with 500 beds and more than 1,000 staff members across multiple campuses. The last expatriate mission doctor left in 1998.
"It was my hope that someday the hospital would be run by local professionals," Brown reflected. "I could never have dreamed of the development that the hospital went through."
Sheldon Sawatzky, who served with the General Conference Mennonite Board of Christian Service at Mennonite Christian Hospital from 1965-1968, and served alongside his wife, Marietta, as long-term mission workers in Taiwan for more than three decades, believes that the link between ministry and medical care is spelled out in Luke 9:2, in which Jesus sends his disciples out to "proclaim the kingdom of God and heal the sick" (NIV).
"We're not just there to do humanitarian work, and we're not just there to do evangelistic work," Sawatzky said. "We're there to do holistic ministry."
Throughout the New Testament, Jesus healed people wherever he went. Whether he was raising the dead, curing the sick, giving sight to the blind, or the paralyzed the power to walk, it's no surprise that when Jesus concluded the story of the good Samaritan with the words, "Go and do likewise," many Christians got the message that reaching out to their neighbors needed to include care for not just the spirit, but the body as well.
That same desire for holistic ministry helped birth the ONG Bethesda ministries in Cotonou, Benin, in 1990. Originally a health center created in partnership with Mennonite Board of Missions (a predecessor agency to Mennonite Mission Network), ONG Bethesda now encompasses a hospital, a neighborhood sanitation program, job creation efforts, as well as a health training program (known as SARFor) for church congregations in the community.
"Mennonite hospitals … continue to share Jesus' love in the form of word and deed," said John F. Lapp, senior executive for Mennonite Mission Network's global ministries. "That witness is still some of the most effective mission there is."