Cross and Caduceus

Do you want a mission field, ripe for the harvest? Look no further than your local emergency room. Of course, it lacks the flair of an overseas trip. But trust me when I say that many of the people there speak a very different language and live in a very different culture from your own.

Edwin Leap

I know, you can’t really go in and preach, per se. But there are needs that churches can meet. The thing is, roughly 40 percent of emergency room visits are actually psycho-social in origin. That is, it isn’t the fall, it’s the abuse. It isn’t the cut, it’s the depression. It isn’t the chest pain, it’s the anxiety. It isn’t the headache, it’s the grief.

Now when I say psycho-social, you should immediately hear, in your Baptist hearts and minds, the word “spiritual.” The world is in the grip of spiritual assaults unimaginable, and many of them wind their way, eventually, to the emergency room.

Why is this? Well, the reasons are many. But for my money, the main reason is the progressive medicalization of everything in America, as we abandon the idea that our souls are real, or that God is real, or that redemption is necessary. Then, we replace it with social programs, psychological research, medications and a little bit of therapy (for the few who can afford it). All based on the idea that material beings must solve problems materially.

Our theology, our gospel, tells us that ultimately, all of the suffering of humanity is based in sin, in our fall. And that much of the specific misery of this life has to do with sins. With marriages broken by infidelity, with infections caused by promiscuity, with death caused by loneliness and addiction, with depression caused by abandonment, with violence caused by hatred.

So it should be obvious that a huge number of folks who really need us are likely swirling around the ER, day and night. They need counseling, state-funded counselors and psychiatrists are rare, private ones expensive. Why not offer them a listening ear and the healing balm of Scripture, the gift of fellowship? They need food. Why not arrange for social workers to send some of them to your food bank? They’re young and uneducated. Why not let the church serve as a means to direct them to classes, to jobs? Their children are poor. Why not let the church make birthdays and Christmas more delightful?

My father is a retired pastor. When he was serving a church, the pastors in his area would share call duties at the local trauma center. A call room was available, and when patients or families needed help, the pastor was an invaluable resource for an already taxed social worker, a physician or nurse struggling to help someone whose needs were far beyond the medical or surgical.

Every church, every pastor with the time and resources should be looking for an ER, a clinic, a place where the sick, the dying, the broken congregate. From those congregated folks, a congregation exists. A group in dire need of the soul-saving gift of the gospel, the life-changing love of a church, the peace-giving words of a wise pastor in times of loss or fear, in an era of epidemic depression and anxiety.

It strikes me as fascinating, that churches so often want to go overseas to do their good, when in fact they have so much work lying around, undone, and no further than a large hospital, a trauma center, a community emergency room. While I applaud overseas missions, I see so much suffering, so much poverty, addiction, loss, anxiety, grief, loneliness and sorrow that I can’t help looking up from the bedside now and then, wondering if the ER isn’t a perfect place for the church to reach out.

So I implore you, missions organizations, ladies groups, pastoral associations, seminaries and all the rest. Reach out to the place where misery is distilled to 200 proof. Reach the patients. And while you’re at it, try to reach the doctors, nurses and paramedics if you can. Thanks to the intensity of their work, and their own fallen souls, they’re hurting as much as the folks they treat. Sometimes, after years of difficult, heart-wrenching attempts to save lives and help situations, they’re hurting even more than the patients.

Call it “Emergistan” if you want, but the mission field of the ER is white for the harvest.