April 22, 2005

On the Wings of the Wind

story3capTUCK AMONG OTHER NOTICES ON A nursing home manager's door, it showed a caricatured old missionary in a pith helmet, asking the plaintive questions "Which way were they headed? How many of them were there? I must find them, for I am their leader!"

Life at Loma Linda is like that. With so many students, staff, and faculty oriented to world issues, it is difficult to keep abreast of all that is happening. Good stuff. Innovative ideas. Creative initiatives. Demanding of time and energy? Absolutely!

Many of our students have already experienced global travel and have served in many projects and communities, so they don't need prompting or encouragment to understand the human predicament. They want to try their wings-to fly. Our task at Loma Linda is to encourage, direct, and empower these humanitarian impulses. This is an important part of "the Loma Linda Experience."

A Reason to Fly
Today's higher education struggles with some monumental challenges. As our moral fiber seems to be crumbling, how does one instill values such as integrity, compassion, and justice into our education system? Or should we? Some would ask if it is even ethical for a university to seek to influence these kinds of attitudes. Adventist education is the envy of many because we speak directly about values, nurture these values in our students, and unabashedly clearly state what we stand for.

story3linkOne of the burning issues in postsecondary education today is the question of what produces quality graduates. Is it a selective admissions process? Or is it the curriculum and learning process? Are civically engaged students something you must find and recruit, then hope for the best? Or does the education we offer shape their idealism, clarify their values, and encourage commitment to real-life issues? Experience shows that many of these bigger issues require more than classroom instruction. They must be carefully nurtured, and are usually learned only through mentoring. They often come about by creating teachable moments, those instances in a person's life that forever impact their understanding and worldview.

Over the past few years, Loma Linda has made a major transition in how it views itself in relation to the world. The usual university model is to produce skilled graduates, send them on their way, and wish them well. For some, this is enough. It is certainly safer. But for many of the real challenges, it takes more than that. So Loma Linda has increasingly stayed connected with our graduates as they become agents of change, identifying resources and providing encouragement. Technology has made communication easier throughout the world today. And the feedback from these contacts reinforces the real issues and strategies for the next group on

The world's social needs are real--and daunting; not the place for timid hearts. Absolute poverty. Economic stagnation. War. Terrorist threats. Limited resources. Political infighting and turf protection. We can modify the L. L. Bean logo, "There is no such thing as bad weather, just poor clothing" to "There is no such thing as bad circumstances, just unfulfilled opportunities." The good news is that God does not expect us to fix the world's problems; He just asks us to engage. To commit. To put our hands to the task, and in humility and compassion share the world's pain and suffering.

Values in Action
How do we influence those values that are important to us at Loma Linda? How do we create those teachable moments? How do we effectively mentor our growing number of students? The following are programs that your university is engaged in, not just for the sake of service, but as a critical part of our educational strategy.

story3aLet's begin next door, in our local area. For 40 years Loma Linda students have provided volunteer evening clinics for the uninsured and working poor in some of our surrounding communities. By the early 1990s both the numbers of patients and the students wanting to help had grown so large we were looking for bigger sites to hold the clinics. We received word that Norton Air Force Base, just three miles north of our campus, was converting to civilian use, and they had a large clinic we could apply for. This began a negotiating process with the government. It resulted in Loma Linda being given a 42,000-square-foot, fully equipped clinic building on six and a half acres of land--worth around $6 million. The conditions for receiving this were twofold: provide low-cost health care to the community, and provide health professional education for our students. Exactly what we were already doing and wanted to expand!*

This base, in the low-income area of east San Bernardino, has provided Loma Linda with a marvelous opportunity for what we term service-learning for our students and faculty, as well as a visible connection with the community. Called Social Action Community Health System (SACHS), this clinic and its satellites now serve nearly 40,000 patients a year with medical, dental, maternity, and behavioral health services. It has also spawned many other programs, including regular Sabbath morning services for the neighborhood called Community Kids Connection and Community Moms Connection. These programs directly connect our students with the local children and their mothers through stories, music, and crafts that build character.

From this beginning, another facet of service has evolved, called La Escuelita, or The Little School. More than 150 Loma Linda students spend time several evenings a week as tutors/mentors for these community children. They coach them on their schoolwork, discuss their social issues, provide role models, and in general serve as true Big Brothers and Sisters to hundreds of children. While this helps the children, the socio-cultural awareness and commitment it engenders in our students is even more valuable. These connections help shape a unique Loma Linda graduate.

Another local community program started some years ago by Dr. Bernie Irwin from our School of Nursing is called Operation Jessica. Named after a young girl killed in a gang fight, each quarter this program takes a group of teenagers on juvenile probation to spend a week at Pine Springs Ranch with a group of faculty and students. At this camp they learn trust, dependence, faith, and spiritual values in an intense and supportive structure.

The Loma Linda community is also known for its legacy of global service. Building on the many initiatives of students and faculty through the years, this has resulted in the development of 70 mission hospitals, many schools, and various programs worldwide. For many years the Overseas Heart Surgery Team worked in many countries to establish open-heart surgery teams. Additionally, the Sir Run Run Shaw Hospital in Hangzhou, China, has grown out of a Loma Linda partnership and is now a thriving 800-bed institution. It continues to maintain an active link with Loma Linda as it matures into an academic health science center of its own.

story3bSIMS (Students for International Mission Service) engages our students with these many international opportunities. With more than 300 students from all our schools participating each year, their involvement includes monthly weekend trips to provide medical, dental, and educational services to Mexican border towns. During the summer and holidays students are encouraged to go serve in institutions and programs around the world. From assisting at a malnutrition orphanage in Honduras, to clinical rotations in Africa, each of these trips provides individual students with those teachable moments that confirm the commitment and joy of engaging in service.

Mending Wings
It was from this myriad of international connections that a concern arose about the state of Adventist mission hospitals in many countries. With decreasing support from the international church, many of these hospitals are in a state of disarray, with decaying buildings, demoralized staff, broken equipment, and plummeting services and reputation. The growing cost and complexity of health care today has made it difficult for our national leaders to adequately maintain these institutions. Out of this concern has grown a new organization, based at Loma Linda and partnering with our U.S.-based Adventist Health systems, called Adventist Health International (AHI). It responds to requests from the world church to revitalize struggling mission hospitals and help them regain their reputations for quality Christian service by improving their physical plants, personnel, and financial operations. AHI is now involved with 26 hospitals in 10 countries in Africa, India, and Latin America. It has demonstrated that it is possible to develop effective management techniques, attract new donors, develop and recruit qualified staff, and make individual institutions both self-sustaining and spiritually strong again.

These connections with the world church and its institutions are improving their effectiveness and making them centers of compassion and caring once again. They are also providing Loma Linda with a renewed mission as we seek to continue the teaching and healing ministry of Jesus Christ. This engagement with the world's needs has caused an increased interest in serving abroad among our students, making our Deferred Mission Appointee program larger than ever in our history, with 60 medical students and residents signed up to serve in our mission hospitals on completion of their training. Parallel programs for international careers are being developed in many of our other disciplines.

In addition to preparing our U.S.-based students for service, Loma Linda also trains students from many other countries of the world. More than 85 countries are represented on our campus each year, providing a rich cultural milieu for understanding our differences. We are also engaged in many off-campus degree programs, making advanced education available to our fellow members throughout the world. This has included Master of Public Health degree programs in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, Asia, and now starting in Russia. Our School of Nursing is starting a Master in Nursing program in Argentina and Thailand, preparing nursing faculty for the many new nursing schools coming up in South America and Asia. As many of our international universities see the value of health professional training programs, they turn to Loma Linda for assistance in designing curricula, developing faculty, and identifying various required resources. We do our best to meet these accelerating requests for assistance. Our goal is to meld the talents and energy of our American graduates with the skills and understanding of our international graduates to create a formidable army for God providing the healing ministries in all countries of the world.

Mission Accomplished?
Has Ellen White's vision of an "educational center" providing medical missionaries reaching around the world been accomplished? We will leave that up to others to decide. However, the needs keep escalating faster than we can fill them. Are we committed to developing Christ-centered graduates with a commitment to serve? Absolutely! Is there much more to be done, both on our own campus, in our neighboring communities, and throughout the world? Certainly! We covet your prayers as we seek to make Loma Linda a center for service learning in the best sense of Christian mission.

"May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart. May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may wish for justice, freedom, and peace. . . . May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done."
--Franciscan Prayer

* See the November 2004 North American Division edition of the Adventist Review.

Richard H. Hart, M.D., Dr.P.H., is chancellor and chief executive officer of Loma Linda University. Juan Carlos Belliard, Ph.D., M.P.H., is interim chair and assistant professor of the Loma Linda University School of Public Health.