My disappointment with the church grew a month into the doctors’ strike, when I was continuing my research on CS Mailu’s role in the healthcare crisis. I stumbled onto this report posted on KEPSA’s website about a very unconstitutional “stakeholders’ forum” between the freshly appointed CS and the private sector. The meeting did not include representatives from KMPDU. I assume that the Ministry of Health was supposed to represent the wananchi, but as we all know, Mailu is the last person who can do that. So we can safely assume that WE THE PEOPLE were not represented.
For me, the shocking part in the report came with three little harmless words that you could easily gloss over: Faith Based Organizations (FBOs).
Did the church attend the Ministerial health stakeholders’ forums under the umbrella of the private sector?
For me, until the church disassociates itself from those meetings, I will continue to consider it complicit in the healthcare crisis. The other reason I believe the church is complicit is because I have never heard the Kenyan church preach a theology of medical care that is humane and African-centered, different from the colonial theology of medical care. The pillars of that new theology should include the following:
a) A theology of medical care for serving the sick, not converting the sick
Several of the older church hospitals in Kenya were started during colonial times. At the time, the theology of the church was to convert African souls for Christ through medical care. The services of colonial doctors ended up serving the colonial government because they made African Christians they treated feel less hostile to colonialism.
That theology needs to end. The African church hospitals need to be based on the theology of doing all the church can to help the sick, not doing all it can to convert the sick. While it is God’s responsibility to heal the sick, it is our Christian responsibility to serve the sick because of their special place in God’s heart.
b) Holding Caesar responsible for healthcare
Often, when churches quote Jesus’s famous saying that we should render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s, they usually are telling Christians to accept whatever nonsense the government throws at wananchi, because that is separate from our duty to God. That is probably why churches feel that their responsibility is to complement the government with church hospitals when public healthcare is wanting.
On the contrary, the church needs to stop seeing itself as an alternative to the government in service provision. It needs to realize that Caesar will always have more material resources than the church, simply by virtue that we give to Caesar by law but to the church by calling. Even though the church serves an omnipotent God, it can never have all the material resources that Caesar has. And it doesn’t need to, because the church’s mandate in the world is different. Its kingdom is not of this world. The church must therefore prophetically tell the government that it must institute healthcare for all God’s children in this Kenya. And the church should not feel that its hospitals are threatened by public healthcare. We can never have enough hospitals.
c) Prophesying about the special place of the sick people in Christ’s heart
Our Lord reserved a very special place for the sick in His heart. Jesus reminded his disciples that it was the sick, not the healthy, who needed Him as a doctor (Mark 2). And He was very specific about our service to the sick being one of the criteria for entry into heaven (Matt 25). Most of all, Jesus said He would do anything to save the lost ones. He was the shepherd who temporarily abandoned his ninety-nine sheep to find the one sheep that was lost (Luke 15). He was the Christ who left glory to be hung on a tree. For you and me.
And there are also stories in the Bible about God blessing people’s efforts to receive healing from God. In 2 Kings 5, we read of Naaman sending a huge amount of money to the king of Israel to be cured from leprosy. When Naaman thought Elisha’s instructions to bath in the Jordan were simplistic, his servants, who could have enjoyed seeing their boss suffer, instead risked their jobs to tell him to just do as the prophet had asked. That was how important an individual’s health is.
And there are several stories in the New Testament about how people went out of their way to get healing for themselves or for others. In Matthew 8, a Roman soldier was concerned about his sick servant, a person whom he did not need to care for. He looks for Jesus, and asks Jesus to just speak the word, and the servant would be healed. In Mark 2, four men go at lengths to get their paralyzed friend healed. They see a crowd and decide to break through the roof and let their friend down so that Jesus would heal their friend. In Luke 8, Jairus, a synagogue official, risks the wrath of the religious leaders when he throws himself at Jesus’s feet and asks Jesus to heal his daughter. In the same passage, a woman who had bled for 12 years, who had seen all the doctors, weaved through crowds to touch the hem of the Lord’s cloak. In Luke 10, the Good Samaritan doesn’t just help the injured traveler; he cleans and bandages the traveler’s wounds, and tells the innkeeper that he would pay for any extra charges for the traveler to stay until the traveler got well.
If Jesus acknowledged the lengths to which we human beings go for the healing of ourselves and others, the church must remind the government to put aside every railway, every laptop and every election, if only to make sure that that even one sick Kenyan gets the medical service they need.
c) Refusing to be categorized under private sector
I feel that the time has come for the church to refuse the demeaning tag of “Faith based organization.” The church is not an organization based on faith; it is a community of faith. Refusing that tag will hopefully help the church pull out of being categorized under the private sector, which defines itself by opposition to the public sector – that is, government.
The church is the revelation of God in today’s world; it is not a sector. Moreover, the church and the private sector have different interests in providing healthcare. The church provides healthcare as the fulfillment of God’s kingdom on this earth. The private sector provides healthcare to make money. The church and the private sector hawako pamoja.
With these pillars, the church would not have found itself in the embarrassing situation a few weeks ago where the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops offered to mediate between doctors and the government, and inadvertently took the side of government by using the government line about doctors being greedy for big salaries. The greedy party in this whole healthcare fiasco is the government officers who abandoned their role as Caesar and started playing the one of Zacchaeus, while Caesar became World Bank, Gates Foundation, Abraaj Group and European countries like France, Sweden, Norway and Netherlands. Instead of collecting taxes and providing healthcare for the people of Kenya, the government officials collected taxes to send to “Rome” and used 30 pieces of silver to line their private investments and buy political mileage.
The church should not offer to mediate in this healthcare crisis. At the pulpits, it should tell politicians to climb down the sycamore tree for a “visit.” The visit should be public prophetic declarations to politicians, until the politicians repent and say like Zacchaeus: “we have cheated the people of Kenya, and are willing to pay back four times as much.” The government must repent for selling our sick to businesses and foreign governments, and for prioritizing elections, railways, laptops and other tenders over the health and education of Kenyans. If Kenyan Christians have ears, they should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches.