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The Christian Social Value Of Medical Missions

( Originally Published 1913 )

Up till now we have been concerned with a consideration of the supreme evangelistic value of Medical Missions, and have seen that therein was to be found their crowning glory. It is equally true, however, that in the background there are numerous indirect and secondary influences, arising out of this work, which give to the subject an expansiveness of scope, a fulness of significance, and a largeness of purpose not otherwise grasped. To quote the words of Dr J. S. Dennis in his fine work, " Christian Missions and Social Progress " :

" Missionary effort has a sociological sphere to fill as well as an evangelistic. It has necessarily to come into contact with corrupt social customs, non-Christian practices, barbaric ideals, and a complex heathen environment. . . . It therefore becomes clear that the mission of Christianity is to transform and elevate man, as well in his associate relationships as in his individual life, and to build up throughout the heathen world a civilisation whose centre is a church of redeemed souls, and whose circumference is only measured by the radiating influences of Christian teaching and practice."

Now, in the very essence of things, the work of Medical Missions is that branch of missionary activity which perhaps more than any other touches this social side of missions. The medical missionary deals with all aspects of human nature. He comes into contact with all classes of men, and his task is one which peculiarly gives to him the position and power for dealing with many of the complex social problems of heathenism. Thus it is that Medical Missions have exercised broad secondary influences in antagonising evil customs and stimulating reform measures in the body politic of heathen lands. The following are three prominent instances of the ways whereby they discharge this service :

1. By weakening such systems as caste.—There is no greater social evil in India. Sir Monier Williams says : " It is difficult for us Europeans to realise how pride of caste, as a divine ordinance, interpenetrates the whole being of the Hindu. . . . Caste rules, which we believe to be a hindrance to the acceptance of true religion, are to him the very essence of all religion. They influence his whole life and conduct."

How then does Medical Mission work weaken this system ?

(a) It makes the relief of sickness independent of caste distinctions.—Gathered, waiting for the medical missionary, may frequently be seen, side by side, " the Brahmin, Sudra, and Shanar, the Pulayer and Pariah, the Devil Worshipper, the Worshipper of Siva—men and women of all castes and creeds." This mixing up is absolutely in defiance of caste rules, which places barriers between man and man, destroying individual liberty. By the medical missionary all are treated alike, and in obtaining the needed aid caste is broken, and its influence in time is destroyed. It was the privilege of the author some years ago to spend a few days as a visitor at the Medical Mission at Palwal, North India, conducted by Dr Vincent Thomas. At the service which preceded the medical work he saw one morning, seated close to each other in the group of out-patients, a Brahmin, a man of the shopkeeper caste, two or three low caste men, representatives of the agricultural caste, a Parsee, a Mahommedan, and some Christians. What other missionary method would prove so successful in drawing all these together, and causing them, for the time, at least, to think less of their differences !

(b) It illustrates and teaches human sympathy.—Caste eradicates human sympathies and destroys compassion. To relieve a poor sufferer must never be done, if by so doing caste will be broken. On the contrary the meritorious course is to " pass by on the other side " and leave him to die. Medical Missions stand for the exact opposite of this, and thus are surely undermining caste by the expulsive power of a new and loftier principle. Writing a year or two back on " Caste and Medical Missions," the Rev. F. W. Hale, of North India, used these words : " Caste is bolted and riveted down upon Indian society and at times we feel discouraged about it and are apt to think that no assault will tell ; but there are forces at work which are wearing down weak places . . . and of religious forces there is none more potent and persistent to this end than the work of a Medical Mission. Wherever you have a live Medical Mission you have carried a sap under the very walls of caste."

2. By acting as centres for Public Health reform.

As surely as cleanliness is next to Godliness, so certainly is a foul environment incompatible with the laws and practice of Christianity. It is likewise true that a condition of public health is in close relationship to the successful diffusion of truths concerning spiritual health. How often is spiritual teaching altogether foiled and blighted by the utter neglect of all physical hygiene ! So even the prevention of sickness, just as much as its cure, comes within the scope of the medical missionary, who is of necessity a sanitary reformer, and who, by so doing, is meeting a tremendous need in Mission lands, while he supremely contributes to the spread of Christianity.

The need is vast. " China is notorious for the neglect of proper sanitation . . . in times of sickness the condition of sufferers is extremely deplorable." Indian villages afford examples of the entire disregard for all sanitary precautions. " In one and the same tank clothes are washed and people bathe themselves, while, also, here is to be found the supply of water for cooking and drinking." In large towns the high infantile death-rate is due mainly to ignorance and all absence of sanitation. " In some villages of Ceylon, chiefly owing to the filth and immorality of the people, there is hardly a, home free from some kind of painful sickness. Thus arise cholera, plague, and other diseases."

Now it will need no enforcement to make clear the obvious influence that Medical Missions must exert in correcting these grievous conditions. The medical missionary is naturally the one who is qualified to give the needed instruction for the introduction of a better system. He it is to whom the local officials often turn for advice upon health measures by local officials, and through the suggestions he can make many a baneful source of disease and suffering can be mitigated or banished. Hence do we here find another of those valuable by-products of Medical Missions which is calculated to yield such important results in the purifying and elevating of the lives of the nations.

3. By imparting a new standard to human life, especially that of womanhood.—Philanthropy in the sense in which we understand it has no place in the world of heathenism and Mahommedanism. As has been said : " Outside of Christendom, ` every man for himself ' is the rule pretty much everywhere. The sense of a common humanity is absent." Particularly in the direction of womanhood is this very noticeable. Nothing is so generally a characteristic of the various divisions of the non-Christian world than the degradation of its womenfolk. Consequently it is to the lady doctors working in Zenana Medical Missions that there comes one of the most striking opportunities for exerting a beneficial and uplifting influence in this connection. Treated as of less value than a cow, degraded by count-less indignities and barbarities, and neglected in time of sickness, the lot of a Hindu woman is inexpressibly sad. The care of medical missionaries for sick women is thus a new thought altogether to Hindu men, and means far more than can be told to the women of these lands. Moreover, by establishing this new standard for woman's life, one of the greatest strongholds of heathenism is attacked, and superstition undermined at the very centre of a nation's life.

The stimulus supplied to purely philanthropic efforts by the work of medical missionaries has also been marked. Who can measure the contribution that Medical Missions are making year by year to the fight that is being waged against the ravages of disease and suffering ! In combating the deadly plague, in in-stilling right principles for the prevention and treatment of disease, in searching for the cure of sleep-sickness and ministering to the needs of its victims, as well as in numerous other directions, Medical Missions are taking a noble position in the realm of scientific medicine, and setting a high standard before the awakening sense of philanthropy in non-Christian lands. It is therefore clear that the results accruing to the social labours of Medical Missions are broad and potent, and of a nature calculated to claim the fullest and most whole-hearted support.

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