There can be no doubt that efforts to help the sick and helpless played a very large part in the ministry of our Lord. There can also be no doubt that He intended His people to engage in the same ministry. When we look at our efforts at medical missionary work in missions in the Near and Middle East, we are forced to the conclusion that much more might have been done in the past when conditions were much more favorable. Now we find it difficult, if not impossible, to enter some of these countries with our message.
Since my introduction to mission work some fifteen years ago, I have passed through several phases of medical missionary experience.
The first was as a new recruit doing dispensary work in the city, and traveling through the village districts during those parts of the year when this is possible. This type of work gives valuable experience to a young doctor when he realizes his lack of knowledge, and affords him the opportunity to see how the native people of the country live. He travels with an evangelist, a native of the country, and gains an insight into the problems of his brethren's work. He also learns the language much more quickly and efficiently than he otherwise would.
I shall never forget seeing a poor woman in a hut in a small village, five days' journey from the nearest hospital, who was in the last stages of pulmonary tuberculosis. There was nothing to be done to relieve her physical condition, but our evangelist did what he could to comfort her. There is no doubt that an evangelist is more readily received if he can combine his visits with those of a medical worker ; and even if the medical worker leaves the district, the impression of his influence remains as an asset to the work in that place.
On my return for my second term of service it was decided to start a modest hospital, and for this purpose a small town was chosen which was served by no other medical institution. For some years we struggled along in rented quarters, inconvenient, with meager equipment and but few trained helpers, doing general surgical, medical, and obstetrical work. Under these conditions we learned valuable lessons from practical experience, coping with surgical emergencies, such as strangulated hernia, with tropical fevers, typhoid, malaria, and smallpox. We understood, too, how great are the financial burdens of such undertakings, and how difficult it is to extract money from impecunious patients. Thousands of patients are seen in such an institution, constituting a God-given chance for spreading our message by means of literature and the living witness. This opportunity was made full use of, our evangelist coming to talk and read to outpatients each morning, and visit those inpatients who desired his help.
Work in such a small hospital, without modern facilities and equipment, and without enough helpers, makes great demands on the ingenuity and initiative of the personnel. I well remember an irreducible prolapsed rectum of some months' standing which had to be removed from a small boy. This type of tumor is usually removed by the diathermy knife, but as no such instrument was to be found, we did the work with two small soldering irons, heating alternately to cherry-red heat on a charcoal fire. Similarly, fractures and abdominal conditions had to be diagnosed by the eyes and fingers and treated without the help of X ray.
If my work in the hospital taught me anything, it taught me how difficult and sometimes how impossible it is for one man to be efficient in every branch of medical art. I discovered also that more than half of my patients suffered or needed treatment for eye diseases. I therefore determined to take the first opportunity of specializing in this branch. Thus for the last three years I have done only ophthalmic work, and results fully justify this choice.
In these Middle Eastern countries there is no doubt about the need. Some village populations are 85 to 95 per cent trachomatous, with all its concomitant suffering and ultimate blindness.
To practice this branch of surgery one does not need the enormous equipment and staff required by a general hospital, and one's budget is relatively small. Similarly one's time and energy is not dissipated by seeing large crowds of outpatients with relatively trivial complaints. Thus in 1938 we were able, in addition to our regular morning work and operations, to visit almost all the villages within about thirty miles of our center, examining and treating the people, and at the same time giving our evangelist opportunity to talk with anyone who would listen, and hand out tracts and Bible portions to those who could read. During that year our cataract extractions were over 90 per cent successful, and some of our cases came from nearly a hundred miles distant.
All cataract operations are done under local anesthesia, and the mental attitude of the patient often makes all the difference between success and failure. We have found that prayer to God for help and guidance often transforms the patient's attitude, making him trustful, hopeful, and obedient, instead of nervous, irritable, and fidgety. Indeed, in many cases of illness I have found that prayer acts better than drugs. We have found that we are able to finance our work out of income from fees. There is no doubt that this practical kind of missionary work has the endorsement of our Lord's teaching, and that, as in His day, men still say: "Whether He be a sinner or no, I know not: one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see."