Mennonite Health JournalArticles on the intersection of faith and health
Healthy Communities Worldwide
Paul D. Leichty
from Mennonite Health Journal, Vol. 17, No. 1 – February 2015
In the last issue of Mennonite Health Journal, I reflected on the nature of global connections for Mennonite-related healthcare workers, both possible and actual. This is the “Walking Together” part of the Annual Gathering 2015 theme, “Walking Together for Healthy Communities.” In this issue, I want to reflect briefly on the “Healthy Communities” part of the theme.
What do healthy communities look like around the world? Does a healthy community look different in the United States than it does in Zimbabwe? How will we define the community itself? Are we talking about a church congregation? A town or city? A region? An entire country? While we can’t answer all of those questions in this short space, let me suggest several characteristics of healthy communities and invite you the readers to add more.
Healthy communities care for the needs of the whole person across the entire life cycle. The whole person includes body, mind, and spirit. The whole person is viewed as a person in community, not as an isolated being. At each stage of life, persons have different needs and different abilities to meet their own needs and the needs of others. Healthy communities will appreciate those differences and provide what is needed at each life stage.
Healthy communities care for physical health when people are sick or injured. In a fallen world, people get sick and become injured. Whether it is a neighborhood clinic or a large metropolitan hospital, healthy communities provide the resources for persons to be able to be restored to health and wholeness as much as possible. This is the work of most of us as healthcare professionals.
Healthy communities provide for the adequate nutrition of its members. In the past number of years, there has been more emphasis on preventative medicine, helping people to avoid getting sick or injured in the first place. Proper nutrition plays a huge role in overall health. Good nutrition means both adequate education about what to eat for optimal health as well as the purchasing power to provide the best food for oneself and one’s family.
Healthy communities provide care for mental health. Although the brain is a physical organ of the body, its functioning remains more mysterious. Often mental health issues are not taken seriously until the problems are very obvious. Even then, many of us assume that changes in behavior are simply a matter of will power. Healthy communities will treat mental health issues with the same seriousness as other health issues and will provide appropriate care.
Healthy communities promote healthy relationships. A holistic view of health views all individual persons in the context of their families, their circles of friendship, their support systems, and the larger geographic community in which they live. Healthy communities provide that sense of community in which each member of the community is valued for who they are and can contribute to the good of the community as they are able. Healthy relationships also contribute to better physical and mental health.
Healthy communities provide meaningful and productive work for its members with an adequate income to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Poverty affects health. Working overtime because one’s job does not provide adequate income adds stress which affects many aspects of health. Folks who are poor are less able to provide for adequate nutrition. Those who live in poor communities often have less access to health services. When they do seek treatment, they tend to be sicker and thus need more expensive treatment, which, in turn, leads to greater poverty.
Healthy communities care for the weak and vulnerable in their midst. In addition to the very young and the very old, there are members of the community who live with significant long-term disabilities, including physical, intellectual, and developmental disabilities, autism, and mental illness. There are others who have faced other significant losses that affect their ability to maintain good health. Healthy communities will provide the resources to help all of its members to live in a healthy community setting and contribute to that community as much as they are able.
Healthy communities promote healthy spiritual life for individuals and communities. God is the author of health and desires that we live in communities characterized by the Hebrew concept of shalom. Living in shalom is living in a positive relationship with God and with the people of God. Although the word “shalom” is often translated as “peace,” it actually draws together a wholeness of body, mind, spirit, and relationships with self, with other persons, with creation, and with God.
Creating healthy communities is an ongoing journey in whatever political and cultural context we find ourselves. We can learn from each other. That’s why this year’s Annual Gathering theme is so important. Please join us in Harrisburg as we continue “Walking Together for Healthy Communities.”
About the author
Paul D. Leichty, M.Div. is Executive Director of Mennonite Healthcare Fellowship (MHF). Paul has served as a pastor, church musician, computer support person, disabilities advocate, and administrator/organizer of a number of church-related ministries. In addition to responsibilities at MHF, Paul is Executive Director of Congregational Accessibility Network and Director of User Services at Mennonite.net. He is also active in music at Berkey Avenue Mennonite Fellowship in Goshen, Indiana where he lives with his wife, Twila Charles Leichty.
Paul D. Leichty, M.Div. was the first Executive Director of Mennonite Healthcare Fellowship (MHF), serving from Sept. 2011 through May 2020. Paul has served as a pastor, church musician, computer support person, disabilities advocate, and administrator/organizer of a number of church-related ministries. In addition to responsibilities at MHF, Paul is Executive Director of Congregational Accessibility Network and was formerly Director of User Services at Mennonite.net. He is a member of Agape Fellowship of the Mennonite Church in Williamsport, Pennsylvania where he lives with his wife, Twila Charles Leichty.