It is my firm conviction that no class of worker has filled a more useful place in the Lord's work in Burma than has the consecrated missionary nurse. In the early days of our work when the evangelist found the people suspicious, skeptical, timid, and even fearful, it was his work as a nurse, or with the help of an associate worker with the qualifications of a nurse, that made it possible for him to get anywhere at all in his task of persuading the people of Burma's villages to listen to the gospel story. Even the apparently simple undertaking of opening village schools presented problems that were best solved by the missionary nurse.
Pastor Eric Hare had an experience of this kind in the early days of his work in Burma, when he decided to open a small school at his mission station on the bank of the Salween River in the jungles of eastern Burma. One of his Karen helpers, Thra Peter, was selected as the teacher, and a few simple preparations were made for a school. The building was made of bamboo, with mat walls and leaf roof. A few crude benches were ready for the students to sit on, chalk was provided, and a homemade blackboard placed on the wall. A small table was in readiness for the teacher, and on it a small bell to call the boys and girls to school.
The appointed day came for the opening of school. Both missionary and teacher were present for this important occasion. The teacher rang the bell and took his place behind the table. But no students came. Pastor Hare and the teacher looked at each other in silence for a time, then the missionary said, "We'll open school tomorrow morning, Thra. Perhaps they didn't understand the date." So the bell was rung again the next morning, but again the missionary and the teacher were the only ones present, whereupon it was decided that a visit to the villages should be made to see what was the matter.
When Brother Hare and his helpers approached the villages, the dogs barked fiercely and the villagers scrambled up the ladders into their bamboo huts, and shut the doors. What could be done? Apparently very little, under such circumstances. But the missionary was a nurse, and his wife was a nurse, and there was also a single woman at that station who was a nurse. And these missionary nurses, with hearts filled with love for those needy village people, found a way through the suspicion and prejudice and fear that was keeping the children of the villages from coming to the mission school. They did it by search!. ing out the sick, and nursing them back to health. The woman and children lost their fear when they learned that these white "mammas" were good "doctors," and were very kind.
In those early days whatever nursing the natives received was done very largely by our missionaries and their wives. A number of village dispensaries were opened in various parts of Burma, and these were found to be very helpful in winning the way into the hearts of the people. But later we felt that some of our own young people in Burma should be trained as nurses, so that they might be able to share with us in this very effective ministry. It was possible for our girls to be trained in the local hospitals, but we felt that they should go to one of our own institutions in some other country, for they were to be more than professional nurses—they were to be missionary nurses.
The first one to muster enough courage to leave Burma and get this preparation for service was a young Karen woman by the name of Ma (Miss) Fairy. She spent several years in England and America, and returned to Burma with the best qualifications that could be obtained. When it is remembered that the Karen people usually live back in the jungles, and seldom go far away from their home village, to say nothing of leaving their home country, it will be realized that what Ma Fairy did was no small undertaking. She manifested a courage that fully deserves to be classified as heroic.
Miss Fairy, upon her return from America and England, was located at our training school at Meiktila. Since she was trained to be a teacher as well as a nurse, she was asked to teach physiology, hygiene, and home nursing, as well as to take charge of the dispensary connected with the school, which cared for any illness that might occur among the students, and for villagers who passed that way. She also acted as preceptress in charge of the girls' dormitory. All this of course, was a very large task for one person, but she has carried the responsibility very well indeed for several years.
Soon after Miss Fairy left Burma for her training, it was arranged for two of our girls, one Burmese and one Karen, to go to Shanghai for training in our institution there. Others followed, so that we now have five young women in Burma who were trained at Shanghai. And how well they were trained! With splendid ability as nurses, and with a fine missionary spirit, they have taken hold of the work in an admirable way upon their return. It has not been easy to find a place in our budget for this group of new workers, but we feel that the effort it has cost us has been very much worthwhile. It is a real inspiration to see the work these girls are doing.
Nurse Gracie, one of the first two girls to return from Shanghai, was asked to assist Sister Tarleton in the nursing home at Maymyo. The other, nurse Phoebe, was placed in charge of the dispensary at Ohndaw on the Salween River. I wish it were possible for all readers of the Ministry to peep into that little institution to see how well the work is carried on there. There are two rooms for patients, a dispensary room, an operating room, and a washroom. Of course, only minor surgery is undertaken, but remember that this is all in charge of our Karen girl, nurse Phoebe. She keeps her records accurately, and everything is just as clean and orderly as one could hope to find anywhere.
This place offers the only medical help of any kind that is available in that river jungle for at least a hundred miles up and down the river. People comes from miles around bringing their sick for treatment. Does it help us to win them to Christ? Yes, indeed. Their fear and prejudice are gone now, and hundreds are ready to listen to the gospel. This has become one of our strongest centers in Burma. We know of some of our members whose first interest in the truth can be traced to the kind and friendly treatment received at the hands of the faithful nurse at this dispensary, and to the tracts which they found there.
In addition to our several village dispensaries, we have the Brightlands Nursing Home at Maymyo, the summer capital of Burma, that is having its influence over another class of people—the "neglected upper classes." I cannot take space here to tell in detail of how the Lord led so definitely in the matter of opening this institution. As to the good work being done there by Sister Tarleton, we need only to call your attention to the story of conversion of one of the leading chiefs of the Shan States, as reported in the Review and Herald of January 26, 1939. This was a most remarkable example of how the Lord can use our missionary nurses to win souls.
Sister Tarleton, an Englishwoman who accepted the truth in Rangoon a few years ago, had already been trained as a nurse. When the truth came to her, there was born in her soul a great desire to use her profession for the winning of souls. The Lord is blessing her earnest and untiring service. I will refer to one other case that will help you to understand the class of people she is attempting to reach, and the kind of work she is doing.
A few months ago a woman of culture came into the nursing home for a heavy operation. Her father was a general in the British army, and her husband a captain, son of the late rear admiral in the British navy. This patient was so pleased with the nursing home that she was reluctant to leave. Before going, she wrote these words in the visitors' book:
"I feel I cannot express in so many words all the gratitude I feel for the wonderful way I have been cared for. I have received all the skill and attention possible. There is a lovely spirit of happiness about the nursing home, and this is a 'priceless medicine' for anyone recovering from an operation. The extraordinarily quick recovery to strength that I have made, I attribute first to the spiritual foodprayer—which I have so much enjoyed; and second to the cream, butter, milk, and fruit the matron has given me. I have been in nursing homes before, but I have never been looked after as I have been at Brightlands."
With such commendation from one of her standing, the nursing home is becoming very favorably known among the upper classes, and we feel sure that it is exerting a very helpful influence—perhaps more helpful than we can at present realize.
We greatly appreciate the work of our nurses in Burma. We have long felt the need of a doctor, and pleaded for years that one might be provided for Burma. Only recently has it been possible for this call to be answered. In fact, it was after we left Burma this March to come on furlough that Dr. I. F.. Walker arrived there, and we are more happy than I can tell that we have a doctor at last. I am sure that with his arrival the work of our God-fearing nurses, who have carried on so nobly all these years, will not be less important, but will be all the more effective as larger plans for medical ministry develop. In all such plans the nurse, as coworker with the physician in the ministry to the sick and needy, continues to fill a place distinctly her own.