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Cameos of a Congress

Janet Goodall gives some personal impressions of the XI World Congress of the International Christian Medical and Dental Association held in Durban, South Africa in July
The magnificent International Convention Centre in Durban was booked for this congress when it was only a hole in the ground. By this act of faith, the South African CMF team had to do more than a little cliff-hanging and spade-work of their own, but were amply justified for their vision by the success of the meeting. A total of 800 delegates and spouses as well as 100 medical students came into the meetings daily from various locations in the city. The children had a programme of their own organised by Scripture Union.

"International"
was a keynote, with delegates from 58 countries. Priority had been given to delegates from Africa, after whom in numbers attending 55 came from the UK, 50 each from the USA and Norway, 22 from Canada and 19 from Australia. Single delegates came from Bangladesh, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Estonia, Greece, Mexico, Myanmar, Nepal,Oman, Pakistan, United Arab Emirates, Ukraine and Uruguay.

On the international evenings, people (often in colourful national costume, including some brilliant and impressive Nigerian head-dresses) gave us a taste of their homeland in song, ethnic music and dancing, or si mply told us of what God has been doing through their different CMF groups. It was moving to hear the reports from Eastern Europe. Romania and East Germany's applications for membership of the ICMDA were ratified just prior to the congress.

Students
who had enjoyed a preliminary week with their own speakers shared how the experience had encouraged them to serve the Lord with renewed mind and strength in their practice, and to love him with an undivided heart. An Australian student had composed a haunting song, based on the Lord's questions to Peter in John 21. The drift of it was 'I know you're very busy serving me, but do you really love me, love me, love me? - a refrain which was to stay with some long after the congress was over.

Christian teaching
centred on the very relevant conference theme ' Reconciliation and Integrity through Christ .' In his daily Bible studies, Rev Edward Muhima of Uganda explored the meaning of integrity. We have become disintegrated through sin and integrity can only be recaptured through a restored relationship with Christ. Those reconciled to him and integrated with him become his ambassadors to a needy world.

This theme was illustrated by various professional papers dealing among other things with integrity in medical ethics, in inter-personal relationships, and in the conduct of research. A disturbed balance between body, mind and spirit can be itthe root of many sicknesses.'We should ask the Lord to bring healing to the whole person and not simply to the body.

Music
was led in a highly professional way by Liz and Dave Pass, supported by a band called 'The House of Judah' and a Zulu choir, with a talented pastor, Johan Heystek, acting as arranger, producer, band leader and pianist. It was a lesson in integration to see how the various musicians were sensitive to each other. Liz was very keen to give us an African experience through the music! It was just as inspiring to join the multi-racial early morning prayer meeting and there to sing together as a smaller group, unaccompanied, but united in a unique harmony of voice and spirit.

Discussion groups
were held most afternoons, offering a difficult choice between the parallel sessions. A psychiatrist, Rhiannon Lloyd, led seminars on healing, forgiveness and reconciliation in Rwanda. Tutsi and Hutu church elders are brought together. Despite initial mutual mistrust they are encouraged first to write down and then to share with a 'foe' the pain which one party has inflicted on the other. They realise that neither side has been totally innocent. The lists of offences are then taken and symbolically nailed to a wooden cross and burnt up. This goes on amidst scenes of great grief but also of real repentance and forgiveness. In this way reconciliation is achieved and fellowship restored.

Other workshops included consideration of corruption in medicine, Christian attitudes to embryo research and alteniative medicine, AIDS as an instrument of salvation, the role of women in medicine and of Christians in woman and child health care, the place of mission, and the practice of ethics in the developing world. We came up for air on one free afternoon when mystery coach tours had been arranged. Pre- and post-conference trips gave others a chance to see lions, mission hospitals or famous beauty spots, according to taste and means.

Africa
remains in many parts a troubled continent. The crime rate has escalated in South Africa in the last four years yet Christians pop up all over the place, too. I met a taxi-driver, a hotel porter and two fellow passengers on separate planes who each professed to be a 'real' Christian. Much prayer was behind the relatively peaceful transition of power in 1994, but this must not cease now if the country is to win through its present turmoil under the (understandably) inexperienced leadership.

We felt greatly protected ourselves, as a body of comparatively,healthy people in a city affected by both poverty and drugs. We only heard, of one hold-up - an American delegate, walking alone on the beach in broad daylight, was asked at knife-point for his money. He was extricated by an ex-convict and gay prostitute on whose own patch of beach the theft was being attempted. The delegate felt relieved, thankful and humbled to be reminded by such an unlikely character of the Lord's own willingness to stand between us and spiritual (as well as sometimes - physical) death.

Only a few miles away, scores of people were killing each other, apparently quite out of control. Many of our delegates would return to situations of tension and danger. We need to continue to make regular intercession for them, perhaps using the words of one of our conference songs:
God bless Africa Guard her children Guide her leaders, and Heal her people


Reconciled with God, we are called to be. his ambassadors among the disintegrated family of nations in the practice of our medical and dental work, among patients and colleagues, and within our own families and fellowships.

Janet Goodall is a retired consultant paediatrician who lives in Stoke-onTrent. She has been a Vice-President of ICMDA since 1994
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