• Compassion Medical

The Imitation of Christ in Medical Missions

A reflection on Danielle Ellis’ Humble Thyself: The Imitation of Christ in Medical


While medicine is governed by the pursuit of patient autonomy, benevolence,

non-maleficence, and justice- Danielle Ellis, the author of Humble Thyself: The Imitation

of Christ in Medical Missions, argues for the necessity of Christian humility especially in

the context of medical missions. There is an innate power dynamic in medicine that can

leave patients feeling powerless, uneducated, or afraid to speak up. While most medical

professionals strive to avoid invoking these types of feelings in their patients- it is even

more essential to avoid this power dynamic in the setting of Christian medical missions.

Ellis argues that there are two types of humility that can ground the medical

missionaries to the task at hand, which is to share the healing power of the Great

Physician while being the practical hands of bodily healing. She invokes the language of

Paul in Philippians 2:7-8, “but [Christ] emptied himself, by taking the form of

a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he

humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” In

this passage, Paul explains that Christ emptied himself of the privilege of His heavenly

form and he humbled himself to become a servant of mankind. Ellis argues that,

“practically, one concerns an internal change in posture and the other a way of relating

to others externally.” This internal change and external posture of Christ that Paul relays

in Philippians is the supreme example of the attitude medical missionaries should take.

Medical missions can be fraught with preconceived notions of historical wrongs,

mistrust, and general wariness of medical assistance from an outside entity. A toxic

situation could occur if these layers were added onto the already prominent power

dynamic inherent in the provider-patient relationship. Ellis advises that the best way to

truly minister to a community is to imitate Christ. Medical missionaries should bend their

internal posture to align with the reality that they are merely instruments of God just as

Christ emptied himself to become man and submit himself to his Father’s will.

Furthermore, medical missionaries should humble themselves in relation to the

community they are working with. Humility, as external service to others, includes taking

the time to learn the local systems and develop relationships with community

stakeholders. The posture of service creates opportunities for medical missionaries to

develop partnerships instead of fostering paternalistic dynamics. Ellis perfectly

encapsulates the ideal partnership that can occur when medical missionaries humble

their internal posture and seek to become servants in their external relationships. She

states, “In a partnership, medical missionaries would shift from technocratic, self-

generated projects and solutions towards asking local practitioners what their needs are

and how missionaries can be most useful in strengthening their capacity to address

those needs. Practically speaking, that may include investing in training programs,

cultivating a culture of quality improvement, and building up not only individuals but

whole systems.” Compassion Medical is passionate about finding medical professionals

who are spiritually led to humble themselves to God’s will and humble themselves in

service of their community. Our prayer is that by building bridges between humble

medical servants and local communities we can improve community access to

healthcare as well as share the most powerful medicine of all: the gospel of Christ


I encourage you to read Ellis’ original article at the link below:


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