How do you share the gospel on an Indian Ocean island?
Connected to prayer
This article was first featured alongside our Prayer Diary in December 2017. You can download the December 2017 prayer points here or sign-up to receive future editions by post or email.
Kirsty lives and works in a remote island village, seeking to share the gospel through her healthcare work.
But praise God that he has not given us a ‘spirit of fear or timidity, but of power, love and self-discipline!’
It has been a great privilege to be part of healthcare here. We have been allowed into peoples’ lives in their time of need and struggle. But although it’s been a real joy, it’s been a battle too. People have deep-seated misconceptions about health, disease and treatments, and it is hard to treat people when they already feel they know what’s wrong or what they need. Antibiotics can be bought from any pharmacy and most of the little corner shops without prescription, and are readily taken for many minor ailments – from aches and pains to colds. The healthcare system continues to reinforce and facilitate this through over- and mis-prescribing of medicine. Therefore people often get frustrated with us when we won’t prescribe them antibiotics for their runny nose or backache.
Fear is the enemy
Kirsty describes how the healthcare team often encounter cultural fears and taboos in their medical work.
Baby Liam was born at around 33 weeks, but his prematurity was overlooked by the hospital. His first issue was a lack of energy to feed, but with lots of prayer on our part, and effort on his mum’s, he started nursing. Then we saw an increasing jaundice (yellowness) of his skin. Without special UV lighting, our only option was the sun. However, taking a newborn outside is a big cultural no-no. People fear the environment or spirits will make a baby ill. Only if absolutely necessary, and only if very bundled up, would a baby ever be allowed outside. Liam needed not only to be out, but have his back and/or chest exposed to the sun’s UV rays in order to heal. During his treatments, passers-by would scold us to cover him up or take him inside, but we persevered and Liam is now jaundice free and doing remarkably well!
While people here seem to be quick to access healthcare for minor complaints they seem, bizarrely, to be less inclined to seek healthcare for major, life-threatening problems. So we also deal with the other extreme, where we feel someone needs urgent treatment but they, or their family, are less inclined to access it, or acknowledge the illness.
The God who casts out fear
Islanders will also look for alternative reasons for illness too – a curse being placed upon them, or demons plaguing them. Then Quranic medicine or advice from the witch doctor will be sought and paid for. The motivation for almost all these behaviours is the same – the overuse of meds, the over and underuse of medical services, the healthcare system’s response to illness, and the use of alternative ‘treatments’ – it all comes down to fear! Islanders are desperately fearful, and we see it daily in the eyes and behaviour of those who come to us.
Our battle here is not against the flesh and blood, but against the evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against the mighty powers in this dark world and against the evil spirits in the heavenly places. It’s against the one who binds and suppresses these precious people with fear. But praise God that he has not given us a ‘spirit of fear or timidity, but of power, love and self-discipline!’ (2 Tim 1:7). As we strive to love, treat, care and reassure those that come through our doors, we pray that they might come to know the one whose perfect love casts out fear!