Try imagining what 300 voices singing and praying in dozens of different language sounds like.  Beautiful and strange, but it is, I think, a faint foreshadowing of what it will be like in eternity when ever tribe nation and tongue will gather before the throne of God. But that was what we experienced in the worship at the NCFI International Conference at the start of November.

Some three hundred nurses from over twenty countries attended the first International Christian nursing conference that NCFI has ever held in Latin America, including delegations from Spain, Nigeria, Denmark, South Korea, Australia, Canada, the US, Norway, Peru, Bolivia, Columbia, Argentina, Costa Rica, Scotland, England & Wales Chile and Uruguay.  .

The opening evening set a very strong note for the conference, with the Chilean Minister of Health speaking passionately about the role of faith in Jesus in the best of healthcare, and that his government has put the right to good spiritual care into national law!  Patricia Bennar followed with a scholarly look at the Biblical idea of the ‘Compassionate Stranger’ as exemplified in the parable of the Good Samaritan.  Both the carer and the cared for in this parable are outsiders – but with which do we identify ourselves?

The theme was ‘Partners in Care’, and we looked each day at themes ‘Partnering with God’, ‘Partnering with Patients and Families’ and ‘Partnering to Change the World’.  Each day started with a Biblical exposition from Raquel Contreras (a Chilean pastor who ministers in the USA), and a professional session that looked at how these scriptural truths impact upon our professional practice.

There were two training tracks in the concurrent sessions – one on Leadership and one on Teaching Spiritual Care. Both training programmes are geared at giving a distinctly Christian approach to developing the next generation of nurse leaders and equipping nurses to give competent spiritual care to their patients.  We are looking at how we can develop these further for CNM members, and it is proposed that will start the leadership programme at the October day conference in Cardiff.  It is proposed that we introduce the Spiritual Care programme at the April London day conference, but not run the full programme until later in the year .

NCFI presented its Eight Year strategic plan from 2013-2021, and a new structure to take this forward. This includes the development of an Institute of Christian Nursing under NCFI that will develop professional development programmes for nurses and midwives with a strong Christian and professional ethos.  The first two resources are the leadership and spiritual care programmes, but these are seen as the starting point only, the idea being to focus on training trainers in regional and national fellowships with the long term vision of equipping Christian nurses around the world to be agents for change in the culture of care in their own nations.

Steve is now, by dint of being NCFI Regional Chair for Europe, on the International Board, although due to timing of flights he has not been able to join in with any of the meetings at this time.

But the main joy of these conferences remains the fellowship with other Christian nurses from around the globe, and learning from their struggles and experiences more of what it means to serve Christ in caring for our patients (one of the main themes of the conference, from the opening address by Patricia Bennar to the closing plenary).  We enjoyed the exuberance and faithfulness in prayer and worship of the Latin Americans – and while language was a bit of barrier, we still had a great time getting to know some of them (I was particularly excited to meet to Uruguayan nurses who first encountered NCFI at the ICMDA World Congress in Uruguay in 2010 at a sub-conference which I had attended).  It was also great to reconnect with the Nigerian FCN team and members (about 30 of them!) and two members of their UK chapter (with whom we were reminded that we must re-establish contact).

The next European Conference will be October 2014 in Madrid, with a students’ conference on spirituality and care in Lisbon in October 2013.  The 2016 World Conference has yet to be confirmed, but may be in North America.