The Loyola Conference and Retreat Center was quiet on Monday morning. Birds chirped as they welcomed the bright November sunshine of another warm spring day in Santiago, Chile. Those who had arrived early for the Nurses Christian Fellowship International (NCFI) Conference mingled with each other. The International Board of NCFI was meeting to finalize the strategic plan for the years ahead. Charter buses, taxis, and vans arrived, bringing nurses from the airport. As tired travelers rolled suitcases up the path toward the entrance, excitement and anticipation grew. The local team from Chile ran to meet and greet them. “Hola! Buenos Dias! Welcome to Santiago.” Nurses from all over the world assembled in the entry hall, waiting to register and find their rooms. The noisy chatter, loud laughter, and broad smiles were complimented by welcoming embraces as lifelong colleagues renewed friendships and as newcomers joined in the atmosphere of celebration. The week-long NCFI Conference that occurs every 4 years was off and running.
Try imagining what over 250 voices singing and praying in dozens of different languages sounds like: beautiful, extraordinary, and perhaps a foreshadowing of eternity when every tribe, nation, and tongue will gather before God's throne. This is what we experienced in worship at the NCFI Conference Partners in Care: Unity in Diversity through Christ. Nurses from 30 countries attended the first international Christian nursing conference that NCFI has held in Latin America. The opening ceremony set a strong tone for the conference, with the Chilean Minister of Health, Dr. Jose Alvear, speaking passionately about the role of faith in Jesus as vitally important in healthcare. His government has recently placed the right to good spiritual care into national law! Renowned nursing author Patricia Benner followed with a scholarly look at the biblical idea of the 'Compassionate Stranger' as exemplified in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Dr. Benner inspired nurses to partner with patients in providing love, mercy, openness, trust, and hope as we dwell together in this “human life world,” which lacks permanence and in which we are all vulnerable. International nursing leader Dr. Susie Kim shared her personal nursing story of encounters with patients diagnosed with serious mental illness, and how these incidents led her on a conceptual and empirical odyssey. Focusing on patients and their care providers eventually led to the development of a conceptual model of “Interpersonal Caring” behaviors and activities derived from patient's descriptions of being “cared for” by nurses.
The theme “Partners in Care” provided the framework for the week as participants explored “Partnering with God,” “Partnering with Patients and Families,” and “Partnering to Change the World.” Each day started with a biblical exposition from Chilean Pastor Raquel Contreras, who emphasized that God has unified all things, and we are his partners in all of our work. As Christians, experiencing the deterioration of our world, we want to permeate our environment with the joy that comes from partnering with God, and we want to serve Christ by serving others with small acts of love. NCFI leader Dr. Kamalini Kumar reminded us that partnering with God implies trusting that he will prepare us, strengthen us, and reward us as we work day-to-day for him. As Christians, our motivations and the way we see our work differ from others as we grow in the Lord. Nelly Garzon encouraged us to see Christ in each of our patients and families. Christian nurses must consider the consequences of illness on all family members and strengthen family unity. To effect change, Dr. Barbara Parfitt emphasized that we need to follow partnership principles and ethical actions illustrating equality and respect for all. Equally important, we will want to demonstrate the love of Christ in all interactions and align our norms and goals with those of our partners—individuals, communities, and social business partners. One nurse commented, “In spite of being in different parts of the world, I realize so many aspects of life are similar—like the human need for nursing. This speaks of the unity and oneness of the body of Christ—no denominational barriers—and gives me great encouragement.”
The Partners in Care conference brochure, plenary and breakout session abstracts, and pictures from the event are available as supplemental digital content at http://links.lww.com/NCF-JCN/A19.
Two train-the-trainer programs were offered in the concurrent sessions—one on Leadership Development and the other on Spiritual Care. Both courses focused on a distinctly Christian approach to developing the next generation of nurse leaders and equipping nurses to give competent spiritual care. In the “The Art and Science of Spiritual Care” course, 21 seasoned nurse educators from every region of NCFI were introduced to curriculum that emphasized four content areas: Spiritual Care Overview: Content and Mandate, Spiritual Care Assessment, Spiritual Interventions and Care, and Challenges in Spiritual Care Giving. The course, taught in English and Spanish, developed by an international collaborative team from Europe, United States, Singapore, and Latin America, outlined current research, professional practice, and international teaching methodology to participants. One nurse stated, “I learned to distinguish between giving spiritual care and having a responsibility to share Jesus. For my patients, I will meet their needs for love, hope and compassion.” Another stated, “All nurses are called to provide spiritual care as part of holistic care.”
NEXT GENERATION IN NCFI
The conference week was filled with activities to challenge, inspire, and educate. Breakout sessions, country discussions, regional forums, and the “taste of Latin America” evening fostered unity in diversity. A highlight was the gathering of student and new graduate nurses. NCFI leaders recognize the need to identify future leaders who are committed to organizational growth and progress. We were encouraged at the number of exceptional students and young nurses who came to the conference, encouraged to hear their enthusiasm and commitment to becoming Christian leaders in nursing around the world.
At the student's midweek gathering, they commented: “What a wonderful experience! Just to participate with nurses and learn so much from nurses from around the world has been amazing. When I told my friends in school I was coming, most thought Nurses Christian Fellowship was just for students—but it can't just stop there. This conference will help me improve my nursing care.”
A young nurse shared:
The highlight of the conference for me was when the leaders gathered all of us [students and new graduates] together. They expressed how important we were and how much it meant for them that we attended the conference. They wanted to support us and be there for us. They said we were the next generation of NCFI, which is true. We talked and prayed together that night, each in our own language. . . . So throughout the rest of the conference, we young ones spent much time together, got to know each other, prayed together and had fun. We agreed to start a group for young people in NCFI and call ourselves NCFI Next Generation. We have created an e-mail address () and a Facebook account (NCFI NG) where you can join by sending a friend request. We want more people to hear about NCFI so we can be equipped and encouraged to integrate spiritual care in nursing globally, and thus be witnesses for Jesus and support each other.
INTERNATIONAL INSTITUTE OF CHRISTIAN NURSING
During the International Forum, NCFI leadership presented the 10-year strategic plan and new organizational structure to move the organization forward. After a 50-year history of being a British charity, NCFI is relocating to the United States to facilitate viability and sustainability. God has raised-up volunteer staff committed to the important work of the central office. The three major organizational initiatives of leadership development, country expansion, and caring service remain the focus of regional work worldwide. Partnerships with other global Christian healthcare organizations provide innovative opportunities to share the heart of nursing—compassionate and competent patient care—and to promote NCFI worldwide.
One of the more exciting new developments in the years ahead is the establishment of the International Institute of Christian Nursing (Institute). The Institute will be developed as a virtual global center to create, gather, and disseminate resources so that Christian nurses will be better equipped to improve health within their spheres of influence. The mission of the Institute is to advance a Christian worldview in nursing practice, education, leadership, and research. The Institute aims to provide quality resources that are based on biblical principles, share scholarly resources and expertise, and provide international professional collaboration. The Institute will become a vital mechanism to connect nurses, institutions, and organizations in the scholarly work of the profession.
By weeks' end, participants had grown spiritually, developed new friendships, and broadened their perspectives on nursing by seeing God at work worldwide. Participants shared their enthusiasm with comments like: “the greatest value for me was the networking and the spirit of Jesus present in the participants” and “excellent teaching. . . being updated on what is going on around the world. . . rejuvenating. . . an inspiration for me as a person and as a nurse.” One nurse summed her response this way: “The greatest value for me was making friends from all over the world who share Christ and a passion for nursing. This is the best conference I have ever been to in my life, and I have been to many research conferences.” Another stated, “It has been a real eye-opener to see how we can be effective witnesses for Christ through nursing.”
NCFI believes that nursing is both a scientific profession and a sacred calling. Hospitals are filled with holy moments as nurses care for people at the gateways of life—at birth, death, and all times in between. Nurses have the unique privilege of caring for patients physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Nurses are the key healthcare providers worldwide and the most numerous of all healthcare professions. The most powerful way to improve the health and well-being of people worldwide is to empower and equip nurses. As NCFI grows in innovative ways and connects nurses around the world, the opportunities are limitless. As Christian nurses worldwide dedicate themselves to seeking God and making a difference in professional practice, the work of NCFI will continue to flourish. One nurse noted, “NCFI has been a gift from God—connecting nurses throughout the world and teaching us how to practice compassionate care.” Another stated, “I especially want to thank God for this time to come to Chile. I've met new friends and experienced the joy of NCFI. I'm so glad that I can become a part and change the status of nursing in my country. I will tell them about the work that NCFI is doing and the amazing opportunities for the future.” One of the young new graduates said, “Pray for us. We may be physically separated from each other, but we can be present in spirit. This organization has been a plan of God—for each of us. And we are all a part of God's plan. Nothing can impede us except ourselves. God knows the plans he has for us.”
Tove Giske, PhD, RN, NCFI Vice President, and Carrie Dameron, MSN, RNBC, helped with preparation of this article.