Office of Mission: Health specialists bring world of experience to OK


Drs. Kalindi and Cherian Thomas, at the UM Ministry Center in Oklahoma City
UMNS archive photo by Katherine Witte

In Nigeria, Cherian Thomas speaks on efforts to meet health needs in that nation’s rural communities, in his past role as executive secretary of GBGM Health & Welfare Ministries.

First in a series

By Holly McCray

Oklahoma’s country roads and highways beckon to physicians Cherian and Kalindi Thomas, who have rerouted their international lives for new mission adventures, especially in local settings.

Both gifted community health specialists said yes to Jeremy Basset, director of the Conference’s Office of Mission. The couple arrived in the state on Jan. 7, excited about the Kingswood Institute that will help fulfill the vision of mission partnerships stated in the Conference Strategic Plan.

Dr. Cherian Thomas, in his role as a consultant employed by the Mission & Service Ministry Team for the Office of Mission, faces three primary tasks. Dr. Kalindi Thomas fully supports him in the work.

Rev. Basset described the goals.

  • Assess the need for and shape of Parish Nursing in local churches.
  • Reimagine medical missions through Volunteers In Mission (VIM).
  • A potential health program in collaboration with Oklahoma City University.

The Thomases, natives of India, already retired—twice. Yet Kalindi admitted, "One doesn’t retire completely ever, I think." Oklahoma United Methodists should be exceedingly glad.

For 24 years, the Thomases worked in an underdeveloped part of India, in a large teaching hospital. Next, a move to busy New Delhi and leadership in a 9,000-member Christian health network, with 330 hospitals, gave them a broader perspective.

Then the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM), drew them into major international health efforts.

"God was moving us," Cherian said. "The local place prepared us for Delhi, Delhi prepared us for New York, and from New York we were able to go literally to all of the world."

While serving as an UMCOR assistant general secretary, Cherian met Basset at a VIM event.

In 2011, the Thomases retired the second time and moved from New York to be near family in Iowa. Cherian had mused, "Let’s see what God has in mind."

Months later, Basset called from Oklahoma, and the couple agreed, "This looks like the kind of challenge we can take on."

"We like challenges. We’re very excited about this," they chorused in a Jan. 30 interview.

They know about the health challenges here, about the state’s ugly statistics on public health. But Cherian’s "favorite nighttime reading" is a map of Oklahoma. He sees much potential when he notes the many United Methodist church locations throughout the state.

"To me, Oklahoma embodies the local church connection, whereas we had been working in agencies," Cherian explained. "Now we’re coming back to a community base to work very local. That’s where, if long-lasting changes are to take place, they have to start."

The Thomases discussed their most immediate focus: parish nursing. They look forward to meeting soon with UM pastors and laypeople interested in this aspect of holistic Christian healing.

Kalindi said most Parish Nurses are church members who are registered nurses and complete special training, then volunteer some time to look into the spiritual, physical, mental, and social well-being of poor and disadvantaged people locally. Information gleaned from their visits can help shape an integrated healing ministry program by a church or group of churches.

Nancy Hoffmann of Tulsa trained as a Parish Nurse before she and her husband, clergyman Tom Hoffmann, began service as GBGM missionaries in Russia.

Rev. Hoffmann now serves as an associate pastor at Tulsa-First UMC.

He just completed a term chairing the Mission & Service Ministry Team and, like Basset, he is familiar with Cherian’s outstanding work in health care.

Hoffmann recently discussed the biblical basis for health ministry by the Church. Familiar to many people are verses in Matthew, about Jesus teaching his followers to care for the sick and others in need.

But Hoffmann also pointed out another reference, from his study of the Greek New Testament. One Greek word, salvation, also translates as wholeness and healing, especially in the first three NT Gospels.

"All are probably different facets of the same diamond," Hoffmann said. "God desires to heal all that we are. No wonder the Church has been one of the first (entities) to establish hospitals over all this time."

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