Like Dr. Paul Osteen and so many others who dedicate weeks or months of their year to provide clinical care in underserved populations in developing nations, Doctor-Senator Bill Frist has spent over twenty-five years traveling to impoverished, conflict areas with World Medical Mission to provide medical attention where none may exist otherwise.
He shares his stories in his biography, A Heart to Serve: The Passion to Bring Health, Hope, and Healing (2008) with powerful and exciting anecdotes, particularly from Southern Sudan. Perhaps the most important thread through those stories is the link between his work in the mission field and the Halls of Congress. During his tenure as the U.S. Senate Majority Leader in the Bush Administration, his stories from medical missions made their way to the desk of the president. With his voice and experience, he was able to relay the reality of the pandemic of HIV/AIDS, malaria, and lack of access to clean water that was killing thousands daily across Sub-Saharan Africa.
Those stories influenced the passing of legislation under his watch: the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, the President’s Malaria Initiative, and the Senator Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act. And lives have been, and continue to be, saved. In fact, with these historic foreign assistance initiatives, over 15 million lives have been saved globally since 2002 from HIV/AIDS alone, in part because of Sen. Dr. Frist’s stories and the power of advocacy.
As we look to assemble, visit, and learn from one another in February, let’s consider the power of our collective stories from medical missions. Each person at the conference has likely experienced the plight of a child who lacks access to primary care, the anxiety of a mother who doesn’t know how to feed all her children, the fear of a father that he might be diagnosed with HIV, or the community that despairs it has no access to clean water or sanitation. These are just some of the issues that our brothers and sisters in developing nations experience on a daily basis.
When King Lemuel takes the throne, his mother offers some sage words of wisdom to her reigning son in Proverbs 31: 8-9:
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who
are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor.
Let us consider the power of using our voices and our stories, individually and collectively, to our Congressional representatives to let them know that we very much care about standing up for the poor and the destitute, for those who have no voice. Let’s let our leaders know that we want to protect and increase U.S. governmental funding in foreign assistance to provide health, nutrition, clean water, and development for millions of the most vulnerable families on the planet. Less than 1% of our entire U.S. budget is dedicated to foreign assistance. Surely, as followers of Christ, we can rally behind 1 penny to the dollar for those whom we know and love around the world, particularly when we are called as a church to tithe for those in need.
Advocacy is a simple, yet extremely powerful practice. In a moment where Washington is plagued by hostility, austerity, and concern for the next election, let’s take a stand for the world’s poorest, supporting our members of Congress, to champion foreign assistance, as a moral initiative to uplift women, children, and communities around the world.
By Jenny Eaton Dyer, PhD, January 13, 2015