Medical Missionary Work in Latin America

A report from Latin America.

By ORLEY FORD, Director of the Costa Rica Mission, Inter-America

During many years of foreign service in Latin America we have proved to our own satisfaction the value of a medical mission­ary approach as a vital and essential part of suc­cessful mission work. To a great extent our work in both South America and Central America has been among the Indians or other underprivi­leged classes, where Catholicism, fanaticism, and ignorance reigned supreme. There the Bible is almost unknown, and the best requisite to accept­ance in religious work is a shaved crown and the wearing of the sotano, or priestly robe.

Protestant missionaries are branded as heretics, and all are warned to beware of all contacts with them. Capable workers of other churches have spent years of sincere effort without winning a single convert. We, however, have the gospel of health and a knowledge of the principles of healthful living as an integral part of this great third angel's message, and with that our message provides a well-balanced solution to all man's needs everywhere, under all circumstances. The medical work is truly the right arm of the message, and is the best and often the only entering wedge. It gives us a way to show our love for suffering humanity by relieving distress. A knowledge of health principles also tends to preserve the health of our workers, and enables them to accomplish more in missionary lines. It must, however, be more than mere theory ; it must be practiced in the personal life, as well as taught in public.

Our original medical training was more limited than we would have desired had we realized its importance. But by diligent study and God's blessing we were able to meet the opening oppor­tunities which finally led to my appointment as the government health officer for that section of Ecua­dor in which we conducted our mission clinic for the Indians around Lake Colta.

While at the White Memorial Hospital in med­ical training before going out, we had supposed that in the mission field we would have opportunity for only a few simple treatments and some first-aid work. However, we had been at the Pomata Mission of Lake Titicaca only a few months when I was called to care for the son of an Indian chief who was about to die of gangrene of the leg. I realized amputation was the only possible way to save his life. I had little knowledge of the correct surgical procedure and no surgical tools ; yet I did my best with improvised tools, and the Lord did the rest. With a butcher knife, a car­penter's saw, and no anesthetic, I took off his leg, and he was soon well. With the same tools I made a temporary wooden leg which served him until Dr. P. T. Magan sent him a special leg, which he is still using. The operation saved a life, won the heart of a family who had been enemies of the mission, and gave us contact with hundreds of this tribe who had been uninterested or antago­nistic before.

Several years later, in Ecua­dor, where we were pioneering the work among the Indians, months went by before a favorable contact was made. It seemed that enemies would succeed in driving us from the field or taking our lives unless the Lord intervened. This time an accident which occurred to an Indian woman at a near-by bullfight gave us the opportunity to win their confidence. This woman had been gored in the face by a wild bull. The bony eye socket was torn away and her eye left hanging. She had been trampled and left unconscious, with no one even to give first aid. She was still alive the next morning when I was called.

I saw at once that medical skill was useless. But believing that this might be our extremity and God's opportunity, I had public prayer with the woman's many friends, who were present, and did what I could by cleansing and sewing up the wound. The Lord added His blessing and she was soon well. Even the sight in the injured eye was restored.

We knew it was a miracle, but the people gave us the praise and began bringing their sick to us. For ten years our little clinic was visited by twenty to -fifty patients a day. Even the govern­ment extended their favor and backing by ap­pointing me the official medical officer for that section. All kinds of sickness—fevers, dysentery, wounds, infections, intestinal parasites, and aching teeth—kept us busy from daylight to dark. Some­times as many as one hundred and fifty teeth were extracted in a single day. My wife cared for all difficult obstetrical cases. For a time we were the only workers in the republic and could not go far away ; yet they came to us several days' journey. In this way our ability to reach the people was multiplied many times. Friendships were made with those in high places, who later came to our rescue when we were threatened by deportation by enemies. Thus the entering wedge of medical work not only opened but sustained the work.

In Central America today, where our work is now firmly established, I find my visits more appre­ciated by both church members and the general public when I can visit their sick, give public and private counsel on health, and extract teeth. So many live great distances from available doctors and dentists. While conducting a recent seven-week evangelistic effort we extracted nearly two thousand teeth, and that possibly accounted for the fact that we had to hold two services each evening to accommodate the attendance.

Only when our medical work and health message, are used can our missionary work be fully effec­tive in bringing relief from suffering, promoting general health, and pointing the way to the fulli life in Christ. Health knowledge is invaluable also for the missionary's personal welfare and that of his family, as he is often laboring in an un­healthful climate, amid insanitary surroundings, with medical help unobtainable. We are told in Hosea 4:6, "My people are destroyed for lack ofi knowledge." Many capable and consecrated work­ers have had to return to the homeland, broken in health, with their ability lost to the cause, principally because of a lack of health knowledge, and failure to practice true health reform. Our, maintenance of good health, making possible our long stay in foreign fields, has been due, under God's blessing, to a knowledge and practice of simple health principles adapted to our field of , labor. This great message is practical and com­plete, and should sanctify body, soul, and spirit. Our failure in healthful living makes our message appear incomplete or faulty.

The promise of Exodus 15:26 is, "If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the Lord thy God, and wilt do that which is right in His sight, and wilt give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyp­tians: for I am the Lord that healeth thee."

I wish to emphasize the truth of this promise by my personal testimony: During twenty-seven years my wife and I have traveled and lived in every type of unhealthful climate and unhygienic surroundings yet He has not failed us. Our recent medical checkup shows that He has kept us through it all.

Sometimes we think of healthful living as con­sisting of the use of specially prepared foods in tins and cartons. I remember a very sincere and efficient worker who came to our field. He began to send back to the States for special foods, paying exorbitant prices to import them. Soon he was urging the native believers to ,order cornflakes, protose, Crisco, etc., from the States, while all around was an abundance of natural foods, native to the country, of goad quality, and reasonable in price. Needless to say, he soon returned home, broken in health, a martyr to the mission field, financially impoverished, and his faith in our health message badly shaken. Had his knowledge of health principles been equal to his zeal, he would no doubt still be giving efficient service in our field.

Specially prepared foods are not to be depreci­ated, but in mission fields they are often unob­tainable and at best very expensive. However, proper health habits, sanitation, and hydrotherapy are always in order in every place. Natural foods are generally as plentiful in foreign fields as at home. A little perseverance will teach us to really enjoy natural foods, as indicated in the original Land most perfect health-food diet of Genesis 1:29. f we do the best we can under all circumstances, letting 1 Corinthians 10 :31 guide us instead of our appetite, we have the right beginning. Then t study of Bible health principles, the Spirit of )prophecy, and modern medical findings will enlarge my vision. If we carry out these principles we nay expect buoyant health and be able to bring a message of health and hope to our converts.

Our health work proves the practicability of his great message, which is going to all the world and preparing a people to meet Jesus. Just as true education has as its objective the restoration of he image of God in the soul, so also should it include renewal of health, to enable us better to fleet life's battles. It should at least lessen our 'teed to resort to drugs, surgery, tins, and cartons:

We have truly found medical missionary work to be the entering wedge in foreign mission work. It builds up and protects our personal health, and gives evidence to the world that we bear the credentials of Him who went about all Galilee, preaching and healing all manner of sickness among the people. Let us hearken diligently, and as workers for Him study to show ourselves approved unto God in this phase of truth as in all others, so that those about us may see our good works and glorify our Father which is in heaven. Then our labor will be more effective and the third angel's message better received by those who have no knowledge of this great soul- and body-saving message. Thus will we hasten His return and the end of sickness, sin, and death.

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By ORLEY FORD, Director of the Costa Rica Mission, Inter-America

June 1945

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