The Value Of Medical Missions
( Originally Published 1913 )
"So I do from my heart believe that in these difficult places in some of the bigger cities in China and especially among the Mohammedans in Persia, Palestine, and Africa, the Medical Missionary, whether man or woman, is able to do a work which no other can do." -DR HERBERT LANKESTER
IN the previous chapter we were brought face to face with the enormous physical need for Medical Missions. On every hand there opened up wide vistas of human need. The ignorance was seen to be immense, the superstition saddening, the maltreatment of the sick, terrible. Destitution sounded its note of sorrow in our ears, and across the seas there seemed to come " a cry as of pain." But great and obligatory as is the philanthropic function of Medical Missions, there is a higher and greater sphere for them than ever mere philanthropy can present. The supreme enterprise to which Christ has summoned His Church is not chiefly or merely the civilisation of the human race, nor even the alleviation of its physical woes and wrongs. What has been assigned to the Church as its dominating mission in the Divine plan of redemption is no less a task than the evangelisation of the world. And the ultimate standard by which any form of missionary activity must be judged, accepted, or rejected, lies in the degree to which it may be proved to contribute an effective solution of any of the problems which present themselves in the conduct of the missionary campaign. We would therefore now invite consideration of the following ways in which Medical Missions attest their missionary value, and exhibit their striking influence in the propagation of the Christian Faith.
Let us now examine these in detail.
I. The Evangelistic value of Medical Missions. (a) As a Pioneer Missionary Agency.
1. By overcoming hostility and prejudice.—From the very inception of the missionary enterprise opposition and deep-seated prejudice have almost invariably been the lot of the Christian Missionary whenever he has been engaged in the introduction of the Gospel to non-Christian races. Whether it be amongst the fanatical Moslems with their cry of " infidel dog," amidst the teeming millions of the small world of China with their hostile epithet, " foreign devil," or throughout the haunts of cannibal savages, in nearly every place unfriendliness and prejudice encircle the pioneer of " Glad Tidings." And the question that constantly presses upon him is as to how this difficulty can be surmounted, this hostility changed into friendship.
Now no answer can be adequate which does not take into account the cause, and this, speaking generally, may be said to be twofold :—(1) Opposition to the missionary as a foreigner ; (2) Opposition to the missionary as one whose avowed intention it is to over-turn ancient and cherished beliefs, and inculcate a new and " western " religion. The hostility is therefore a very natural one. The non-Christian man does not recognise in the missionary his brother coming to tell him of the love of God, but on the contrary, views him commonly as the " hated foreigner." To the follower of Mohammed or Buddha the missionary is no messenger of salvation but rather one who unjustifiably seeks to interfere with his faith and practice. Accordingly hatred is engendered and prejudice sinks deep.
Now it will be obvious that to attempt to meet this attitude by the direct preaching of the Gospel, without the assistance of any method calculated to place a new complexion on the missionary and his work, is to court disaster. We do not for a moment say that the simple message of the truth unattended by any commending feature is never likely to attain a receptive hearing. On the contrary, numerous instances stud the pages of mission history bearing out the wondrous power possessed by the Gospel to captivate the hearts of those strange to its tidings. But it is equally true that as a rule the evangelistic missionary finds himself in urgent need of a vantage ground from whence he can gain an introduction for his message amongst a people otherwise in opposition. Herein then lies the sphere for Medical Missions. Disarming hostility, earning gratitude, and winning love, this form of practical Christianity so turns the flank of the opposition that the once hostile fanatic, now transformed into the grateful patient, willingly listens to the Gospel from the lips of his benefactor, and in instance after instance goes on to become an earnest inquirer and a baptised believer as the direct outcome of healing as well as preaching. The key of sympathy unlocks the door of prejudice and gives to the pioneer missionary an opening of undisputed value.
Let us cite three examples to illustrate the truth of those words, two of them exhibiting the place and power of Medical Missions in opening closed lands and the other showing their value in dispelling ignorant prejudice. Many years ago the Church Missionary Society sought to obtain an entrance for the Gospel into the native state of Kashmir in the North of India. It sent two of its most experienced missionaries with a staff of native preachers, but on three separate occasions these were driven out and the door to mission work was closed. Then the society resolved to send Dr Elmslie, a Medical Missionary, and to attempt to commence a Medical Mission. Gradually by his splendid surgery opposition was broken down, and a foothold gained in this hitherto impregnable fortress of heathenism. Other missionaries were enabled to follow, and today, as an outcome of that initial effort, there are mission stations throughout Kashmir where the healing of the sick is accompanied by the preaching of the Gospel.
Passing to the Far East the same striking value of Medical Missions receives telling emphasis in the story of the opening of Korea. Up to 1884 no mission work had been possible in that country, the rulers and people were determined to exclude the missionaries. In the autumn of that year, however, Dr Allen, an American Medical Missionary, was deputed to attempt an entry into Korea. He could only do so by be-coming physician to the American Legation stationed at Seoul, the capital. For some time no opportunity presented itself for commencing any form of Medical Mission work. Then one night there occurred a riot in the city, during which the nephew of the King—Prince Min Yong Ik—was seriously wounded. Dr Allen was summoned to attend him, and when he arrived found about thirteen of the native doctors trying to staunch the bleeding wounds by filling them with wax. They gazed on in amazement as the medical missionary secured the bleeding vessels, cleansed and sutured the wounds. Dr Allen remained in attendance on the prince until he was restored to health again, and by this successful application of medical skill not only occasioned a revolution in the medical treatment of that country, but also obtained a marvellous vantage ground for carrying on missionary work. The then Government of Korea subscribed for the building of a hospital for Dr Allen, which was established under royal patronage, and where not only the healing of the sick was carried on but also the preaching of the Gospel. Other missionaries were allowed to settle in Korea, the people showed confidence in them, and to-day this once-closed land has been the scene of some of the most splendid triumphs of the Cross as the direct outcome of the work of medico-evangelism.
A short time ago a Medical Missionary of the Baptist Missionary Society—Dr Vincent Thomas-was engaged in medical itineration in a village district to the south of Delhi, North India. One morning there came to his dispensary a Mohammedan man suffering from a severely inflamed arm, the result of an untreated wound on his hand. It was a serious case, and demanded the utmost skill and promptitude in treatment. Dr Thomas devoted every attention to the patient, and, by God's blessing, his care was rewarded by a happy recovery. The man returned to his village, and for a year Dr Thomas did not see him again. Then it so happened that Dr Thomas was out on itineration once more, this time in the very vicinity of his former patient's village, of which it appeared he was the head-man. When he came to hear who Dr Thomas was, and remembered how he had been carefully treated a year previously, he invited the doctor to visit his village and speak to his people. Accepting the invitation gladly, Dr Thomas utilised the opportunity to preach the Gospel to the entire population of the place. After he had finished, the head-man said that he wished to say something, and the following is the summary of his statement as translated by Dr Thomas :
" Before I came to your dispensary last year, I used to hate and revile Christians, and never would I allow any ` padri ' to preach in my village if I could help it ; but when I came to you you never asked me whether I was your friend or foe ; you did your work well, and showed me kindness that I never deserved. Now I am ashamed of myself. I shall never treat Christians so again. They have a pitiful heart, which our religion does not give us. I shall not forget your words to us to-day. May God Most High be your guard through life, and give you peace and prosperity." And the men standing round said, " God has worked a miracle in that man's heart, for he would never have spoken like this about Christians before."
Can it be wondered, in face of such signal proofs as these, which could be multiplied again and again and taken from the history of Missions all over the world, that the Report of the First Commission of the World Missionary Conference contains the following striking expression of opinion :—" Medical Missions . . .are invaluable as a pioneer agency for breaking down the barriers of prejudice and dissipating misapprehensions concerning the Christian faith. Nothing can be more effective in disarming suspicion, and in modifying the attitude of both Government and people towards missionary work."
The words of Dr John R. Mott are also significant in this connection, specially as regards medical work amongst Moslems. Speaking in the Royal Albert Hall, London, in 1908, he said, in allusion to the Turkish Empire : " The medical arm of the missionary service must be further strengthened. I believe that Moslem Turkey could almost be won by this one Christian method alone." Clearly, therefore, there is a call of the loudest urgency for all that can be done through Medical Missions in winning difficult peoples, and obtaining an entrance for the Gospel into the strongholds of bigotry and fanaticism.
2. By destroying superstition.—Widespread, deep-rooted, and enthralling, superstition offers considerable resistance to the work of the missionary. No one characteristic may be said to be more generally common to all the lands of non-Christian nations. It is the inevitable accompaniment, and ofttimes the mainstay, of many of the false religious systems found in these lands. Moreover, the superstition in belief finds expression in innumerable superstitious practices and social evils, which, holding the people in their deadening grasp, powerfully withstand the spread of the Gospel.
How, then, is this difficulty to be overcome, and the people's faith in their cherished superstitions to be destroyed ? Our providential way presents itself. " In the life and thought of the non-Christian man religion and medicine go hand-in-hand. The man who is his fetish is also his medicine man." Accordingly, the superstition that reigns rampant in his religion, reigns equally in his conceptions of disease and its treatment, as indeed we have seen already. It follows, therefore, that no more fatal blow can be dealt at this awful evil, cursing alike body and soul, than by proving by living demonstrations the fallacy, fatuity, and powerlessness of the superstitious methods of treatment employed by the medicine man. Destroy the faith of the non-Christian man in his " doctor " and you have very frequently taken the surest and simplest course towards the destruction of his faith in the superstition of his religion.
Now this is exactly the work and logic of Medical Missions. Going right to the very cause of many of the stubborn hindrances that confront the missionary in his efforts to establish a native Christian Church, they constantly reveal how powerful is their aid in liberating the slaves of error, and in preparing a way for the " Sun of Righteousness to arise with healing in His wings." As an example, the following instance may be cited :—The wife of a witch doctor in Siam was unable to sleep on one occasion for many nights on account of a local abscess. Her husband tried his skill (their practice is that of " blowing" to remove the evil spirit) but all to no avail. Then other native doctors were called in, but with no better result. Finally in desperation they sought the help of a native " Elder " of the Christian Church in the district. This man, having a little medical instruction, was able to use a lancet and speedily gave great relief, and the patient slept for the first time for many days ! Later on the patient and her husband came to the Elder " to be instructed in the Gospel ; for, said they, " since the methods of our fathers gave no relief, we have decided to leave all those things and take the Elder's God to be our God."
This is but one instance, and yet it will, we think, serve to shew how great is the usefulness of Medical Missions in weakening superstition and leading to its total abandonment. If, then, we have at command such a force for dealing with the difficulty of superstition, such a God-given way for proving its foolishness, is it not unwise if we do not use it to the full ?
(b) As a direct Spiritual Agency.
It has already been shown how vital is the spirit of evangelism in the work of Medical Missions. It is their very life blood. The Medical Mission that does not make the winning of souls its supreme purpose, that does not strive mightily to lead its patients to Christ, may be a perfect pattern of philanthropy, but it is certainly not a Medical Mission. True indeed that now and again amid the insistent calls for the healing of the body the great end becomes obscured, but it is never lost, except at the sacrifice of the Medical Mission itself. In season and out of season, with unceasing vigilance, the spiritual aspect of Medical Missions must be maintained and enforced. In the words of the Rev. G. E. Post, M.D.: " The ministry of healing has also a motive and an end above itself, which raises it to the highest plane of Christian service. This motive and end are the saving of the soul from sin and death."
The Medical Missionary is therefore essentially a spiritual man, energised by the Spirit of God and employed upon a double errand, in the pursuit of which he is never satisfied until having used his God-given science for the healing of sickness, he has also led those to whom he ministers to the feet of Christ.
The point, however, which more especially concerns us at this juncture is the contribution that Medical Missions are enabled to make in multiplying the fruits of evangelistic effort. For it needs but a moment's consideration to appreciate the fact that again and again the evangelistic missionary is in need of such help. In the bazaar, by the wayside, in the chapel, on new ground, whenever and wherever he has opportunity, it is his purpose to present to the people the story of the Gospel. But in doing so one difficulty very frequently presses upon him,—viz. that of securing on the part of his hearers an intelligent appreciation of the message, and permanently impressing them with its truth. His audiences are constantly changing ; in large measure they are composed of those to whom the Gospel is something new and strange, and whose minds and consciences are blighted by false faiths, ancient superstitions, and the sins of ages. These people even if they were willing to accept it, cannot easily understand the Gospel : they need patient and repeated explanation. And in order that this may be done there must be some definite hold established on them by the missionary, and some vital point of contact set up. It is just here that medico-evangelism steps in and acts as a direct evangelising agency in the following three-fold way
1. By securing a wide diffusion of the Gospel message. —Medical Missions have been called, with some aptness, " the magnet of the missionary force," and their unique service in bringing large audiences under the sound of the Gospel cannot be over-estimated. It would be a difficult thing to find a single medical station throughout the non-Christian world which lacked patients. There is this further fact, too, to be noted, that through the work of hospitals and dispensaries practically every class of society is reached, including many who would not otherwise be brought under the influence of the Gospel. Again and again have patients of the higher classes been treated in Mission Hospitals, and by means of their stay been brought to better appreciate the work of the missionaries. Equally also have the poorer people, even to the very lowest, come within hearing of the saving message, through their attendance at these healing institutions. It is safe to say that there is no grade of heathen society that does not stand to receive some echo of the Gospel through the agency of Medical Missions. The result is that the Gospel is carried far and wide and the grateful patients act as agents in spreading a knowledge of the Medical Mission, and bringing back with them patients similarly afflicted. Moreover, of those who become converted as well as healed, many go back to their native places there to tell others of the love of God and gather together a company of believers.
2. By exhibiting an object lesson of the Gospel.—There is no view more hopelessly antiquated concerning the work of Medical Missions than that which lays all the emphasis upon their value as a means of opening up the way of the Gospel, as Dr Harold Balme has pointed out, or in other words, that their greatest missionary function is comparable to the entering " wedge." Such a teaching as that, in the very nature of things, relegates Medical Missions to an entirely subordinate position in the missionary enter-prise. It stamps their service as something which, while useful as an auxiliary agency, is not an essential and integral element in the presentation of the Christian Gospel. Judged by a doctrine of that kind, Medical Missions stand at once to lose greatly in their importance to the work of establishing Christianity in non-Christian lands. Their contribution to the great end becomes partial and passing, and their share in the ultimate triumph one that is entirely secondary.
Now, if Medical Missions mean anything at all, we venture to urge very strongly that they mean infinitely more than the teaching just referred to would assign to them. True, indeed, as we have seen already, they are calculated to render a unique service in finding a path for the Gospel message, and in meeting the problem of prejudice and superstition. But their work does not end there. Granted that Medical Missions are rightly presented, and their functions brought adequately into play, and it becomes self-evident that they are a living object lesson of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They do not just make a way for the Gospel. They embody it, give to it a tangible expression, and by word and touch, present the Gospel to a world of needy sinners. Medical Missions, as it were, take the marvellous story of redeeming love, and give to it a graphic portraiture, and then hang this up, and interpret it to men. Far from exhausting their usefulness, when the Gospel has gained a foothold in some new territory they go on to a yet more glorious service in so delineating the beauty of the Gospel that the indifferent are attracted and the sceptical won.
And there is surely no strangeness about this. Medical Missions are not exploiting some new scheme, or marking out an untried pathway in the contribution they thus bring to the forces of the Gospel. It has been shown already that their supreme glory rests in the fact that theirs is the Christ method, the pathway of the great Exemplar. In Jesus Christ and in the manner in which He incorporated their peculiar service in His ministry to man, Medical Missions secure their rightful position in the work of the Gospel. Glance back again but for an instant to that point when Christ was appealed to by His forerunner to declare whether He were the Messiah or not, and we see that His answer assumed the exact form, so it may reverently be said, of a Medical Missionary incident. In a way that was both graphic and wonderful Our Lord permitted the ministry of healing to take a most vital place in the revelation that He gave of Himself, and by so doing made it clear to all His subsequent followers how valuable was the position they should assign to the healing of the sick in the setting forth of the Gospel.
Moreover, this aspect of the value of Medical Missions requires no argument to prove its reasonable character. Indeed, as was shown in an earlier chapter, the Medical Missionary method is one of the most wholesome sanity. Consider for a moment the necessities occasioned by the condition of the non-Christian peoples to whom we seek to bear the Gospel. For long centuries their powers of spiritual perception have been dimmed by ignorance and superstition. In many respects they are in this particular, child races. Their introduction, therefore, to a new faith needs to be carefully conducted lest their ideas concerning it become confused. It becomes an obvious necessity to interpret the new teaching by means of some practical demonstration of its essential characteristics.
Here, then, is found both the place and power of Medical Missions. Taking that sublime word " God is Love," this method writes it in the language of kindly deed, healing mercy, and compassionate sacrifice, and it be-comes alive with a meaning that the Hindu, the Mohammedan,the Buddhist, and the Animist all find no difficulty in understanding, because they have been taught it by way of illustration. Dr Arthur Lankester of North India, once said : "If we want to write the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ in very big letters, so that those who cannot read theology, and do not understand science or philosophy can read it very easily, the best way of doing it whether it be for an individual, a village, a town, a district, or a nation, is to start medical aid for the poor." And as a touching instance of the truth of these words we may cite the saying of some pain-worn Persians to whom a Christian lady traveller was administering some simple remedy : " We have no priest doctor in the likeness of Jesus."
A few years ago there occurred in the city of Tai Yuan Fu, North China, a serious outbreak of a most malignant type of fever. It quickly spread, and amongst the worst sufferers were the poverty-stricken and homeless beggars who are such a characteristic element in Chinese cities. Neglected and loathsome, these poor creatures crept to dust heaps, there to linger out their days of misery and sickness. On the part of their heathen fellow-countrymen nothing was done for them Who would care to move a finger for such as these ! In that city, however, there were medical missionaries, and it did not take them long to make up their minds that something must be done. Be they ever so low, these poor degraded beggars were still men, and men with bodies to succour and souls to save. And so the doctors got hold of a disused open-air theatre stage, opposite to the gates of their hospital, and to that place they conveyed a group of these beggar sufferers. Their filth and horrible condition were impossible to describe. But they were ill with a malignant fever, and their only chance of life lay in steady unremitting attention on the part of the doctors. And so these Christian men, with their own hands, carried food and medicine to them, and day by day lavished as much kindness and skill upon them as if they had been patients of wealth and position. Some, alas, died, yet even in their cases were the last hours less pitiable than they would have been. Others re-covered, and were full of gratitude to the Good Samaritans of another nation who had bestowed such love upon them.
Now, wherein lay the chief and most permanent value of that incident ? Was it in the few lives saved from death ? Nay, not in that, but rather in the telling illustration of the Gospel that was given in this way to the whole of that heathen city. It was a revelation of something utterly new, and of a message that was absolutely foreign to any doctrine of heathen belief and practice. Men who had before been indifferent to the missionary teaching, or openly sceptical, now began to ask whether after all the Christian religion was not worth having. And by this simple yet thrilling piece of Christian medical heroism, the heathen of Tai Yuan Fu obtained a bigger insight into the realities of the Gospel than years of ordinary evangelistic preaching would have given to them. Let us therefore enlarge our whole conception of the spiritual utility of Medical Missions, and conscious of the remarkable potentialities with which God has endowed them, do our utmost to hasten their spread throughout the world.
3. By securing time for repeated presentation of the Gospel, both by lip and life.—This is especially true regarding the work of mission hospitals. Daily and constantly in these institutions the Gospel is lived before the patients in loving acts and healing care. From the lips of doctor, nurse, and native evangelist the truths of the Gospel are explained, and the special spiritual need of each patient is dealt with. Thus during the time spent in the hospital abundant opportunity is given for bringing patients into touch with Christian teaching. Furthermore, the experience of the dispensaries leads also in the same direction. The out-patients who attend them require to come most commonly, not once or twice, but many times, and each occasion offers to the doctor a renewed opportunity for explaining the Gospel. Then, too, as the medical missionary visits in the homes of the people, Christ is held forth as the Saviour of souls, and by conversations the means are secured for opening up the truth to the inmates of whole households.
Finally there is this all-powerful reinforcement to the spoken word—that there exists between the doctor and his hearers a bond of practical sympathy. The fact that he, as a doctor, is seeking to heal them provides the ample reason why he, as a missionary, should receive their attention to the word he has to preach. " The physician who has given his knowledge and strength to the sick man has a special right to speak to him on the state of his soul, and the patient will listen to him with a confidence and affection which he can have for no other man." Suspicion is replaced by trust, and a sure basis laid for successful evangelistic effort.
For a moment or two let us glance at some examples of the spiritual success attending the work of Medical Missions. Directing our observation to China, we cull an instance from the records of the Tai Yuan Fu Medical Mission of the Baptist Missionary Society. Years ago there went back from that hospital to his village home one of the many eye patients whose sight had been restored by an operation by Dr E. H. Edwards. Reaching his home he spread reports of how " the blind were made to see." Six blind men, hearing this, resolved to get a guide and to take a long thirteen-day journey to the hospital at Tai Yuan Fu. This meant crossing mountain passes some four thousand feet high ! Each man took hold of the staff of the man in front of him and thus all were led by the one guide. Alas ! when they got to the hospital only two stood any chance of a cure, and even in their cases the chance was remote. These two remained, however, six months, and attended in that time the daily services. Gradually the light of the Gospel dawned upon them, and ere they started back home, sad to say, still blind, they had confessed Christ by baptism. They were urged to witness for Christ and did so very faithfully, one of them even arousing not a little opposition amongst his own family. In time this one was sent to the school for the blind at Peking, and there developed into a good evangelist. Going back after-wards to his home he was led into work with a missionary of the L.M.S. and by God's blessing upon their united efforts there is now a Church of over three hundred members in the district.
Another instance is found in the letter of a missionary who wrote home from a Chinese centre, saying that " nearly all admitted to the Church in this city have been brought in through the hospital." And again we have it recorded that as the outcome of the cure of a man some years before at the Amoy Presbyterian Mission Hospital there were formed no less than seven Christian Churches with a membership of from thirty to a hundred in each.
It is not difficult to understand in the light of facts like these that the late Rev. Dr Griffith John said on one occasion that he regarded the London Mission Hospital at Hankow, the station at which he laboured, as a " great spiritual power ! " How true seem the words of the celebrated lady traveller, the late Mrs Isabella Bird Bishop :
" Perhaps one may say that of all the agencies now in use in the world in heathen countries, the Medical Mission is the most efficient in bringing those people who are sitting in darkness, and in the shadow of death, to know that the Dayspring from on high hath visited us to guide their feet into the way of peace."
The limitations of space forbid our drawing on the experience of other Mission Fields for additional proofs of the spiritual fruitfulness of Medical Missions. Yet, we venture to think, there will be few, if any, who question the general application of the foregoing character to this missionary service wherever carried on as it ought to be. As the late Rev. Dr Pierson wrote :
" Medical Missions are not only destructive of superstition and false religion, they are constructive of a new faith and life. Body and soul and spirit have all been poisoned and diseased by sin, and redemption must bring salvation to the whole man."
Long may the spiritual bow of Medical Missions abide in its strength !