medical missions

medical missions
   Medical missions were health facilities and programs set up in Asian and African countries by Christian doctors and nurses from the West. The aim was to win local friends for the missionary enterprise, while expressing a Christian concern for the ill as inspired by the New Testament.
   In the 1830s, Karl Gutzlaff (1803-51), a German serving with the Dutch Missionary Society, suggested that medical facilities be set up in China to share Western medicine and Gospel literature. His idea led to the founding in 1838 of the Medical Missionary Society in China, with the backing of doctors, missionaries, businessmen, and some Chinese officials. Among the founders was Dr. Peter Parker, a physician already in China with the support of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions.
   The medical missions raised serious questions from the start. Some missionaries wanted evangelistic goals to take precedence over medical work, and physicians had to guard the integrity of their calling. Some churches were slow in supporting the work due to longstanding doctrinal controversies. However, once established, the idea of medical missions gained ground and steadily expanded. China became the exploratory field, as various types of facilities (dispensaries, specialized hospitals, mental health services, and so forth) were opened and tested.
   The idea was exported to India in the 1860s, with the Church Missionary Society opening the first facilities. In 1869, the Woman's Foreign Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church commissioned Clara Swain, who established her center in Bareilly in northern India the next year. The anti-Christian ruler of the region was so impressed with her efforts that he donated land for a women's hospital, built in 1872. Swain's efforts opened new horizons for women missionaries. By the 1880s, medical missions had broad support among those Western Protestant churches that were committed to the world missionary endeavor.
   The missions helped pave the way for the development of local medical establishments on a Western model. For example, the Medical Missionary Society in China (superseded in 1886 by the China Medical Missionary Association) published a professional periodical, trained local staff, and eventually opened the Peking union Medical College. A decade earlier, Edith Brown opened the School of Medicine for Christian Women in india. China would retain the largest number of Protestant supported medical facilities until 1950, with india a close second.
   After 1880, the missions expanded to other countries. A notable effort in Korea began in 1884 with the arrival of Presbyterian physician Horace Newton Allen. At the time, no missionaries were allowed in the country, but Allen's successful treatment of the queen's seriously wounded nephew during a palace revolt brought an end to exclusion. in Africa, the Church Missionary Society started pioneering efforts in the 1870s.
   The number and scope of medical missions grew steadily throughout the 20th century. outstanding efforts were initiated by Wilfred Thoma-son Grenfell (1865-1940), who pioneered missions along the coast of Labrador, and Albert Schweitzer, who after writing a historical study of 19th-century biblical criticism devoted his life to serving the people of Gabon, Africa. Schweitzer's hospital at Lambarene became world famous, and he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953.
   in the mid-20th century, missionary theorist William Ernest Hocking (1873-1966) argued cogently that evangelism should yield priority to medical and social work in the missionary endeavor. His idea gained support as postcolonial governments revived the old hostility to foreign missionaries. indigenous leaders took charge of the new churches that replaced the old missions, but trained medical professionals continued to be welcomed into most areas of the new countries.
   As the 21st century begins, medical missions are a thriving part of church life. More agencies have joined the effort and personnel has increased. Efforts have focused on age-old scourges such as malaria and on the new pandemic of HIV/AIDS.
   Further reading:
   ■ Margaret I. Balfour and Ruth Young, The Work of Medical Women in India (London: Oxford University Press, 1929)
   ■ Harold Balme, China and Modern Medicine a Study in Medical Missionary Development (London: United Council for Missionary Education, 1921)
   ■ K. William Braun, Modern Medical Missions (Burlington, Iowa: Lutheran Literary Board, 1932)
   ■ Ernest H. Jeffs, The Doctor Abroad: The Story of the Medical Missions of the London Missionary Society (London: Livingstone Press, 1934)
   ■ John Lowe, Medical Missions: Their Place and Power (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1886).

Encyclopedia of Protestantism. . 2005.

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