On this third Sunday in Lent we continue to hear stories from Dr Julianne Stewart about the work that the Anglican Board of Mission (ABM) is doing towards achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
This week, the material has been written around the third Goal : Good health and well-being. Goal 3 aims to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.
There are various parts to this goal and the material from ABM does not address all of them. Rather, it focusses on Target 3.2, which in brief says: ‘By 2030, end preventable deaths of … children under 5 years of age, with all countries aiming to reduce … under-5 mortality to at least as low as 25 per 1,000 live births.’
So, Dr Stewart’s focus, and the work of ABM that we are considering this week is essentially better health care and keeping babies alive.
Dr Stewart writes,
“The key success factors for this program are the mother’s cooperation and the family’s means to buy nutritious food. It can be a real challenge for many families to buy food that is low in price and also nutritious. Many families receive relief food from UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees) and this relief food is high in calories, but low in nutrition. It was intended for emergency relief, but these people have been refugees now since 1948. Because of this, we encourage breastfeeding until the child is two, but encourage the mothers to add solid food after 6 months of age.
Through this program, about 80% of the children improve, but overcoming stunting takes longer. Additionally, because of the high cost of transportation to the hospital, which many families cannot afford, we are only able to target those families who live nearest to the hospital. Another challenge is that women here like to have large families – it is a security for them.”
Dr Suad Obaid is a Nutritionist at the Al Ahli Arab Hospital, a facility of the Anglican Diocese of Jerusalem, in war-torn Gaza. She is describing a feeding program for underweight babies to me. It is amazing to me that her tone is so matter-of-fact when she is describing the nightmare of refugees for almost 70 years still being fed by refugee programs with an inadequate diet. I am horrified to think how “commonplace” the situation she is describing is.
Dr Obaid points to a tiny baby wearing a red outfit, who seems intent on defying the odds stacked against him, “This eight- month old baby is severely underweight. His name is Majed. He still prefers breastfeeding, but I’m encouraging his mother to mix breast milk with the nutritional supplements I’m giving her. There is a milk formula for underweight infants, but at USD10 a week per child, it is too costly for us to provide. The mother has three older children and is pregnant with her fifth. The father is out of work. Majed had a premature birth, and his mother’s milk is also nutrient-deficient.”
For Dr Obaid, such cases are all too common. The problems in Gaza are complex and longstanding. At times they seem insurmountable.
But there is a strong network of community-based groups within the Gaza Strip who connect families to the Ahli Hospital for assessment and possible treatment. The groups typically consist of a handful of paid staff, assisted by numerous volunteers. One such group is the Zakher Association 1. The head, Enam Em Samer, tells me: “I’m proud of my organisation and our relationship with the Ahli since 2003. And I’m proud of all the work we do with them, such as the Child Nutrition Program, and health campaigns for women.”
Enam proceeds to show me into a cool and darkish room within the old Ottoman-era building which is the Association’s headquarters. A small group of women is gathered around a kitchen table– some are victims of gender-based violence, some are divorced and some are elderly widows with little means of support. They are busy making samosas, pastries, and other snacks to sell for 10 shekels (about $3.75) a pack for the Ramadan Iftar feasts that will happen that evening. This typical activity is designed to provide support for the women, both material and social, and to build their confidence.
Although the Ahli Hospital is a Christian hospital, owned and managed by the Anglican Church, its staff are almost entirely Muslim, as are the members of the Zakher Association. And, like the Good Samaritan in the Christian gospel story, they are living lives which express the (second of the) two great commandments that Jesus gave us: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ (Matthew 22:37-39). And, they are living lives which contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.
Dr Stewart concludes:
So, the end result of following Jesus’ commandments or of putting the SDGs into practice is the same – the neighbour in need is provided with assistance, and God is honoured. It is because of this that I believe the SDGs are a 21st Century version of God’s commandments about how to treat the other, as expressed in Isaiah 58.
In the pew sheet you will find some questions that Dr Stewart has given us for reflection. I encourage you to take some time this week to discuss and reflect upon these questions at home. But I would like to take just a little more time now to reflect upon the UN goal of Good health and well-being in the light of today’s bible readings. In particular, I would like to pick up on the term ‘well-being’.
In the year before I came to Macksville, I worked on a project updating the ADF Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy. It was a strategy that endeavoured to promote good holistic health care and recognised that holistic health and fitness involves consideration of the whole person - body, mind and spirit - in the quest for optimal wellbeing. More and more the health professionals are realising that each of these aspects of a person are inter-related, such that a lack of fitness in one will impact the others.
My point is that an important component of a person’s overall well-being is one’s spiritual health. And this is of course something about which the bible has something to say.
The passage from Isaiah 55:1-9 is an Invitation to Abundant Life. It seems to me that having an abundant life would be part of well-being. But the abundant life that is expressed here is not what many people of our world would think about. Many would think of an abundant life as having considerable wealth, beautiful big home, comforts in retirement, late model luxury car, labour saving devices, wine on the table, and so on.
But Isaiah expresses a different view on what constitutes an abundant life, and what consequently provides us with that state of well-being. Verses 6&7 of this passage says, ‘Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.’
These words, expressed in slightly different language, might be familiar to you. Perhaps we might think of John the Baptist’s call, “repent for the kingdom of heaven is near”. Jesus, after speaking to a rich young man said to his disciples, "Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven” … “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God" (Matt 19:23-24) - meaning that the pursuit and idolisation of what the world might consider as valuable things can in fact adversely impact our spiritual health and indeed may prevent us from receiving Jesus and salvation in the first place.
The tragedy of many people’s lives is that the most valuable things in life – the things that give us true well-being – are so often missed or rejected. We don’t recognise the true value of these things because we have been shaped by the world into thinking that only things with a high price tag have value. So, we look with desire upon the thousand-dollar Rolex watch even though it doesn’t do any more than my cheap Grandeur brand watch.
William Temple, a past Archbishop of Canterbury who died in 1944, said: “The world is like a shop window into which someone has sneaked in the middle of the night and switched around all the price tags.”
The outcome is that we covet what has a high price, thinking that it must be of great value to our well-being. And we devalue or just take for granted the affordable and free, like life itself, mercy, salvation, and hope.
The passage from 1 Cor 10:1-13 warns us that we are so easily led astray by our old self-indulgent nature and the ways of the world. Just as the ancient Israelites fell and brought God’s wrath upon themselves, Christians too may fall into sin. We are most susceptible when we think that we are okay. 2 Cor 12:9,10 tells us that this is because, when we think we are strong, and when we are comfortable in our indulgent life, we are at our weakest.
In this situation we tend to harden our heart against God and what he might be wanting to say to us about how we are living our life. We reject the influence of the Holy Spirit and the spiritual strength that the Holy Spirit provides. And we become susceptible to the influences of the world and the deception of Satan.
William Temple provides us with another very apt quote: “The only way for a rich man to be healthy is by exercise and abstinence, to live as if he were poor.”
God offers us the only goods that will ever satisfy us; and they are free. But we must recognise what is of true value. The things that God provides through his provision – clean water, food, sunshine, rain, children, good-health, flowers, birds, etc for most of us are free – yet we do not appreciate them. And in our greed and desire to build wealth and comfort for ourselves, pillage, pollute and damage the world that God has given us for free, to care for.
I encourage you to again give some thought to the question that was provided for home reflection in the first week of Lent – the one that asked us to consider whether our lifestyle might contribute in any way to poverty injustice, and damage to our environment, either in our own country or in our broader world.
And, during Lent we are encouraged to reassess the true value of the things in our life. If we recognise what is of true value, and what will most contribute to our well-being, then perhaps we will more readily give up on some of those things that we take for granted, but that so many around the world lack, and to endeavour to share our wealth and good fortune through the missionary work of organisations like the Anglican Board of Mission.