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How often should clerics seek medical assistance?

By Chris Irekamba
26 September 2021   |   4:03 am
As shepherds that must continually tend to the spiritual and material needs of their large flocks, clerics often get so absorbed in their works that they easily forget to take care of their own well-being.

• They Need To Have Medical Checks, Especially As They Grow Older — Akinyinka
• Only Leaders Who Are Not Sure Of Themselves Are Afraid Of Delegating Assignments — Olumide
• Clerics Should Not Assume They Can Play ‘God’ By Their Attitude — Sofola
• Some Believe In Divine Healing — Ayokunle
• NASFAT Promotes A Policy That Makes Healthcare One Of Its Cardinal Objectives — Abdul-Azeez

As shepherds that must continually tend to the spiritual and material needs of their large flocks, clerics often get so absorbed in their works that they easily forget to take care of their own well-being. The never-ending services, programmes and meetings, among others, that sometimes oblige them to travel abroad could naturally prove to be overwhelming, if not well handled. But as in everything else, this negligence is certain to attract consequences in the short or long run. Perhaps, this is responsible for the situation, where otherwise young and seemingly healthy clerics sometimes slump and die, while on active service. Considering the crucial role they play in society, especially in the worship places, where they serve as the cornerstone upon which practically everything rests, what measures should be put in place by relevant stakeholders to ensure that clerics do the needful with regard to their health and general well-being? Whether ill or not, at what point should clerics seek medical attention?

Some stakeholders have observed that some clerics are reluctant to go for medical checks or even avail themselves of medical at their disposal, which is making them to wonder if this has to do with their spiritual stand and faith that nothing untoward could ever happen to them. But should the physical body be neglected, just because of one’s belief and spiritual inclinations?

Dr. Modupe Akinyinka, a public health analyst, directed her advice to all Nigerians and not just clerics, although she is of the view that the latter should really pay close attention to their health.

She said: “Even if they feel they are close to God, but the fact still remains that they are on the face of the earth, which means that they are still human beings. So, they need to take care of their bodies, rest and have adequate sleep. They also need to have medical checks, especially as they grow older, in case there is anything going wrong, they are able to detect it early, and something can be done about it. This will prevent people from collapsing or slumping anyhow. God has given us the scientific or medical knowledge to know that we can take care of your blood pressure and know when things are normal or not. We can conduct tests that can detect whether a particular organ(s) is functioning well or not. It is God that gives that knowledge and He expects us to be wise and make use of it. He has also given us the medicine to enable us take care of ourselves.”

In addition, Akinyinka urged clerics who are in the habit of working without rest to desist, as well as avoid excessive alcohol, smoking and things that are dangerous to health.

“If they notice anything out of the ordinary, aside from praying like they obviously would do, they should also seek medical opinion on it,” she said. “This will even guide them in which direction their prayer should go, and whatever can be done about it medically should also be done. It’s not like they are the one doing the healing; it is God that is doing it. So, whenever He decides to do it, He will move and do it. And He has given us the knowledge to be able to do something in the physical.”

She advocated that clerics exercise 30 minutes daily. They should also leverage on the health management organisation (HMO), which many of them are privileged to have. They can get health insurance. Many religious organisations have hospitals and clinics, which the clerics should make good use of them, thereby becoming good examples to their members.”

“What we can do in the physical, we should do it. For example, we already know from medical science that exercise is good and we shouldn’t embrace sedentary lifestyle. If you are not doing that and you are just saying, ‘Oh, because of the spiritual, I am not doing that,’ this is tending towards foolishness because these are things that are physical. They should ensure that they take care of the physical, because it is only then that they will be able to also take care of the spiritual.

Yetunde Mercy Olumide, Emeritus Professor of Medicine, University of Lagos, highlighted the importance of rest. In her view, religious leaders should apply biblical principles and emulate God, Who rested on the seventh day from all His work. According to her, it is the only way to rejuvenate and then receive new strength to finish the work the Lord has given the clerics. She said it is not God’s Will for man to work for seven days a week without rest.

Defining rest, Olumide said: “The time for rest should not be filled with other kinds of activities. Rather, it should actually be a complete time to rest.” She enjoined clerics to cultivate the habit of delegating functions to capable aides, using biblical examples.

“As regards delegation of work, in Exodus 18:13-15, 17-22,24, Moses was working from morning to evening, attending to the request of people and judging the people,” she explained. “His father-in-law advised him to delegate part of the work, so as not to wear himself out. Moses heeded the advice and the result was phenomenal. Jesus delegated assignments to His disciples and empowered them to do the work effectively. Apostle Paul also imitated Jesus’ leadership qualities of delegating assignments, so that he could handle great matters.

“Only leaders who are not sure of themselves are afraid of delegating assignments. Furthermore, a good leader must mentor younger people to succeed him or her. Moses mentored Joshua to succeed him (Deut 31:7-8; Jos1: 1-9). Elijah mentored Elisha (1 Kgs 19:19-21) and Apostle Paul mentored Timothy (1Tim1: 2; 4:12-16; 20-21) and so on.

“Nobody is indispensable, and God has many options. When king Saul became proud and disobedient, God simply removed His Spirit from him and anointed David, a young shepherd boy as the next king.”

She agreed that it is in harmony with the scriptures for clerics to seek medical treatment and so, they should stop jeopardising their health when they are sick.

She said: “It is perfectly scriptural to consult physicians. What Asa did wrong in 2 Chronicle 16:12 was consulting physicians to the total exclusion of God. See the use of medications in Hezekiah’s poultice of figs (Isaiah 38:21; balm of Gilead (Jer8: 22).

She, however, condemned over dependence on physicians and medications alone. For religious leaders that are very busy on Sundays, Olumide suggested that they reserve a day to observe rest.

On his part, Olusoga Sofola, Emeritus Professor of Physiology, College of Medicine, University of Lagos, quoted the motto of Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LUTH): “We care God heals,” to buttress the need for taking proper care of the body at the right time.

He said: “Caring means you have to go for examination. And it is the process that will reveal who is sick and the type of drugs to administer. Doctors are not magicians, which is why they diagnose patients to know what is wrong with them, after, which appropriate drugs are given. Going to the hospital and seeking medical help doesn’t make one a lesser Christian. It is really pitiable that a patient who is hypertensive is asked to go for prayers as solution, when there are drugs to treat such people.

“We recognise there is a God and He also recognises there should be physicians. In the Bible, Jesus did a lot of miracles, but He never opened a shop to say He is doing miracles. Those of us that are Christians because of our faith; believe in it, but we also believe that people would need to be treated because they cannot take over the functions of health practitioners.

“We know there is God and we also know that God has used people who are trained to be able to help them. These clerics are human beings and not machines. If they keep on the way some of them are going year in year out without going for medical treatment as often as possible, they will be stressed out and you know what that means.

He explained that though seeing a doctor or going to hospital is an individual thing, the emphasis is on regular checkup and the need for individuals to consult their physicians, whenever they observe anything unusual going on in their bodies.

“And if they want to be honest, they should also advise their members to seek medical help and not that they should pray for them to be healed,” he said. “They should make themselves available for what is proper medical care. For instance, there was somebody that was writing a column in one of the newspapers and was telling people about cancer. But the same person died of cancer. So, why didn’t she take proper care of herself or treat herself of cancer? Some of them cannot leverage on the HMO because they still want to tell people they are the ones that can heal them. If they are sincere, they can create an HMO for their people. After all, conventional churches run clinics for their members. They should not assume that they can play ‘God’ by their attitude.”

Advising his colleagues, the Christian Association of Nigeria’s President and Co-chairman, Nigeria Inter-religious Council, Dr. Samson Ayokunle, said their health is very important for life and ministerial assignments, without which they may not be able to continue with God’s work. He, however, said going for medical checks depends on individual’s faith.

He said: “Some believe in divine healing. While it is scriptural to believe in divine healing, where we differ in faith from one another is the extent to which we drag this divine healing. As far as I am concerned, whatever breakthrough in medicine God has granted man to accomplish should be appropriated for our wellbeing.

“God may not come and heal a disease, which He has given us wisdom to handle under normal circumstances. My advice to gospel ministers is to adhere to medical advice as much as possible. Ministerial burnout should be avoided through appropriate rest, assignment distribution to other capable assistants and regular medical check-ups.”

The Chief Missioner, Nasrul-Lahi-l-Fatih Society (NASFAT), worldwide, Imam Moruf Onike Abdul-Azeez, said NASFAT does not toy with members’ health. He explained that the society promotes a policy that makes healthcare one of its cardinal objectives.

The Chief Missioner observed that in 2019, the current executive council, with the help of successive administration, launched Education, Livelihood and Da’wah (HELD) policy and also registered its workers, some volunteers and their family members in the health management organisation (HMO) of the Lagos State government under the National Health Insurance Scheme.

He said: “Similarly, the society, through its social welfare agency, the NASFAT Agency for Zakat and Sadaqah (NAZAS), has enlisted some non-NASFAT Imams and five members of their immediate families on the health insurance scheme. The agency had also footed the medical bills of so many Nigerians, regardless of religion, race or tribe, including spending over N12m to support healthcare provision for needy Muslims in 2020.

“The society encourages its branches to set up hospitals and primary heath centres and has given birth to hospital and health centres in Abidjan, Cote D’Ivoire, and Osogbo and Iree, both in Osun State in Nigeria, among others. Aside that the society is mobilising for the construction of a mother and child hospital in Lagos State and availing members of the HMO services, it is also ensuring that Imams take annual vacation to rest and recharge. The society has also set up a monthly health talk for all members.”

He disclosed that the society’s position is inspired by the scriptural sayings in Sunnah and Holy Qur’an: “Take benefit of five before five: your youth before your old age, your health before your sickness, your wealth before your poverty, your free-time before your preoccupation, and your life before your death,” (Hadith).

Healthy living, according to Rivers State Islamic Leader/Vice President General (RSCIA), (Amb) Nasir Awhelebe Uhor, is part of worship in Islam.

He explained that Allah, The Almighty, in the Holy Qur’an chapter 5 verse 105 said: “O you who believe! Take care of your own selves….” He said that in several other verses, Allah commanded believers to take their health and safety seriously.

Urging Muslim clerics not to toy with their health, Uhor said good health is a special blessing Allah granted to enable “us worship Him both physically and spiritually. It is not to be toyed with by believers, least of all by religious clerics and leaders. As a matter of course, religious clerics and leaders, such as Prophet Muhammad (saw) himself did, must set example of good attitude to health.

“To deny the body access to good health is to reject the special blessings of Allah. And, who rejects Allah’s blessings except the one that has rejected faith? It is, therefore, obligatory on believers, more so, religious clerics and leaders, to give priority to their health and those of their followers or Ummah.”
General Superintendent of Seed of Life Christian Mission, Owerri/PFN Chairman Imo State, Bishop Titus Onyeozirila Akanabu, urged his fellow clerics to eat good food, when they are not fasting, as well as go for regular check-up as the need arises to avoid both premature death or unmanageable body complications. He also advised them to delegate functions, citing book of Exodus and Moses who was advised by his father in-law to divide the multitude of Israel in groups and delegate duties to honourable leaders, which he obeyed.