The Philadelphia Summer Medical Institute (SMI) is a project of Medical Campus Outreach (MCO), a ministry of Tenth Presbyterian Church, partnering with Esperanza Health Center. During the three week summer project, which ran from June 28-July 19, Christian health care students live and work in the dense urban environment, providing door-to-door health screens for diabetes and blood pressure, as well as providing information about HIV, asthma, and nutrition. They share the love of Christ through conversation and prayer with those they meet. The articles here are written by various SMI student participants who have contributed to this blog series.
The more people I talk to and the more houses I walk into, there is less esperanza to be found. Esperanza is the Spanish word for "hope", and is also the name of the medical center that we are associated with. Time after time, people tell me about their lives. Their son is in jail; their young daughter just died unexpectedly; they can’t maintain a steady relationship, and the list goes on. These people aren’t just a statistic, a region of the world that I am unaffected by, or an unreachable group: they are humans with the same struggles as us living here day by day, and they are in need of our same savior Jesus Christ.
As I found early in our ministry, it is easy to get burdened down by the woes of everybody’s life and to feel helpless. However, I soon found a new truth. In a world with a lack of esperanza, Jesus Christ is the true esperanza for us all and the only one who can ever give us true, lasting joy. This is what I keep telling most everyone I run into, praying these words: "I pray for hope for this family, and not just hope in this life, but the hope that if we believe that Jesus Christ died to take away the sin of this world, someday we can be with him where there is no pain and no suffering." This is a fallen world, but we have much hope in the restoring power of Jesus Christ and the gospel, which I truly believe can affect us today and in every moment. Even through these trials and tribulations we can live out Philippians 4:7: "And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." It is easy to get caught in despair, not just for these people in North Philadelphia, but for ourselves as well. That is why we need a life in Christ and the gospel, which brings so much meaning, purpose, and joy beyond this world. This is what I try to bring to people and preach to myself every day.
On a more positive note, I believe that one of the best ways to serve God is with your talents, whatever they may be. This is where the term "medical missions" comes from, and I have never seen medical missions so perfectly embodied as in SMI! Through SMI, people from many different medical backgrounds all come together with a central focus on serving in Christ's name. This is carried out in a professional and personal manner, dealing with each individual’s physical needs, while at the same time ministering to each individual’s spiritual needs. People are automatically open to what we have to say when they see the scrubs we wear, our desire to help their community, and the way we eagerly engage in conversation, allowing the spirit to work in such magnificent ways. Praise God!
One shortcoming of short-term missions, however, is that it sometimes fails to consider the long-term impacts on the communities we enter. High school and college groups may enter an area, interact with many people for a short time, and leave thinking about how God changed them in many ways without considering the people left behind who live in these areas all year round. To address this issue, we become involved in a local church close to the areas that we minister in and to the local Christian health center, Esperanza, which allows every person we meet the opportunity to get connected with people already living in the community, providing year-round support. We make a significant effort to explain the benefits of Esperanza and the loving community of the church to every person in the houses that we enter. For all these reasons and many more, I feel the Holy Spirit moving in this program, not just providing superficial conversations and conversions, but lasting change that can really impact this community in a positive way.
So pray for North Philadelphia, and know that wherever you live, Christ-centered service is not just something for missionaries, but everybody who has a heart for Christ and his people.