I recently read about the story of Dr David Nalin in an article called Science Heroes. In 1968, while working in a refugee camp on the border of Bangladesh and Burma, Dr Nalin discovered a breakthrough treatment for patients suffering from diarrhea. He discovered that giving patients water mixed with the right concentration of salt and sugar would rehydrate them at the same rate at which they lost water (its called oral rehydration therapy - ORT). This was a small but significant innovation.
According to Science Heroes "Since the adoption of this inexpensive and easily applied intervention, the worldwide mortality rate for children with acute infectious diarrhoea has plummeted from 5 million to about 1.3 million deaths per year." Over fifty million lives have been saved in the past 40 years by the implementation of this treatment.
One man, one discovery saved fifty million lives, mostly children. The power of one makes a difference. What principles can we learn from this story that apply to sharing good news?
1. Be present where the need is?
Dr Nalin is American. At the age of 26 he stepped outside of his comfort zone. He had just completed his first year of medical residency and went to work in Dacca, Bangladesh. Where do we think the need is? In my case, I live in Scotland where the majority of people have not heard the good news (93% are unchurched). I can choose to be present among those that haven't yet heard about Jesus. What does that look like in practice? Go where people are. It might be the pub, the gym, the library. Get involved in the community especially where needs are obvious. It could be youth work, maths tuition, addiction support. If you don't know, ask. Our local GPs or politicians, or schools or community workers will have the information available.
2. Be compassionate.
In Matthew 9:36 it says "When he (Jesus) saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd." The Latin root of the word, compassion, is pati, which means “to suffer.” We are called to come alongside the suffering of others. That might look like coffee and chat over the kitchen table, a listening ear, a food bank, an offer of prayer or sharing the power of the Jesus' life, death and resurrection. Each situation will be different but our motivations will steer the conversation.
3. We do not need to be experts but learn from others.
The findings of ORT was first published in the medical journal Lancet in November 1953. It was discovered by Indian scientist, Hemendra Nath Chatterjee. Dr Nalin simply found out what he needed to know to get the job done. We may not think we have the skills, tools or experience to reach out to people but there is a lot of good material, training and expertise out there (even reading this blog may be helpful).
4. Simple and reproducible is best.
The effectiveness of the new treatment (ORT) was its ability to be done easily and inexpensively. We need simple, re-usable methods to share good news. We do not need to be apologetics experts (which has its place at the right moment). Get some tools you can use. Our personal testimony is powerful.
5. Try something till it works.
Medical breakthroughs come from experimentation, trial and error. Don't give up just because something didn't work, try something else.
We may look at the size of the task (like a refugee camp in the midst of an epidemic or the decline of the church in the west) and think 'what can one person do?' The truth is, one person with a little bit of innovation can make a big impact. Good news travels fast when it is communicated in a way that makes sense. Let's be present, compassionate, learn new skills and experiment until we get breakthrough. The ripple effect might save millions of lives.