Waldensian Medical Missionaries

THE WALDENSES are among our spiritual forebears. They constitute a link between the early Christian church and the churches of the Reformation. They were the seed of the woman, the church in the wilderness, that fled from the wrath of the dragon who cast water out of his mouth to carry them all away, as depicted in the twelfth chapter of the book of Revelation. . .

-an ordained minister as well as a physician at the time this article was written

THE WALDENSES are among our spiritual forebears. They constitute a link between the early Christian church and the churches of the Reformation. They were the seed of the woman, the church in the wilderness, that fled from the wrath of the dragon who cast water out of his mouth to carry them all away, as depicted in the twelfth chapter of the book of Revelation.

Northern Italy had long remained independent of the Bishop of Rome. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, led a people who held to the apostolic faith. When at last Milan and the regions thereabout capitulated, persecution ensued, which caused a remnant of nonconformists to seek sanctuary in the Alps. Here, for more than one thousand years, the light of the true faith was kept burning in humble cottages scattered throughout the mountain fastnesses.

Some years ago we drove our Volkswagen from Rome to Torre Pellice, the capital of the Waldensian territory and the head quarters city of the Waldensian Church.

Long before arriving we identified the Castelluzo, a unique, flat-topped mountain that serves as a backdrop to Torre Pellice. This was used not only as a place of quick retreat from enemy marauders, but also as a lookout from whence, many times, approaching armies bent on extermination could first be detected. When the alarm was sounded, the inhabitants, aban doning their homes and possessions, would flee to the fortresses of the crags.

Putting up at a small hotel, we sought out the pastor of our Chiesa Awentista, and with him as a guide, started our explorations. Near our church we viewed the rushing waters of the Angrogne River (river of groans), which many a time ran red with the blood of martyrs.

What I especially wanted to see was the Torre del Pra, a central valley back in the mountains, said to be one of the most inaccessible spots in Europe. This is where the annual synods (con stituency meetings) of the Waldenses were usually held, where they had their "camp meetings." It was also a place of refuge to which they fled when threatened by an approaching army. Here was the campus for their college where the "Barbes" their scholars, pastors, and missionaries were trained.

Our host agreed to guide us there. Through the mountain gorges we went. I tried to identify the place described by Wylie, where a handful of young stalwarts held back the army of the Duke of Savoy at a time of extreme peril. It had seemed that all was lost. The invading army, composed largely of criminals and fanatics with a blood lust, had burned the houses in the valleys below and were determined to finish their baneful work. The refugees, taken by surprise, had hurriedly left and were hiding amidst the rocks on the open mountainside. Seeing the steel-helmeted troops approaching, they asked God for help.

An unexpected cloud appeared and settled in the pass, filling it from wall to wall and completely enveloping the enemy. A few young men descended the trail and held back the whole army while others rolled rocks upon them from above. The waiting plains people below were amazed to see, not waters reddened by the blood of the faithful, but corpses of the Savoyard army. "The munitions of rocks" had been used again by the Lord to protect His own.

As we viewed the magnificent mountain scenery, we thought of Ellen White's description. "God had provided for His people a sanctuary of awful grandeur, be fitting the mighty truths committed to their trust. . . . The mountains that girded their lowly valleys were a constant witness to God's creative power, and a never-failing assurance of His protecting care. Those pilgrims learned to love the silent symbols of Jehovah's presence." 1

At long last we came to the Torre del Pra, a magnificent valley shaped like a gigantic amphitheater. There on a hillside we were taken into a small, rock-walled room with a large, stone-slab table in the center. This room is said to be all that remains of the School of the Barbes. The stone slab was a table or desk top used by the scriveners, who copied the Scriptures painstakingly by hand thus multiplying the Sacred Word. Copies were taken and distributed to the peoples of Christendom, at the risk of death.

Left alone in the room, I meditated upon the past. Here was the base of my spiritual ancestors. Here was the church of Cod for that time, as my church is for to day. They had a publishing work hand-done. They had a school system of their own, as do we. They had pastors, evangelists, colporteurs, missionaries. They had conferences and a General Conference.

Suddenly I was struck with the question, Did they have a medical work? If the Waldenses were truly God's church one of the links, and a vital link, connecting the apostolic and the remnant churches not only must it be true in doctrine but it must also use the same methods of labor. It should have a medical minis try. It had an educational and a publishing work. Did it have a medical work?

Medical missionary work is a fundamental part of the Christian ministry. It formed an integral part of Christ's ministry. "And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people" (Matt. 4:23). Of Him it is written: "Christ stands before us as the pattern Man, the great Medical Missionary an example for all who should come after. . . . We are to do the same work that the great Medical Missionary under took in our behalf." 2

That He intended His followers to work as He worked is clear. In His great prayer recorded in John 17 we read, "As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world" (verse 18). An inspired comment on this is found in Medical Ministry: "Our work is clearly defined. As the Father sent His only-begotten Son into our world, even so Christ sends us, His disciples, as His medical missionary workers." 3

That this work is part and parcel of the Christian ministry is made clear by the record of the ordination of the original twelve; healing is included with preaching. "And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach" (Mark 3:14). (Too often only this verse is considered, but it ends with a comma, and the complete ordination must include the next verse.) "And to have power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out devils" (verse 15).

This was the pattern of the apostles' ministry from the time of their first evangelistic campaign. This was the pattern Jesus set for His followers. Did the Waldenses follow it? Ellen White indicates that they did. She states, "The pastors not only preached the gospel, but they visited the sick." 4

Upon my return to the States, I wrote to Prof. Alfred Vaucher of our French Seminary in Collongessous- Saleve, France. He is prob ably our foremost authority on the Waldenses. I asked him if there were any records of the Waldenses having a medical work.

His reply included the following quotations:

"Morland throws an illuminating word on their combining of medical and missionary work. . . . 'Moreover the greatest part of them gave themselves to the study and practise of Physick, and Chirurgery [surgery]; and herein they excelled . . . , thereby rendring themselves most able and skilfull Physicians both of soul and body.' " 5

"They had much experience in medicine and surgery, and in these arts possessed amazing secrets, wonderful in their simplicity. . . ." 6

"Each one of those Barbes, be sides the knowledge and practice of the ministry, had the knowledge of some trade, and especially medicine and surgery for which they were skilfull and well considered and practiced to charitably assist their needy brethren as well as to cover them and help for the expenses of their long and dangerous journeys." 7

The Waldenses engaged in a complete ministry a ministry for the whole man body, mind, and soul. They are in the true apostolic succession. As a scarlet strand is woven into all the rope used by the British Navy, so medical missionary work is woven into each succeeding section of God's true church.

Today, Seventh-day Adventists are to emphasize this work. It is destined to play a key role in the closing acts of the great drama of eternity.

"He [God] designs that the medical missionary work shall prepare the way for the presentation of the saving truth for this time the proclamation of the third angel's message. If this design is met, the message will not be eclipsed nor its progress hindered." 8

"How slow men are to under stand God's preparation for the day of His power! God works today to reach hearts in the same way that He worked when Christ was upon this earth. In reading the word of God, we see that Christ brought medical mission ary work into His ministry. Can not our eyes be opened to discern Christ's methods? Cannot we understand the commission He gave to His disciples and to us?" 9

One of the tragedies of our time is our failure to accord medical missionary work its rightful place in our world pro gram. Seventh-day Adventists could have a "secret weapon" to use in their evangelistic arsenal, which would give them a tremendous advantage. Adventist medical missionaries, ordained and paid from the tithe, should be standing shoulder to shoulder with pastors and other evangelists in public ministry. Medical ministry should be restored to its Heaven-ordained place in the closing work.


1. The Great Controversy, p. 66.

2. Medical Ministry, p. 20.

3. Ibid., p. 24.

4. The Great Controversy, p. 68.

5. LeRoy Edwin Froom, The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, vol. 1 (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Assn., 1950), pp. 841, 842; quoted from Samuel Morland, The History of the Evangelical Churches of the Valleys of Piedmont (London: Henry Mills, 1658), p. 183.

6. Gay Teofilo, History of the Valdesians (Florence, 1912), p. 237; quoted from Hieronimo Miolo, Brief History of the Valdesian Affairs (1587).

7. Ibid., p. 239; quoted from Pierre Cilles, Ecclesiastic History of the Reformed Churches, gathered in some of the Piedmont Valleys (Geneva: 1644, 1656; Pignerol, 1881, I), p. 23.

8. Counsels on Health, p. 518.

9. Medical Ministry, p. 246.

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-an ordained minister as well as a physician at the time this article was written

February 1974

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