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Economical Value Of Medical Missions

( Originally Published 1913 )

We are now brought to consider a part of our subject, the importance of which has already been alluded to in a previous chapter. Yet there is hardly any aspect of the value of Medical Missions which has been more overlooked than that of their use as a missionary health agency. Unconsciously it may be, yet none the less actually, the Home Church has neglected to provide any medical aid in time of sickness for numbers of its missionaries. There has been, as it were, a singular unbusinesslike forgetfulness of the immense gain that must accrue to the whole enterprise by maintaining at as high a level as possible the health and longevity of its human agents. Which of the Finance Committees of the various societies does not know that sickness and death on the Mission Field mean a financial loss to the work ? And who can contemplate that, in these days of straightened missionary funds, without feeling that if by the utilisation of that skill, which has come to the world as one of God's good gifts, we can diminish the risk of health and life on the field, then emphatically it is inexcusable not to avail ourselves of the aid of that knowledge. An appreciation of the value of such help does not involve any lack of faith in God. There is the same cause and scope for the exercise of faith as if no means were used. But if the " Divine Economist " has placed within our reach the exact supply for a specific need, then it is only right to assume that He means us to use it, looking to Him for the blessing.

There are three separate ways in which Medical Missions prove their value in this connection :

1. By diffusing a proper knowledge of the preservation of health amongst the missionary staff.—This is one of the most necessary provisions in the maintenance of a good standard of health. How often has it been seen that the occurrence of illness in the members of a mission has been due to ignorance concerning tropical hygiene, more than to anything else. Simple measures have been omitted, unwise actions have been committed, all because the requisite knowledge was not forthcoming. To cite examples—Sun helmets have not been worn as scrupulously as they should have been. Quinine has not been taken with sufficient regularity as a prophylactic. Sufficient time has not been given to rest and exercise, and unsuitable food has been eaten. The imperative necessity of ensuring the most perfect boiling of drinking fluids has been treated lightly. All these and many other instances of grave indiscretion have arisen time and again through an absence of the needful authoritative advice.

Now much may be done, and is being accomplished by the circulation of printed matter giving the needed " hints," and by the organising of courses of lectures upon " Health in the Tropics," for outgoing missionaries. But beyond all that, and as a necessary complement, there is ample scope for the skilled guidance of medical missionaries on the field. They pre-eminently are those who can keep an eye upon the habits of life of their comrades in the work, and by wise insistence upon the importance of this or that ensure the avoidance of wrong actions and the adoption of right ones. Their advice will be listened to because they speak from the platform of ascertained knowledge, and their contribution in this way to the maintenance of good health amongst their colleagues is one which is calculated to be of signal value.

2. By treating sick members of the staff.—The not infrequent manner in which missionaries are exposed to serious risk of illness, and the sad way in which sickness and death again and again invade missionary homes, continue to afford a sufficient reminder of the immense need for fully qualified doctors on the staff. It will appeal to all that both the royal law of love, and the soundest principles of missionary economics oblige us to remember these our brethren and sisters in their times of physical peril. For, surely, if they have gone forth at the call of our common Lord to do a work, that it is to be feared, many another of us ought to have gone to do, then the least service we can render is to provide them, out of the fulness of brotherly love, with such a sufficiency of medical skill as shall lessen their risk and ease their anxiety in the hours when the lamp of life burns low.

Let us pass from the abstract to the concrete, and cite an instance from the record of current missionary history to support this point :— Two lady missionaries were designated for a station in Tropical Africa, and the one reached it some months in advance of the other. Within two months she was stricken with serious fever, and no medical missionary was at hand. All that devotion could do on the part of her fellow missionaries was done, but alas ! the fever could not be controlled, and a fatal result ensued. The second lady missionary went out later, and was shortly followed by the arrival at the station of a medical missionary. A month passed and she too was laid low with a fever, precisely similar to the one from which the former lady had died. For days her life lay in the balance and taxed to the utmost every medical resource. But finally the fever yielded and her life was spared. In comparing these two cases, is it not permissible to form the deduction that the difference in their respective issues was accounted for, under God, by the presence of the doctor on the second occasion ? And if that is so, then who will deny the value of the service that Medical Missions can render in caring for sick missionaries ?

3. By guiding the Health Administration of Missionary Societies.—One of the most noticeable features in the conduct of missionary societies of late years has been the increased disposition that has been manifested to pay greater attention to the vital statistics of those sent out to the field. Candidates offering to the work have been physically examined with more searching rigour. Missionaries returning from and going abroad have been medically " overhauled," and their work regulated by the lessons thus derived. Health reports have been obtained and considered with greater system. Medical departments have been established in connection with many of the bigger societies, and medical officers appointed to devote time and thought to the health of the members of the Mission. For all this we cannot be too thankful. It indicates a growth of wholesome sanity in the carrying on of the greatest enterprise committed by Christ to His Church. But if the work thus done is to be of the value that it might and can prove to be, then it is of first importance that there should be brought into the counsels that expert guidance which medical missionaries from the field can afford. They of all people are those who are possessed with that technical local knowledge which is essential time after time to the framing of wise dicisions concerning the locations of workers, the hygiene of mission stations and many kindred problems. How valuable such help may be, perhaps only those whose duty it is to engage in the home administration can adequately appreciate, but it is safe to say that it is assistance which has rendered, and is calculated to render yet more, the fullest and most important service.

In these three different ways then do we see how great is the value of Medical Missions, as an economic force in the work of Christian Missions. The only wonder is that there did not arise an earlier recognition of the fact. Strange does it seem that for so long the health side of missionary propaganda remained an unexplored realm. Now that the days of empiricism have passed and the day of law has dawned it is to be earnestly hoped that the value of Medical Missions as a powerful health agency in the life of a mission will be appraised and utilised at its fullest worth.

We have now finished our resume of the main directions in which Medical Missions reveal their value in the missionary enterprise. We have seen how potent is their influence in the work of direct evangelisation ; how useful is their stimulus as a Christian social agent in the body politic of heathen lands ; how unique is their sphere and opportunity in the task of Christian medical education ; and how important their service in maintaining the health standard of a mission. From every side there has come an accumulating weight of evidence all testifying to the wealth of that potentiality with which Medical Missions are endowed. Can there be any doubt, therefore, as to their employment ? Can it be questioned for a single moment, that in this aspect of missionary activity we have a divinely ordained instrument for the spread of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ in every land ? Surely we may with the utmost confidence proclaim with ardour the striking value of this glorious agency, use every means within our reach to promote its furtherance throughout the world, and pray unceasingly that wherever medical missionaries are labouring the name of Our Lord may be magnified in healing and saving power.

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