This paper recounts how Sarah Hoskins, in building upon her medical contacts and relationship with a national church leader, developed a strategic ministry to people nearing the end of their lives that has now been turned over to local Christians.
Sarah Hoskins served for ten years in an East Asian country. She is now part of the OMF Fellowship Services Evangelization Team, working as the Consultant for Integral Mission to enhance understanding of integral mission and encourage ministries that seek to both proclaim and demonstrate the good news of Jesus Christ. In 2019, she completed a master’s degree in transformational development at All Nations Christian College in the UK.
Innovating Integral Mission
Mission Round Table Vol. 16 No.1 (Jan-Apr 2021): 27-28
It was early in my first term serving in Asia when I became aware that little practical or medical help was available in the country for people at the end of life. As I had been a family doctor in the UK, I easily made connections with medical professionals that allowed me to learn about local healthcare needs. As someone who is passionate about integral mission, I could see that this was not simply an opportunity to respond to a particular medical need, but a setting where God’s kingdom might be seen and heard through both the loving witness of his people and lives transformed by the peace and hope of Jesus Christ.
As we were just forming as a country field, our relative lack of structure and close supervision gave me freedom to explore the possibility of doing something new. Our team was also considering how we could move from a focus on personal evangelism and individual discipleship towards partnering with national believers, serving the small but established and maturing church in the region. Two years later, a clearer question had formed: “Could the church be equipped to provide end-of-life care?” I was encouraged by teammates and leaders to see if this idea could be developed in some way.
I discussed with a senior national church leader the ways in which our team could serve the church and he advised us to “work behind” national colleagues. His concern was for both foreigners and nationals to avoid scrutiny in an atmosphere of restricted religious freedom. I kept this advice in mind as I talked with a local doctor who worked for the largest evangelical denomination about how we might work together to get churches involved in caring for people at the end of life. What eventually emerged was a four-day workshop designed to equip volunteers to provide end-of-life care in their local communities.
As we developed the training, I was able to contribute from my experience as a family doctor, but it was carefully designed with the intent that those who do not have a medical background are able to facilitate the training independently. The workshop includes role-plays, sharing experiences of caring for loved ones, and practical demonstrations. This is done with the aim of forming small teams of volunteers who can respond holistically to the needs of patients and families in their local communities.
We also hope for volunteers to develop a biblically based vision for integral mission and encourage their churches to grow in their holistic mission. Consequently, there are not only times of Bible teaching in the training but also inductive Bible study to explore and apply Jesus’ model of compassionate care. We also discovered that whilst most participants were eager to evangelise, there was a need to discuss how to do this with appropriate sensitivity to the circumstances.
Our approach really does seek to “work behind” churches and, as a result, we only hear second-hand stories of the fruit of the volunteers’ ministry. It is incredibly encouraging to hear of lives transformed by the good news of Jesus, however short or long those lives might be. It’s also heart-breaking to learn of the challenges impoverished families face when they care for loved ones at home.
One group of volunteers decided they would visit patients in a large cancer hospital in their city. This proved to be surprisingly easy to do in spite of restrictions on religion in the country. They met Flower, a lady with advanced bowel cancer, and had the opportunity to share the good news with her. Flower eagerly accepted Jesus there and then! The group offered some practical support which enabled her to be at home with her family when she passed away. She passed away full of hope and peace, as she was certain of her future. The witness of Flower’s hope-filled death had a powerful impact on her family and a few of the volunteers attended some of the funeral meetings and continued to share Jesus and support the family in their grief.
I felt able to step away from my involvement in the ministry when a small group of women had clearly caught the vision and were ready to work together as trainers. Together, we have facilitated trainings in churches across the country and in several different people groups, and, since my departure from the country, they have organised more groups and felt able to make adaptations to the approach. I consider working alongside these amazing women to be the greatest blessing of my own involvement in this ministry. The COVID-19 pandemic has halted the training of further groups, but volunteers continue to visit and care for patients and support their families. We hope and pray for new opportunities in the future.
Throughout this journey, we have tried to be committed to prayer, supported by a faithful community of prayer partners across the world. Knowing that we have consistently brought our plans before the Lord has brought necessary assurance when facing both joys and challenges, and strengthened our belief that he is directing all things for his glory. We continue to have faith that God will extend his kingdom through the faithful witness of his people. We are hopeful that this integral mission approach will contribute to multiplying churches that have a passion to see communities transformed by the good news of Jesus Christ.