February 2013

CDC Team

I would not normally be able to attend a medical conference of the calibre I have been enjoying for the past two weeks but this is a unique circumstance. Our team was invited by the organizers of the conference to present the project we are undertaking in Cambodia as it is a very unique approach to health care and community development. The addition of a media component provided by my mission organization, TWR, is a completely new appproach as well.

We were fortunate to have the research aspect of our project on view this week as well. Due to Dr. Wilder-Smith’s very demanding schedule, she could not arrive until the evening before our presentation. As there was much new material to integrate into our presentation, we had to work late into the night completely revamping the script and powerpoint.  We divided the talk up so that Dr. Bieber covered the Community Health Education segments, I talked about the impetous for the project and progress thus far and Dr. Wilder-Smith closed with the research criteria and strategy we will be utilizing.  We were all pretty pleased with the way the presentation came off and the very productive discussions that followed.

Unfortunately Dr Su Min was not able to be here with but we were able to introduce him in a photo.  As always Sharon was invaluable with her input into the writing and timing of the presentation and keeping us all focused on the task at hand.

It is a very amazing privilege to be a part of the ground breaking discussion and the education and training that is offered here but I must admit that I am looking forward to heading home for a bit of rest and some upcoming celebrations.


For these two weeks there are about 470 physicians, dentists and other healthcare professionals gathered in the north of Thailand for the International Christian Medical Dental Association-Continuing Education Conference.  We are at a resort located in a very beautiful and quiet area in the hills outside of Chiang Mai where the temperatures are cool and the opportunities to fellowship together, very sweet.

Most of these professionals are working in areas where it is very difficult for them to access the educational opportunities needed to stay current with the changes in their specialties and to maintain the educational credits needed to keep their licenses active  in their home countries. With four educational streams at any given time there are always four or five lectures going on plus hands-on workshops in topics such as ultrasound and Advanced Cardiac Life Support and breakout sessions for interest groups.

I have spent most of my time in the Community Health Stream lectures and it has been fascinating to hear the current strategies in addressing issues such as malnutrition and infectious diseases. Just out of curiosity I attended a lecture in the Medical Stream on depression conducted by a professor of Psychiatry from the Mayo Clinic and was surprised to learn how little has changed in the six years since I retired.  Having spent the last four years of my career dealing with the move to Evidence Based Treatment, I was not surprised to learn that the current understanding is that the evidence is far too flawed to have any reliability.  I am very glad that I will not have to worry about implementing the introduction of the next new direction, whatever that may be.

Our speaker for the spiritual life component is a physician who has served overseas for many years and pastored in the US and he reminded us of the great Biblical truths that help to explain a life of sacrificial service to others.  It has been very humbling to me to hear the stories of the price many of these incredibly gifted and knowledgeable people are paying to serve people in difficult and dangerous situations.

February has been a long month of travel and separation but I am very grateful for the opportunity to be studying again in my field and to be able to network and share ideas with many others who are facing the same issues as we are in our project.

This was the theme for our Asia Pacific Regional CHE Conference held his past week in Cambodia. Around fifty of us gathered from Myanmar, Cambodia, Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Canada and Australia for our annual working group meetings.


Poster presentations, because we have all had enough of powerpoints, from each country and some individual organizations gave us an overview of the CHE projects underway and created opportunities for great discussions and strategizing. The guest speaker was a psychologist from Canada who lead us through six sessions on “Healing Life’s Hurts-Dealing with Anger and Forgiveness”. Others spoke on human trafficking and the problem of “orphanages” which are a very common way of dealing with poverty and lack of access to healthcare and education, even in situations where there are parents in the picture.

On Wednesday afternoon, we drove about two hours out to visit in a number of villages which have used CHE for the past few years. It was good to hear villagers tell us of the improvements in their family lives, health, income, water and sanitation, vegetable gardens and crops since CHE was introduced to them. The last two days there were simultaneous workshops on Women’s and Children’s CHE.

Gardens      Income project

What I appreciated most was the opportunity to exchange ideas with others who share my passion for community development and fully understand the challenges involved. The structure of my work and home life means that I rarely get time to sit down and talk with my co-workers. This week allowed me to meet with many key people from various countries and do some very specific planning for future projects and I needed it very badly.


The banner that graced the front of the conference room included this picture of the “Cambodia dream” that the head of Public Health for the organization we have trained in Moral Values had painted on his wall. The before issues are pictured on the left and after are on the right. Please pray for us as we continue to build relationships with our Cambodian colleagues, for this doctor who is carefully considering the lessons he has heard, and for the reality of this vision for Cambodia.


This is obviously a very idiosyncratic compilation and not meant to be a ‘best book’ list. I’ve done one of those before, and none of the books below are on it. This is more a look at what influenced me, decade by decade. I’ll start the tour with Superman comics. Silly I know, but given I was just 7 or 8 when I came across them, you’ll forgive my naïveté. This of course was the pre-Spiderman, Silver Surfer, ad nauseum craze, which I was just either too broke or too busy to get into. No, this was more out and out childish hero-worship. I read Batman as well, and England’s Dan Dare. But Superman with his corny idealism struck a chord that no other superhero could match. I traded him in on Captain Kirk when I got a little older, but I still have a soft spot for the Man of Steel.

In the Sixties my favourite book wasn’t a book either; it was the songs of Bob Dylan. It may seem like a long leap from one to other, but at heart they were both idealists. Superman hauled the bad guys off to jail on his invincible shoulders; Dylan expanded my understanding of who the bad guys were. He didn’t jail anyone, but his acidic jibes cut to the heart of a system I was already beginning to sicken of and nailed its hypocrisy to the wall. When he became a Christian towards the end of the decade, it sent shock waves through my cynical little world and woke me up to the logical consequences of my thinking. Yes, the world was sick with sin; but there was in fact a Saviour, and like Dylan I went off in search of Him.

The Seventies were full of philosophers and dreamers, and I read my way through many of them: Zen, Buddhism, Taoism, Bhagavad Gita, Khalil Gibram. But one writer towered above all the rest: C.S. Lewis. His Mere Christianity was powerfully convincing and irrefutably sound. I understood instantly why his radio broadcasts were more faithfully listened to than those Churchill during the war years. I dare anyone to read him and not have your atheism undermined by logic and reason. Reading Lewis was for me a pre-gospel experience.

In the Eighties I read Daktar: Diplomat in Bangladesh. This was the book that started me thinking seriously about missions. When author Vic Olsen came to St. Thomas to present his work, the Lord turned a key in my heart. I knew I had to go to Bangladesh, whatever it cost me to get there. Our kids were barely more than babies at the time. Pam wasn’t working and we were not only flat broke, we were so far in mortgage debt we couldn’t put drapes on all the windows. We went anyway. The mission hosed us for money we didn’t have and Canada Revenue taxed us for money we didn’t earn. But the experience changed our lives, and many years later brought us back to Asia again. That’s a powerful book.

In the Nineties there were a clutch of books that grabbed my attention: Stephen Hawking’s  A Brief History of Time and Michael Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box went a long way towards demolishing any lingering authority that science held in my thinking about existence/creation/evolution. But it was Rare Earth, a book written by two atheists that weren’t even interested in these issues that was truly liberating. Authors Ward and Browlee argued that for at least two dozen reasons – that they painstakingly explore in their tour de force – complex life on earth is not only extremely rare in the universe, but quite probably unique (they use the word ‘uncommon’ in their subtitle so as not to scare off the timid; the book’s argument is far more powerful). Having suffered for years under the odious and depressing Copernican Mediocrity Principle (we are an unimportant planet attached to an unimportant star in an unimportant part of the galaxy, yada, yada), it was like someone just opened all the doors and windows and let the fresh air of scientific validity come howling in. What a rush!

In the 20-oughts there have been any number of books clamouring for my attention. But it was a little book that I just stumbled on that has had the greatest impact. It is called Sacred Marriage and reading it has been a paradigm shift for an understanding of my relational universe in the same way that Rare Earth was a paradigm shift in my understanding of the physical universe.

The central thesis of author Gary Thomas’ book is disarmingly simple. He asks, “What if God’s purpose in marriage is not to make you happy, but to make you holy?” This simple question, and its obvious, “Duh, of course, why didn’t I think of that” answer overturns centuries of social conditioning. This is especially true in the West, where we are nurtured in ideology, songs and stories that teach us that the proper ending to the marriage narrative is ‘they lived happily ever after.’ Of course they didn’t. They fought, stayed up late to look after sick kids, went without holidays so their children could make up in summer school what they were too disinterested to learn during the year, invested thousands in sports equipment, piano lessons and computers so that their kids could have a chance at life and watched their marriage slowly dissolve under the weight of too much responsibility and not enough resources; most especially time for each other.

The antidote to all that is Sacred Marriage. In it Thomas argues for a loving God who lets all of this come through His careful hands in order to make us into His image. All that stress has a purpose. All that stretching is leading somewhere. We just have to trust that He does in fact know what He is doing and He will accomplish His purpose in us if we give Him a chance. Our proper response to our own inadequacies is to patiently learn what He wants to teach us through the other we have married. I wish I had read it thirty years ago; I urge you to read it now.

There you have it; the most influential books of my life by the decade. I would be interested to know what yours are, by any measure and method you chose to share.

Grad TWR Phil

It has been almost five years since I was introduced to the concepts of CHE at a TOT1 in Thailand and I can still remember how excited I was with the changes the material made in the way I thought about communities.  This week I had the joy of working through the lessons with our TWR Philippines staff and watching the shifts in their thinking about their own passion for transformation in the lives of their listeners.

The core concepts of CHE are designed to shift from organizationally owned to community owned projects, from cure to prevention, from expensive donor dependent outreach to small acts of love, from delivering information to learner centered, self discovery of problems and solutions.  This team are very gifted and committed and easily grasped the changes and instantly were able to see how these could be applied in the work of TWR as a well as in their person ministries as Pastors. Youth leaders and outreach to women and children.









Two of our Co-facilitators, Carlos and Rebecca are very experienced staff of Holistic Community Development and Initiatives (HCDI) a Philippino organization that has been using CHE extensively here for more than twenty years. As Tagalog speakers they were able to allow those who were less comfortable speaking in English to freely express their hearts.  By the final session these two groups  were very animatedly discussing plans to work together with other exisiting partners to utilize media more effectively in communities and to integrate the existing knowledge of HCDI into programming.


Baguio City, once the summer capital of the Philippines is located high up in the mountains in Lauzon where the weather is very much like early summer in Ontario, pine trees and all.  The road up is pretty treacherous with ridiculous numbers of vehicles but once there, It is a fabulously beautiful part of the world with lots of life going on in the streets.  We enjoyed plenty of good food with the staff during the workshops and then sampled a number of really excellent restaurants each evening.


I am so happy to have had the opportunity to work with this amazing team and very grateful for faithful friends who made it financially possible for the training to happen.  I count it a privilege to be able to  have an experience such as this at this point in my life and look forward to what lies ahead.


My schedule is completely booked, the CHE manual is developed, revised and bound, the certificates are printed, and – with the help of our TWR Philippines team – the logistics are all in place.  Early tomorrow morning Steve will drive me to the airport to catch a plane to Manila where I will meet up the the rest of the training team for some last minute planning for ministry training. All of us are so looking forward to doing a week long Community Health Evangelism Training of Trainers  (TOT1) for which we have been planning since November.

CHE training is not new to the Philippines.  It has been used there very successfuly for more than twenty years and Carlos and Rebecca, our lead facilitators are very experienced Philippino CHE practitioners.  Dr Su Min will  be there as well to bring his unique creativity, experience and knowledge to the team.  A TOT1 is a pretty intense week but the participatory style of learning makes it lots of fun and keeps participants actively involved.  We are grateful for dedicated and supportive friends from our home church who are funding this training for the TWR Philippines team and would appreciate your prayers for the relationships that will be built and the potential for ongoing partnerships that would connect our team with people who are actively involved at a community level.

After a week of training I will make my way back to Manila to catch the next plane; not back to Malaysia, but rather on to Cambodia for the annual Regional CHE Working Group meetings.  Although the timing is going to be a stretch coming right after an intense week of ministry, it is always encouraging and stimulating to hear reports of the CHE activities in the Asia- Pacific region.  The focus this year is on Women’s and Children’s issues and projects so the meetings will be followed by two days of workshops looking at utilizing CHE with these groups.

As soon as this meeting is done in mid-February I will make a quick three day weekend trip back to KL to connect with things here and then head out again, this time to Thailand for the Christian Medical Dental Association Continuing Education Conference.  This is a great oppportuntiy not only to attend some very educational seminars but to network with others who are ministring in the medical field in the region. Our Cambodia project will be presented at this conference as a potential model for medical missions and as a way to encourage a holistic approach to medical  initiatives.

I arrive home on March first after all of these meetings and by then I will need a time of rest and opportunity spend some time with the partner that God blessed me with on our journey. In spite of the activity and excitement, it is always difficult for us to be apart as we both meet the challenges of our work without the support of the other.  God has been gracious in blessing us with both a ministry and a ministry partner, but we do not wish to take this for granted. Our ministry is only as strong as our marriage; that is the ground on which God is able to work through us in the lives of others. As always, we covet your prayers.