[W]hile I think there are very good general reasons to keep public health and missionary efforts as separate as possible, both in theory and praxis, there are several things we secular liberals can still learn from the more devout.
One example is the never-ending debates amongst evangelists between those who seek technological shortcuts and those who stick with old-fashioned person-to-person contact. This is a frequent topic at missions conferences (if you didn’t know such conferences existed, it might be an interesting Google). You can view the rise of Christian radio broadcasts, followed by Christian TV and televangelists, as the great technological shortcuts: they give a single preacher the ability to reach millions, and if the message is just as good as when delivered in person, why shouldn’t it be just as effective? Some people are persuaded by televangelists, of course, but the effectiveness of the individual doesn’t scale easily to mass media.
Likewise, in recent years there’s been much enthusiasm for social media and its potential to save more souls – but the results rarely pan out. So despite all of the advances in mass and social media, most evangelists still harp on the importance of individual contact, of building relationships. One of the most effective (in terms of growth rate) groups in the world are Mormons, who, no coincidence, devote years of effort to one-on-one contact.
More Dish on Gawande’s article here.