6 MINUTE READ
I came into medicine by the call of God after first training as a computer geek. As a medical student and an intern, I was idealistic and determined to be a ‘Christian doctor’ – whatever that meant. What did it mean? I thought I knew.
However, after several years of hard labour as a junior doctor and a surgical registrar I wasn’t so sure anymore. Was I nicer than other doctors? Not always. Was I more hard-working than other doctors? Not especially so. Was I better at my job than other doctors? Hardly! What exactly did being God’s witness (Acts 1:8) to my patients & colleagues mean? What exactly did being salt and light (Matthew 5:13 – 16) in my workplace mean?
As a junior doctor, I began to volunteer on several short-term overseas medical mission trips. Mission work is what every good little Christian girl should do, right? I found it very easy to be a ‘Christian doctor’ on these overseas mission trips. I always went with a Christian organisation and because of this banner, it was easy to have conversations about God with patients and other locals. And I could ask 100% of my patients if they would like me to pray with them (99.99% said yes).
Back in Terra Australis, however, God was not really a part of my medical practice. I didn’t know how to make Him more so.
I didn’t know how to replicate the free and matter-of-fact way of talking and praying with patients that I had learned on Christian overseas missions in the generally spiritually hostile environment of Australia.
“…we are ALWAYS on mission – to whomever happens to be at our elbow at the time…”
While reading about ‘missions’, I eventually learned about ‘missional-living’. The idea that we are ALWAYS on mission – to whomever happens to be at our elbow at the time. I realised that ‘overseas missions’ were just a subset of ‘missions’ – even though most churches and Christians conflate the twain as one. Thus, I could not use my overseas volunteering as a tick-box fulfilment of being a ‘Christian doctor’.
I set about trying to figure out what it meant to be a Christian doctor in my own backyard of Australia. Who could help me? Who already had the answers?
CMDFA conferences taught me about taking a spiritual history but, I must confess, I couldn’t really see how or when I could skilfully take one. I had never seen any other doctors do so in real life. Although I understood the concepts, I couldn’t really visualise their practice in order to be able to incorporate them into my own work. Neither did I know what to do with any answers I might get if I did start asking patients about their faith.
I then checked out Youth With A Mission (YWAM) – I did a short stint on their medical ship in Papua New Guinea (just another overseas missions trip) and I attended a 6-month Medical Discipleship Training School (Medical DTS) in Hawaii (going on outreach to Iraq and Israel). The DTS proved to be heart-healing and soulrejuvenating in so many ways but it didn’t actually teach me anything more about how to be a Christian doctor in Australia.
However, it did open some new doors that eventually got me going on a medical education mission to a large Asian country in 2015. While in this large Asian country, I attended a conference for Christian healthcare workers and I got trained in The Saline Process. Eureka!
The Saline Process (www.ihsglobal.org/SalineProcess) is a course designed to help Christian healthcare workers share the love and reality of Jesus in their workplaces with permission, sensitivity and respect. It uses the metaphor of Saline – an isotonic, ‘just right’ salt solution relevant to healthcare, to train us to be salt and light in our professional lives without being damaging. Eureka! Eureka! Eureka!
The course is structured around five questions:
1. Why is faith important in healthcare?
2. What are the opportunities and barriers to fulfilling God’s call?
3. What is my part?
4. What tools will help me cultivate and sow?
5. Where do I go from here?
The course is owned by IHS Global and has been translated into several different languages. IHS Global partners with several international and regional Christian healthcare organisations to deliver the course to local healthcare workers. It has been delivered in 100+ countries to equip over 27,000+ health workers. Thus, its principles are very applicable in varied cultures and contexts. Including Australia!
Michael Burke of CMDFA brought the Saline Process to Australia in 2009. Nurses Christian Fellowship of Australia (NCFA) has also been teaching the course in Australia since 2017. Most recently, Healthcare Christian Fellowship of Oceania (HCFO) have also jumped into the foray in 2019. Thus, we now have a network of CMDFA, NCFA and HCFO teachers across Australia who have trained 900+ Australian healthcare workers!
Organisations like CMDFA, NCFA and HCFO provide a much-needed avenue for fellowship to their members in their faith and practice as Christian healthcare workers. In many countries, however, such organisations do not exist. In these countries, the Saline Process can often be a rallying point for Christian professional fellowship.
In March 2019, IHS Global hosted an Oceania Regional Strategic Meeting in Brisbane. Several Saline Process leaders from Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Fiji and the Solomon Islands attended. This meeting ear-marked a season of fresh inter-country, interorganisational collaboration to support each other, build each other up and share resources (particularly teachers). The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. We pray to the Master to raise up workers.
You might be one of the answers to our prayers. Or at the very least, you might be intrigued by my shouts of ‘Eureka!’. If so, keep an eye out for an upcoming Saline Process in your region! (Or ask us about it here)
The principles I have learned from the Saline Process have revolutionised my life as a GP in Australia. I now know exactly how I can skilfully navigate the topic of faith, belief and spirituality with my patients. And I have done so with hundreds of people since 2015! I now know what other tools I can use to be saltier and shinier in my workplace. I am more deliberate with intercessory prayer, faith flags and faith stories. And I have moved from 4-5 opportunities per year to pray with an Australian patient to about 50 – 60 per year!
See what I mean by Eureka?!
Rev Sneha Kirubakaran
Dr Sneha Kirubakaran juggles locuming as a rural GP, volunteering as a medical education consultant around the world and studying a PhD (in Medical Education) at Flinders University. She has been teaching The Saline Process since 2016. She has volunteered as a doctor and medical teacher in Indonesia, Timor Leste, Vanuatu, PNG, Israel, Iraq, the Marshall Islands and China.