As many focus on their health in a new year, Kathleen Griffith reminds us to have a holistic approach—mind, body and spirit.
“When one is unwell, one’s whole being is affected,” explains the interim Global Health Team Lead and the Program Manager of Maternal, Newborn and Child Health with the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church. “We are such integrated beings.”
Griffith also shares how the Abundant Health Initiative of the UMC’s audacious goal of reaching one million children with lifesaving intervention was reached in the fall of 2020.
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Kathleen Griffith and Abundant Health
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Related on UMC.org
- Explore Promoting Health and Wholeness on UMC.org.
- Be inspired by an 84-year-old female body builder: The power of restored joy.
- Enjoy Getting in shape: Wesley's health tips apply today… mostly.
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- Read A Christian calling: Save water, save lives by Joe Iovino.
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This episode posted on January 15, 2021.
Joe Iovino, host: Welcome to Get Your Spirit in Shape, United Methodist Communications and UMC.org’s podcast to help us keep our souls as healthy as our bodies. I’m Joe Iovino.
My guest today is Kathleen Griffith, who works with the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church as the interim Global Health Team Lead and the Program Manager for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health.
In this conversation, we talk about the amazing work The United Methodist Church is doing around the globe to help ensure the health of all people. And we talk about how health isn’t just about our physical health—separate from our spiritual health, separate from our mental health—but how all three of those are related, and how we in the new year ahead can be mindful of our health in a holistic way.
Joe: Kathy, welcome to Get Your Spirit in Shape.
Kathy Griffith: Thank you so much, Joe. And a very Happy New Year.
Joe: Yeah. Happy New Year to you, too! I’ve been aware that in 2020 Global Health issues took center stage for a lot of us, with coronavirus and COVID-19. This is the type of work, though, that you and your colleagues do all the time. Certainly not new to you. So, can you tell me a little bit about the work of the Global Health team?
Kathy Griffith: For sure, Joe. I’d love to. I know that this podcast probably isn’t long enough for all of it. The Global Health unit of Global Ministries is committed to implementing the Global Health focus of the United Methodist Church.
Many of the listeners will remember the Imagine No Malaria initiative that went on for 8 years. And in 2016 after a church-wide survey it became the Abundant Health Initiative that embraced malaria, but so much more. With a partnership with Every Woman Every Child in which we committed to reach a million children and pregnant women with lifesaving intervention. And thank God we achieved that goal at the end of September, the end of the third quarter.
So what we do is very focused. We have several programs through which we work. Those programs overlap and integrate with each other. There are overseas programs and programs within the United States.
Internationally we work with health system strengthening—strengthening the denominational hospitals and health systems, because all are connected to communities for quality of care, for supplies, recruitment, for infrastructure. Imagine No Malaria continues because this is still a killer disease. HIV continues because this is a chronic illness and also a killer disease. And maternal newborn and child health, which is actually a marker of a country’s health status. And that’s the HIV and maternal newborn and child health on my portfolio.
Here in the United States we’ve done a lot with non-communicable diseases. That includes substance use disorder, mental health and the care of children, care of veterans, care for people living on the margins, care for people who haven’t got enough food. So it’s pretty integrated and it’s body, mind and spirit.
Joe: Can we talk about that for a minute because a lot of times I feel like one of the first reactions that we have when these things happen is why is the church involved in healthcare issues? It feels like that should be somebody else’s work. So tell me about that a little bit—the body, mind and spirit. Why does that matter?
Kathy Griffith: Okay. Well, first of all let me say that most mission initiatives have begun or have been made successful through having health and education. So that’s one of the reasons why we have more than 300 health facilities in sub-Saharan Africa.
When one is unwell, one’s whole being is affected. When one is mentally unwell one’s whole being is affected. When one is spiritually unwell one’s body and mind are affected. We are such integrated beings. We go together.
So what we’ve been promoting…. For example, we work in hospitals. So we invite everyone. So there is no exclusion. That’s very important. Social care. We are working very hard with respectful, dignified care so that every patient knows that they are somebody. That’s much more than physical care. We have hospitals with chaplains and district superintendents who visit hospitals. That’s spiritual care.
So in our actual hospital work we are trying to engage people at all three levels. Also, in the community working through the churches. And not just the Methodist Church. We have community health workers from multiple denominations to help us to work together.
Here in the United States when we engage with congregations and the community, it’s the same. We want to engage at every level so that the outreach, the mission is to the congregation, but it’s also to the community, more a sense of community. We all need to belong. And that’s part of our holistic health and how we can connect to each other. I could say much more, but perhaps I should stop there.
Joe: I do want to hear a little bit more about the belonging part, how that’s part of the healthcare or the care of the whole human being. How does that work?
Kathy Griffith: Belonging is a basic human need. That’s why families are so important. People are very easily isolated. We are, for example, working at this time with dueling pandemics—HIV and COVID-19. And both of them cause isolation because we’re living…COVID we’re living in isolation. There’s also a huge amount of stigma.
At the beginning of the HIV pandemic up to today, although in many places it has changed. In different parts of the world, a family will make their relative living with HIV live outside or will have nothing to do with them. And people die from loneliness. Perhaps people die more from stigma than they die from the actual disease if they can access treatment.
This sense of belonging… I’ve used two extreme examples. …is important to be alive. In Africa we have a saying… I’m from Zimbabwe originally. We talk about ‘Ubuntu’ -- I am because we are. We are so interdependent. And part, for me, of this Abundant Health Initiative that we’ve been working on for the last 4 years, is this very important engagement—engagement between health facilities and community; between churches and the community; between community and community; and the sense of acceptance, the sense of breaking down the ‘us’ and the ‘them,’ because we belong to each other and each one has infinite value and something to offer.
Joe: That’s something that I think we’ve learned acutely in 2020 with COVID-19 in that it was no respecter of borders. We found out just how connected we are, not just locally, but even globally.
But it also drove us inside. So I know that there are some mental health crises that are happening because people are alone. We work from home. We’re not getting out as often as we used to.
One of the things I’ve been thinking about for 2021 is…I noticed last year that a lot of my habits have changed, because I can’t do the things that I used to do, including like going to the gym every morning and walking on the treadmill. I just don’t want to do that right now with all of the things that are out there.
So, as I start the new year I want to become more mindful of my physical health again. Do you have any thoughts or tips or advice that would help me with that as I go forward?
Kathy Griffith: I can only say what I do. I’m hoping that we’ll be working on some tools that we can promote for this kind of thing. But I work day by day in our study/spare room. And I at one time set the alarm on my phone so I would get up from my desk every hour and simply walk from this room to the kitchen and back. It’s very important physically to get a drink of water. I can overload on coffee and this. Even more for me the big tea, but to get it…get a drink, to drink water, to… Not to go and snack, but to get a drink and to come back to my desk. So that gives me a mental break, a physical break and a rehydration break.
Physically also, another very important part of life for me is to leave my desk on time. It’s very easy in this time (and COVID is going to overlap into 2021) it’s easy for me to stay at my desk for hours longer than I should. My husband tells me the work is always going to be there. And so I’m telling you, Joe, the work is always going to be there. So now I’ve set my alarm for 5 o’clock every evening. So that gives me one hour to prepare for tomorrow and the next day and then go back and finish the last things I was working on to be finished by 6 p.m. It hasn’t quite worked as it should yet. But I’m working towards it.
So then I can get a meal and I can have a conversation, which is very important for many mental health, and can have that prayer time, but you know, I can also get to bed at a decent time without the work weighing on my mind and affecting the rest, the sleep, the refreshment, that is also our gift from God.
I go for a walk every lunchtime to call my mum, which keeps me connected with her and keeps me fit. We have a lovely place where we live where I’m not bumping into people all the time. So I don’t need to wear a mask, but it’s important for my physical health.
And I run. I realize that not everybody is able to do that. I could go on, but maybe I should stop.
Joe: I do want to get back to that connection piece that you were talking about, too. You mentioned in there that during your walk you call your mom to stay connected to her.
Do you have other thoughts about how we can, when we’re kind of not getting out as often as we did and not having those casual meetings with people? How can we remain connected?
Kathy Griffith: Well, you know what I’m gonna say. One of my best friends has become Zoom.
Joe: Yeah. We’re doing that here now. It’s great.
Kathy Griffith: Exactly. All of our meetings are on Zoom or on Teams or by phone again. And in the beginning I thought I’m going to develop an allergy to Zoom. Again, looking for the rash. Actually it’s been a life saver, if one can say that about Zoom. It keeps me in contact.
Another great thing, obviously…my mum doesn’t easily get on to Zoom, but she’s learned how to use WhatsApp and she’s an expert at WhatsApp at 81. And so I’m full of respect for my elders in the community who have learned technology and how to use technology at this time so that they, too, can keep connected with family and with each other.
I manage some meetings in person, but they are very carefully managed. I feel it’s really important to model the correct distancing and mask-wearing and hand washing, but when it is safe I do have meetings with small groups socially distanced and mask wearing. And it’s increased my appreciation of that face-to-face, and it’s increased my love, that big four-letter word.
Joe: And I love just the reminder that you’re talking about this as part of our total health, our total wellbeing. Because we so often like to divide those things up, don’t we? The physical health and spiritual health and mental health as if they’re all separate specialties. But I hear you saying over and over again this is part of who we are as a whole.
Kathy Griffith: Yes. I mean we all… Professionasl will specialize possibly in one or the other, butliving out our daily lives I can’t just do spiritual care, just do my physical care, just do my mental care because they go together. And I can’t be a community member and not engage with health professionals at times. There’s that integration, too. So, it’s so very important to recognize that and make that available to people.
Joe: I love that thought. I love that idea. That’s wonderful. I think we kind of glossed over a little bit, that you are also the program manager for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health. What’s that work about? And tell me a little bit more about that.
Kathy Griffith: It’s probably the best job in the world, but maybe we shouldn’t broadcast that. Maybe that’s just a secret.
This is a program that’s part of the Abundant Health Initiative. All of our programs are working towards multiple beneficiaries. But our particular beneficiaries have been mothers and children. So obviously I’m in the best seat for that.
But what we’ve wanted to do and what we’ve done over the past 4 years was select countries where there was a United Methodist Church connection, a presence or a traditional partner, where the data for maternal and infant morbidity and mortality is high. Then we invited grants of up to a hundred thousand dollars to fund a project over a period of time. We needed to be able to compare these projects so we’re not working with apples and oranges. So we have the same indicators, and the same objectives. So we focused on prenatal care, the quality obstetric care (that’s labor, birth and immediate postnatal care) and then care of the mothers for 6 weeks afterwards and ongoing, and care for the children for 5 years. Now this is only standard. World Health Organization has best practices for each of those objectives.
But what we wanted to do was help our UMC health facilities to improve quality with training, with equipment, with medications, even with buildings. Some buildings haven’t had that much maintenance since they were built in the 1920s, 30s, 40s, 50s. And weather is not kind.
So the kind of things that we’ve had as crosscutting themes are community engagement, how to help health facilities and communities work together to make this work in the very best way. So we have community health workers systematically visiting pregnant women and children and do screening for malnutrition, screening for at-risk pregnancy and accompanying patients back to the health facility.
Kathy Griffith: We’ve had community health workers following up, as they can, because it’s confidential so often—people living with HIV and AIDS.
Different projects have done different things, but there are other causes for poor health, like poor water sanitation and hygiene, food security. And so in some projects we have been able to work with water. Some projects we’ve been able to work with kitchen gardens and even introduce some chickens and small animals to help to deal with the huge problem of childhood malnutrition, and even malnutrition amongst pregnant women.
We try to contextualize all our projects according to the location. But those objectives that I said at the beginning, the main ones that we’re working with and have brought them in line with World Health Organization best practices.
I have some wonderful partners, and they have done a wonderful job. They have great stories to tell about women and families who we’ve helped and community commitments. Like, in Nigeria signing a memorandum of understanding with the taxi union so that those taxis are paid by the health facilities to bring women who have an emergency to the health facility, because if you’re going to walk for 6 hours, you’d rather stay at home.
Joe: As you were talking there again, how we think about, or I think about, healthcare as this one piece. And it just kept snowballing. You were talking about gardens and then you were talking about transportation. And it’s just this really large holistic approach that we don’t often think about. Are there other pieces in that that you can share with us?
Kathy Griffith: Sure. There are things that I would still like to introduce and exercise much more like gender-based violence. I mean, that’s always been an issue. It’s especially an issue in some of the countries where we work. But with COVID it’s become an even greater issue.
HIV is also a huge concern. I believe that with COVID, there’s been an increased incidence of HIV infection, although we don’t know because many of our counseling and testing services have had to decrease. Because number one, people don’t have access because they can’t get there. Or there’s a limited supply, or there were no staff or… Governments have had to make choices about what they’re can pay for at this time of the pandemic. So that’s a very big issue that I want to learn more about responding to at this extraordinary time.
But, of course, it’s very well documented how education makes young women empowered. So that’s a very, very, very important part of health and health for the future generation is to help young women into school. So menstrual hygiene management as well as water sanitation and hygiene is something that is not yet included in our programming. But I’m very interested in embracing partners who would help us to include that.
Kathy Griffith: Interesting times. There’s always something more to discuss, to think about, to embrace.
Joe: I just want to alert people that are listening that on the notes page of this I want to put a link to another podcast that we did maybe 3 or 4 years ago, where we talked about some of these issues with water sanitation and menstrual hygiene and some of the things. These are things that become barriers—especially for young girls to becoming educated and empowered.
Also, I heard you talk about…. and I’m not sure we’re all aware of this …but there are United Methodist health clinics around the world. Where are some of the countries where you guys are working with those health clinics?
Kathy Griffith: Chiefly at this time we’re working in sub-Saharan Africa. So, let me see. Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, Mozambique, Zimbabwe.
Joe: Wonderful ministries that are ongoing around the globe.
I want to return, just for a second, to the Global Health team work and this… You mentioned this very early in the conversation, about how in 2016 in Portland the Abundant Health Initiative kicked off with what seemed like an audacious goal, to reach a million children with lifesaving intervention. You mentioned rather casually, 20 minutes ago, that, “Yeah, we did that.”
Can you tell me about that work and how amazing it is what’s happened and how the church has done this incredible thing.
Kathy Griffith: Well, first of all, a huge thanks to the thousands of people who donated towards the Abundant Health Initiative Advance to make this possible. This makes it teamwork. This means that every dollar has impacted not only, has not only gone towards impacting our work overseas, but has gone towards work here in the United States. And that’s very important for people to know. The data that we had includes the United States.
So how did we do this? Well, we began with a little bit of trembling and audacious hope. I have worked on this team of wonderful people. I have amazing colleagues here and amazing leadership here in Atlanta as well as partners on the ground. But we needed a structure to do this. And the structure was formed with Imagine No Malaria. And I said to you that Imagine No Malaria continues today. So with the work that specifically through the denomination and not through traditional partners who were connected to the church, we worked through health boards. The health boards appointed by the bishop in each episcopal area and then that health board has a small staff, a coordinator who works with the network of hospitals in that episcopal area, and Imagine No Malaria coordinating, working with malaria obviously, and a maternal, newborn and child health coordinator working with me.
We have done all we can to overlap, to work together. Of course there’s always more room for that.
We’ve systematically set out our objectives, activities and indicators so that we could measure improved health in the communities that we work in. I want to emphasize that because although we were working towards reaching a million children, actually the most important measure that we did was not about numbers, but about improved health, improved skills, improved supplies so that we could improve health. So we had targets to reach and then we set about achieving in those targets.
Our monitoring and evaluation teams shared in Atlanta, we would review the reports, submit them to our colleagues and they would keep a tally of the numbers. And every quarter we’d get an update of the number of pregnant women, the number of adolescents, and the number of children under 5. And that has surpassed a million. And we feel as though we have a very big family. I wish I knew each one by name. But we’re so grateful.
Joe: It’s amazing work that the church has accomplished. And all of us who are a part of the church are a part of that work. And it’s been really tremendous. Where can people learn more about your work and support the things that ae going on?
Kathy Griffith: We have a website. The Global Ministries website has its health page.
We also have the Abundant Health website. And the Abundant Health website has news about our international work. But it also has news about U.S. work with information about what people can do in their own congregations to be involved. I call it a movement here because everybody can be involved in this movement of mental, spiritual and physical health.
It is also possible to give, because the Abundant Health Initiative continues. We have an Advance. And I’m not sure if I’m allowed to say that number on the podcast.
3021770. 3021770. And we would…. Yes, of course we would welcome your gift. Of course. That’s why I’m promoting it.
But most of we value your prayers. We value partnerships. And we value accompaniment because of what we were talking about earlier, the sense of belonging, that we are in this together. Some people are donors. Some people are pray-ers. Some people are implementers. Some people are program managers. But it’s an equal playing field. And we somehow are all beneficiaries, including added to those million children and pregnant women.
And of course we are …we welcome correspondence as well. Sometimes that’s difficult to keep up with, but we welcome questions and anyway that we can assist.
Joe: Again, well put links on the show notes page on our website: UMC.org/podcasts, and you’ll be able to get all of that. So those that are listening, they don’t have to write down that Advance number. We’ll have all the links to it so that you can make the donation.
Kathy, the last question that I ask every guest on Get Your Spirit in Shape is: How do you keep your spirit in shape?
Kathy Griffith: This is a challenge. This is a challenge. And you challenge me to honesty. So I have to say that my ideal is not yet my reality, but I’m always working towards it.
So how do I keep my spirit in shape? Well, part of it is keeping in shape physically. Part of it is a mental balance because I’m prone to anxiety, but for my spirit I do what many people do. I have daily devotions, daily Bible reading. And I revel in that.
I try to speak to good books, good books that will feed my soul.
I try to stick to good conversations, and good conversations about spiritual life, about Jesus, about what will edify.
I try to keep away from a culture that is so easily developed, a culture of complaint, and a culture of disappointment. I don’t want to promote those.
I belong to a Zoom Bible study, great, great conversation. And I also belong to a spiritual formation group. So the Bible study is great conversation, but the spiritual formation is more personal. And it keeps me… We keep each other, this small group of 4, we keep each other accountable. And we talk about our struggles. And we talk about perspective. And we talk about, obviously, all of the aspects of our faith. And that has helped me a great deal.
I have a wonderful husband who also…he keeps me in line and I keep him in line, because we belong.
Joe: Yeah, you kind of brought it full circle. It’s not just spirit, but it’s body, mind and spirit. We need to keep all of that together. And I love that idea of the good books and the good conversations and staying away from the culture of complaint. Thank you so much for sharing that.
Kathy, I just want to say thank you for your time today. I have so thoroughly enjoyed this conversation, meeting you and learning about your work. But I also want to say thank you for your service to Christ and the church, for all you do to lead these teams that provide life-saving and life-changing assistance to people all around the world. Thank you.
Kathy Griffith: Thank you, Joe. Thank you for your hospitality. I want to say that my part is a very small. We lead as a team from Atlanta. I have wonderful colleagues and…at leadership, and wonderful colleagues overseas. And it’s a very humbling privilege I have. And thank you for letting me explain as you have. Thank you so much. Blessings on you.
Joe: Blessings and Happy New Year.
Kathy Griffith: Thank you. Happy New Year, Joe.
Joe: That was Kathleen Griffith, the interim Global Health Team Lead and the Program Manager of Maternal, Newborn and Child Health with the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church. To learn more about the work of the Global Health Team, go to UMC.org/podcasts and look for this episode of Get Your Spirit in Shape.
We’ve put a links on the page to the podcast I mentioned in the conversation, to other helpful resources to learn more about the issues we discussed, and also a place where you can learn more about the Abundant Health Initiative and how you can support them with your prayers and your donations.
Thank you so much for listening, and Happy New Year! I’ll be back soon with another conversation that will help us keep our souls as healthy as our bodies. I’m Joe Iovino. Peace.