The following is the address given at the commissioning service held on 3rd June 2017 in Namirembe Cathedral, Kampala, Uganda during the Graduation Weekend for the first 49 South Sudanese students completing the National Institute of Health Sciences (Jonglei province) training programme. This is for training Midwives, Clinical Officers and Registered Nurses to work in South Sudan, which has one of the worst health records in the world. This Christian run training programme has the support (but not financial) and encouragement of the South Sudan Government. Anglican International Development (AID) has helped fund it; and its medical faculty has been working on behalf of the International Christian Medical and Dental Association (ICMDA). Because of fighting tragically breaking out in the South Sudan, the National Institute could not be established in Bor (the capital of Jonglei) in 2014. However, the Mengo Hospital, a great Christian hospital in Kampala, Uganda - was willing to provide space for the programme. The commissioning of the students was led by the Archbishop of Uganda, with the service including a version of the "Hippocratic" Oath from the US Christian Medical Fellowship. Also at the service were interested representatives of the wider community. Please pray on for the continuation of this programme and its financing.
As chairman of Anglican International Development (AID), can I say how honoured I am to be able to be with you all on this remarkable occasion. And straightaway I need to say a big thank you, on behalf of all us visitors, above all to God for his goodness, and then to our friends working on behalf of the International Christian Medical and Dental Association (ICMDA). So a huge thank you to Anil and Shalini Cherian and the Staff at the National Institute of Health Sciences Jonglei for their leading and teaching that has made this service possible and necessary! And a great thank you too, to Dr Rose Mutumba, and her hospital authorities for allowing Mengo to host the Institute these past three years. And last not least we thank his Grace, the Archbishop, and the Dean of this cathedral, for enabling us all to be here this evening.
I first entered this building in 1965 - 52 years ago, as a CMS missionary working in the Sudan, when visiting Uganda with some South Sudanese students for a Christian conference. Much has changed since then, but not Jesus Christ. As Hebrews 13.8 says: "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever."
And that is why in 2017 we still need to study Jesus' word and that of his Apostles, which of course means studying the Bible. So what does the Bible say to students that are soon to leave and seek work as Midwives, Clinical Officers and Registered Nurses, in today's world with all its problems, challenges and opportunities? I want to be simple and suggest four things it teaches you to do.
They are in the form of four couplets, first, Seek First; secondly, Finish Strong; thirdly, Keep Christian; and, fourthly, Watch Yourself. So...
1. Seek First
What does that mean? Well, it is from the promise of Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount, where he says: "Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness all these things [basic human needs that we so often worry about] will be added to you" (Matt 6.33).
A number of you are soon to start a new phase in your lives. So how are you thinking about what you will be doing not only as Midwives, Clinical Officers and Registered Nurses but as Christian Midwives, Clinical Officers and Registered Nurses? What do you expect to happen when you are out in your clinic, health centre or hospital?
The first thing to say is that if you go where God is calling you to go, and you seek first his kingdom, you will find life truly fulfilling in all sorts of ways. But don't get me wrong. The Bible doesn't promise that life will be always easy. And God's supply is not always in the way you think or want. Certainly that has been true of my life.
The place where I was called to work after first leaving college was Omdurman, in the Sudan. Working with the Church Missionary Society (seconded to the Presbyterian American Mission), I flew out in October 1964. But our Comet Jet plane had to overfly Khartoum as the airport was shut. A revolution was going on and General Abboud (then the President) was being overthrown. After staying in Aden, on my eventual arrival in Khartoum, I was met and driven through tear gas and rioting to Omdurman. While there, the Christian school where I was teaching was destroyed by older boys invading the school in their hundreds to attack our fine Northern Sudanese Christian headmaster. Also, with literally hundreds of thousands on the streets our huge mission centre in the middle of Khartoum with so many facilities was also utterly destroyed during one night of fighting and carnage.
But apart from the bad times, I learnt so much during my time in Omdurman and Khartoum. I learnt the truth of the Psalmist when he says: "Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart" (Psalm 37.4).
There was suffering and great danger but also times of lasting happiness as well. Yes, the gospel is the Good News of Jesus. But as Paul and Barnabas taught their new converts "through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14.22). So if you seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, you can trust that God will somehow supply your needs. It will not, however, always be an easy ride. There will be tribulations and testings. But God will always be in control. Then, secondly, you need to...
2. Finish Strong
I know of someone, a clergyman, who has this as his staff motto: "start well, get better, finish strong." We heard in our New Testament reading how Paul finished strong – verses 6-7 of 2 Timothy say this: "… the time for my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished race, I have kept the faith."
Paul wrote that not long before he died, and from prison. So because life can be hard for the Christian – for the devil will be attacking in all sorts of ways – you need to persevere and not give up at the first hurdle.
Jesus is a wonderful example of not giving up once he had started on his "ministerial career", if I may call it that. For Jesus lived in hard times. Palestine was under Roman control. People felt and were oppressed. Jesus' second cousin John, John the Baptist, was in prison. He had been preaching, baptising and preparing for Jesus' ministry. He was a fearless man of God. That meant he was willing to denounce King Herod and his "wife" Herodias for their sexual immorality. Herod, then, had him arrested and imprisoned; and before long Herodias had him executed, ISIS style, by being beheaded.
But was Jesus depressed? Did he give up? No! Mark 1.14-15 says: "After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 'The time has come,' he said. 'The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news.'"
Jesus didn't flee from Herod. Rather, he went into his territory. For Herod (Herod Antipas) had jurisdiction over Galilee. And that is just where Jesus fearlessly goes to work to start his ministry. From God's perspective this was not a bad time and place but a good time and place for Christ to begin his ministry on earth. It was the right time for God the Son, incarnate, to live, teach and die and rise again.
And the nub of what Jesus was teaching was that God – the God of the Bible – is the ultimate King. The ultimate authority is not Herod's or Tiberius Caesar's – nor Salva Kiir's or Riek Machar's or Mrs May's or Donald Trump's. The ultimate authority is Christ's. He has "all authority in heaven and earth" as after his Resurrection he told his disciples. And that was, and is still today, the good news.
So people need to repent and admit they need Christ's kingship over their lives. For he provides a way out of the mess human beings are in. Through his Cross sins can be forgiven and through the power of his Holy Spirit new life – spiritual life – can be received. Who needs to admit the truth of that message this evening and then trust and obey Christ? For with him you will be able to persevere and finish strong as you seek first God's kingdom in your life and work. Then thirdly...
3. Keep Christian
The medical profession today worldwide is a product of the Christian faith. Of course, it is built upon streams from other traditions and faiths. But from the word "go" Christians took seriously Jesus' command to "heal the sick". And uniquely the early Christians were known for their respect for the sanctity of life from conception, since human beings are all made in God's image – with the incarnation and humanity of Jesus beginning with his conception not with Christmas Day. From the earliest days of the Church, therefore, they were known for being opposed to abortion and infanticide.
Also they were marked by their compassion. Let me read you something from a letter, written a little later in 361, by the Roman Emperor, Julian the Apostate, a bitter opponent of Christianity. In it he had the honesty to write this:
"Now we can see what it is that makes these Christians such powerful enemies of our gods. It is the brotherly love which they manifest towards the sick and poor."
It is simply a fact that Christianity introduced a new note of compassion for the sick. So, soon Christian hospitals sprang up. Before the European Reformation Christian monasteries did much work for the sick. But after the Reformation sizeable hospitals sprang up as Christian foundations in Europe. Also Christians were in the forefront of the new learning and in the forefront of the new 16th and 17th century practices in medicine and surgery. The surgeon Ambroise Paré famously said of a patient: "I dressed him but God cured him" – that is, "I used my skills but God then used my skills to heal."
One of the great doctors of this generation of four centuries ago was Thomas Sydenham, who became known as the English Hippocrates – Hippocrates being an Ancient Greek physician. He gave this advice to students entering the medical profession – and, of course, entering at any level:
"Whoever takes up Medicine should seriously consider, [first] that he must one day render to the Supreme Judge an account of the lives of those sick men [and women] who have been entrusted to his care. Secondly, that such skill and science as, by the blessing of Almighty God, he has attained, are to be specially directed towards the honour of his Maker [God] and the welfare of his fellow creatures; since it is a base thing for the great gifts of heaven to become the servants of avarice and ambition [that is to say, selfishly used to make money and to become famous]. Thirdly, he must remember that it is no mean or ignoble animal that he deals with. We may ascertain the worth of the human race, since for its sake God's only begotten Son became man, and thereby ennobled the nature that he took upon him."
So "keep Christian" – in your medical ethics and attitudes to patients. There are many other voices trying to shape modern medicine, but in godless and harmful ways. Learn to say, "No!", therefore, to those voices for the good of your patients. So, Seek First, Finish Strong, Keep Christian and then, fourthly...
4. Watch Yourself
Mark tells us that Jesus spent much of his time at the start of his ministry healing the sick and those oppressed by demons. And it seemed a revival soon had broken out. We read in Mark 1.33 that "the whole city was gathered together" to experience Jesus' ministry and hear his teaching. But what do we then read, that Jesus called for more gatherings? No! But that, verse 35: "rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed, and there prayed."
Jesus knew that there was a spiritual war on and prayer was essential. For prayer is the great weapon in this war against the evil one. It is also waged with "the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God" – as Paul tells you in Ephesians 6.17. And it is so essential in your personal life, if you are medical, to have time to pray and read God's word regularly, on your own and together in small Bible study groups and to hear it expounded in Church on a Sunday.
For life will be hard. The devil will attack you. And if you are medical and faithful to your patients, you often will be very busy. But Jesus was so busy that he realized he needed to pray. For prayer is the way the devil is defeated and priorities are established. So Paul said to Timothy in his first letter: "keep a close watch on yourself" (1 Tim 4.16) – on your spiritual self. If Bible study and prayer are ways to keep spiritually alert to the devil's activity and temptation, he will tempt you not to read the Bible and not to pray. So watch yourself and check you are not drifting spiritually.
I must conclude.
I do so by simply encouraging you, with God's help, to seek first [his kingdom]; finish strong [persevere when the going is hard]; keep Christian [when the acids of secularism or other religions are destroying our wonderful medical tradition]; and keep watch on yourself [for you so need prayer for the Holy Spirit to strengthen you when the going is hard and for God's word to guide you when the world is confusing]. Amen.