HEILONGJIANG, China – What would most people in Harbin City be doing on a sunny weekend in June? Perhaps basking in the sun with family or friends along the Songhua River, or sitting in a beer garden, taking a long swig of their beer mug while people-watching along Central Street, the city’s famous cobblestone road open only to pedestrians.
A team of about 20 volunteers – medical personnel from the city’s various clinics and hospitals – as well as some staff from UBS headed to the eastern outskirts of Harbin City to visit two rural churches – Sheng San Yi Church and Bin Xian Central Church one June weekend. They were there to distribute Bibles and offer medical screenings and checks as part of the Bible Medical Van (BMV) sponsored by United Bible Societies.
Reaching Out To the Needy
Sheng San Yi Church, two hours drive from the city, is located in Xiaoling Town, in the district of Acheng. The town has a population of about 30,000 out of which approximately 1000 are believers.
Upon reaching the church, the team set up various stations like checks for blood pressure and blood sugar levels, ultra-sound scan, ECG and traditional Chinese medicine at the church sanctuary and basement. About 70 turned up for the free screenings.
“Sheng San Yi Church serves about 300 believers, many of whom are poor farmers or unskilled manual labourers. They are discouraged by the long journey into town and expensive medical fees, they would usually not see a doctor even when they need one and hence tend to neglect their health,” explained Elder Soon, the overseer of the church.
One such person is Ma Guixiang. The 69-year-old believer is a food seller and when she is able, will help with kitchen chores and food preparation in church. Three years ago, an injury left her with recurring and debilitating pain that at its height would confine her to bed all day.
Medical treatment is exorbitant to Guixiang especially since her condition is chronic and needs long term care. According to her, just to get some pain relief with acupuncture would cost RMB 20 a visit. Further clinical investigations would cost even more.
In Guixiang’s case, she received acupuncture treatment for pain relief. “I’m so grateful to the church for giving us this free medical service. I would not have been able to afford this treatment if not for the generosity of donors.”
A Totally Different Atmosphere
Another grateful member of the church is Sun Fenglai, 52, a former operator at the village’s coal-fired heating plant who discovered that he had heart and lungs problems three years ago due to his long working hours at the plant.
As Sun did not have enough money for treatment, he has been self-medicating. His wife who has blocked arteries is not able to hold a full time job. He is grateful that the church is providing basic medical checks.
“The moment I step into church, I feel peace and comfort, which puts me in a better mood as it is a place where believers of different backgrounds come together, regardless of status. The atmosphere is so different from going to the hospital,” shared Soon as he waited for his turn to have his ECG taken.
His sentiments were echoed by 55-year-old Jin Guiru, “I feel more secure consulting a doctor in church. It’s unnerving to go to the hospital as doctors are relatively distant and not as friendly but this medical team here is caring and warm. I feel so comfortable doing medical checks here,” shared 55-year-old Jin Guiru.
“Doctors At Our Doorstep”
“Thank you for bringing the doctors to our doorstep! There is no excuse for us not to come,” exclaimed Madam Zhang (right), 43, one of the 120 who came for the medical screenings and checks at Bin Xian Central Church. Bin Xian, a county in Harbin City has a population of 600,000.
Bin Xian Central Church serves about 400 believers and sends lay preachers and volunteers to minister at various meeting points in the villages under its care. The various medical stations were set up in the Sunday school and training rooms of the church and people were seen queuing up to wait for their turns.
Fan Jingzhi, 75, a church volunteer who has just had her ECG checked, shared, “BMV is an expression of God’s deep love for us. When we have good health then we’ll be able to serve God better.”
“If we were to visit a clinic in the city, we are usually asked how much money we have with us and to put a deposit of about 300 RMB (about 20% of a person’s monthly salary) before seeing the doctor. There are cases where people do not get their deposit back and they are also not given proper treatment. Hence, people are deterred from going. So, we are really thankful to the donation of UBS, providing basic medical checks to the believers here. Should there be discovery of any diseases from the screenings, then we can encourage them to go for treatment and help them along,” shared Preacher Liu, the overseer of Bin Xian Central Church.
From the Doctor Volunteers
This is acupuncturist, Ni Yongjia’s first experience volunteering in the medical van ministry. He is a member of the Hallelujah Church in Harbin City. At 29, he has already started his own acupuncture practice. Weekends are high patient-volume days, so taking time off work to serve the villagers results in a substantial loss of income for him.
However, this cheerful young man does not mind. He is convinced that God has called him into this profession and wants to use his talents to serve needy people.
Yongjia shared his conviction, “The Church should do more work in areas that have seen a lot of unethical practice. Medical care is one such area. The general public sentiment towards paid medical care is that it is unreliable and uncaring. When the Church enters this field to offer committed professional service to anyone who needs it, there will be a positive impact on society.
”Doctor Yang, 52, is a gynecologist who has been volunteering since two years ago. “We are usually busy with work on weekdays and it is hard to find time to serve God. The BMV gives us the opportunity to do so, going to rural churches to help the believers. We are very glad to be able to come here to share God’s love with them through our services. We see a need to provide gynecological checks, as women in the rural areas are usually shy to go the big hospitals. They feel safer and more assured here at the church.” To provide privacy, gynecological checks were conducted at rooms in a believer’s house located beside the church.
It is indeed heartwarming to see cheerful doctors, nurses and smiling patients in the course of treatment, with Christian wisdom dispensed along with a pharmaceutical prescription.
There are challenges involved in offering regular and sustained mobile medical care via the medical van. While the mode of transport is now available, the crucial medical team may not always be. We close with the words of Ni Yongjia, the young acupuncturist with a big vision, “May God’s Spirit move His people and raise up more medical professionals who will offer their services to this meaningful work.”
Story: Angela Teo and Cynthia Oh
Edited: Pamela Choo
Photos: UBS CP
2017 © United Bible Societies China Partnership