How God Used a Hospital

The story of the 47th General Hospital, staffed by C.M.E. graduates.

By WILLIAM H. BERGHERM, Former Chaplain, 4jth General Hospital, V. S. Army

The 47th General Hospital was often, though erroneously, of course, spoken of as the Adventist hospital. It was, in fact, a regular Army hospital, sent forth in so far as its staff of officers was concerned, by the College of Medical Evangelists of Loma Linda, California. Every medical officer at the time it was activated by the Army was a graduate of our medical college. And about one third of its nurses were from our various sanitariums.

By May, 1944, the hospital was operating in New Guinea as the first general hospital ever to be set up on the mainland of that great island. The site chosen for the hospital was not far from the battlegrounds which marked the farthest point of penetration southward by Japanese troops. Here was the turning point of the war, and also the beginning point for what was perhaps the most unusual venture of any Christian medical college. Before the construction work had been finished patients began to roll up the hill in Army ambulances from the many hospital ships waiting to unload their patients in the bay below. It was not long before our white, prefabricated buildings proved to be insufficient for the thousands of patients that passed through their doors.

The setup of a large hospital in the Army in which not a single medical officer used tobacco, and where from Sabbath to Sabbath upwards of from seventy to seventy-five of its personnel attended church on the Sabbath, naturally attracted attention and produced considerable comment from the community about us. As chaplain of the hospital I kept my ear to the ground to profit by as much of this comment as possible. It was evident very early in our work that our medical officers were held in very high esteem by the patients, for their professional ability as well as for their personal and sympathetic ministry to the sick.

Among our earliest patients were a doctor and his wife who were Lutheran missionaries. These excellent people had just been released from Japanese imprisonment after eighteen months and were in a very weakened condition. They had served their mission board for many years at Madang, New Guinea, where they operated a hospital for the natives. When the Japanese came, these missionaries chose to remain with their patients, many of whom were at the time very ill.

By WILLIAM H. BERGHERM, Former Chaplain, 47th General Hospital, U. S. Army Consequently, they had been captured, placed in an internment camp, and made to suffer many hardships and great hunger. God in His mercy sent the American soldiers to liberate them just in time to save their lives. Our contacts with these good people were most pleasant. The doctor was acquainted with some of our Australian missionaries, and he was highly grateful for the fine treatment and care he and his wife received while with us.

It would be obviously impossible to list all the cases in which the ministration of the doctors and nurses won hearts and broke down prejudices among the tens of thousands of patients and others with whom they dealt. On one occasion a young soldier stopped me as I was passing through the wards. He had been very sick, and only the kind and faithful care of physicians and nurses had brought him through the crisis. He said to me, "Chaplain, I have been in a number of hospitals since coming into the Army. From the first I realized that there was something different about this hospital. I have been trying to discover what that difference is, and have come to the conclusion that it must be their religion that makes these doctors different. Tell me, what church do they belong to?" It was a privilege to sit down beside that soldier and explain that it was indeed a religion that made a difference.

Men realized all the way through that our nurses and doctors went about their work in a manner that indicated an acquaintance with the Man of Galilee who walked among men as One who served. Often, when medical skill had done all it could, our officers would call for me as chaplain, and I was permitted to see more than one dying man place his hope on Jesus, the Saviour of mankind. On one occasion an Adventist soldier was brought to us from the north in a hospital ship. He had never heard of the 47th. But one day, as I passed along by his bed, he called to me and said, "Chaplain, are you an Adventist ?" When he learned that I was, he replied, "I thought so, and I am sure there are a number of other Adventists around here, too." There was a difference, and it was always discernible.

From the start we maintained a Sabbath school, an M.V. Society, a Friday evening Bible class, and a midweek prayer service, and these services seemed to be a source of inspiration to the entire Scenic Setting of the 47th General Hospital in the South Pacific group. We often had as many in attendance from outside the 47th as there were from the unit itself. At one period our Sabbath attendance had well over one hundred servicemen and servicewomen. This made the Sabbath a day of great interest for all. We could generally look forward to seeing new faces each week, and many happy meetings thus took place as friend met friend just arrived over seas.The medical officers, nurses, and enlisted men in the unit gave strong spiritual leadership in all these meetings. Special mention should be 'made of Lieutenant Colonel Harrison Evans, Lieutenant Colonel Delos Comstock, and Major Ronald Buell and their excellent leadership in the Sabbath school; of Captain Russell James and others in the Friday night meetings; and of the valuable work done by Captain Ewald Bower, Betty Stoehr-Macdonald, Miss Edith Nelson, and others, in the music and chorus work, which reached far beyond the confines and halls of the hospital itself.

Our Adventist enlisted men held Bible studies in their own tents, and with the aid of a small projector went through several series of evangelistic studies, which were not without fruitage for the Master. A most worthy contribution was made to the community in general by the officers in charge of the officers' club. Under the direction of Lieutenant Colonel Herbert Childs and Lieutenant Colonel Lonnie Neufeldt a large library of sacred and classical records had been brought together, and each week a concert of recorded music was .given at the club. This drew men from all parts of the base and presented quite a contrast to the ordinary programs in the officers' clubs.

In the ministry of this hospital we were greatly blessed in having a host of friends back home who were untiring in their service in acting as a base of supplies for our needs over there. The Home Missionary Department of the General Conference and the Dorcas Societies were ever ready to serve us. Various conferences and publishing houses supplied us with a large number of books and missionary papers, as well as gospel films. One conference sent us small paper boxes nicely -illustrated containing "medicine" in the form of Bible texts handwritten and folded in an attractive way. These were a great encouragement to many of the patients. Provision was made for THE MINISTRY, Review and Herald, and other .denominational journals to be supplied to the medical staff, and these were greatly appreciated.

It would not be our desire that anyone would -receive the impression from what we have said that all was a perfect arrangement in our setup as a hospital. It must ever be remembered that this was an Army hospital, operated and controlled by the War Department. Many of the arrange ments imposed upon us would not have been of our choosing, but because of the emergency of war we were obliged to adapt ourselves to them in a Christian manner, rendering honor to whom honor was due, and not yielding our principles.

It is also to be borne in mind that this effort on the part of the medical college to sponsor a hospital project, offering it to the nation at a time of great need, was the first time in all history that a Christian medical college offered its country a large hospital of this nature to be operated entirely by officers of its own choosing. It constituted from the start a situation requiring utmost tact and heavenly wisdom on the part of the management. There were those in the Army who told us it would not work. But it did work. Its official rating with the Army was "Superior," the highest rating given. Scientifically, its reaction upon our denominational work and college could be none other than good, because of the well-known skill and integrity of our medical men.

The success of the effort, after all, must be decided by its impact upon the hearts of those it has served—those waiting mothers and others back home who rejoiced to know that their boys in the time of their greatest need were being cared for by Christian men and women of high scientific ability ; the sick and wounded themselves, who realized that in the doctors and nurses of the 47th they found men and women of skill and human understanding. Of these evidences there were many.

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By WILLIAM H. BERGHERM, Former Chaplain, 4jth General Hospital, V. S. Army

April 1946

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