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Beginnings in India

By Eugene Stock, D.C.L.

London: Central Board of Missions and SPCK, 1917.

Chapter XII. The First Medical Missions

ONE of the most picturesque scenes to be seen in India is a certain crowd of Indians, men and women and children, squatting in their familiar way in the veranda of a certain building at, say, nine o'clock a.m. It is a Medical Mission, and these are the out-patients. As they came in, perhaps an hour ago or more, each received a numbered ticket, and presently they will go in to the doctor in order. But first he comes out to them, opens his translated Bible, and gives them a short and breezy talk. Then, while one and another are called into his sanctum, you will see five or six Indian Christians sitting about among the crowd, talking or softly singing to them. We see the crippled men, the women weary and worn, the pale and sick children; we note the strong and yet anxious friends that have brought them; there they stand, or squat, or lie, patiently waiting their turn to see the great hakim. It is a scene that any painter might delight to sketch.

Can we not understand how Christian philanthropy like this would commend the Christian Message to the people? Not to the patients only; to the friends and relatives also who bring them. And, still more, the work within the hospital, where the in-patients have just the same treatment that English patients have at home. So the Missions follow their Divine Master's example, both preaching and healing.

When and how did this medical missionary work begin? Regular hospitals and dispensaries are quite modern. In early days no one dreamed of such agencies. Yet even then there was a little occasional medical work. Very likely if the journals of the S.P.C.K. Lutherans in the eighteenth century were searched, some cases might be found. In C.M.S. history we find that the first two men sent to India, in 1814, also Lutherans, being temporarily located at Tranquebar, the Danish station because neither the Danes nor the S.P.C.K. had anyone to send, treated an Indian medically; which led to his conversion, and to his becoming their first Indian helper. About the same time, Abdul Masih, at Agra, became widely known as "the Christian hakim (physician), supplemented his preaching by spending half his stipend in procuring medicines, and healed hundreds of sick folk.

The first qualified doctor in a Church Mission in India was an S.P.G. missionary in Tinnevelly, the Rev. J. M. Strachan, M.D., of Edinburgh University. But this was long years after. He went out in 1861, was highly successful in treating cholera patients at Ramnad in the Madura district in 1865, and in 1870 opened a regular Medical Mission at Nazareth, the Christian village before noticed. After he left to become Bishop of Rangoon, this work expanded under Mr. Margoschis, and several small hospitals and dispensaries were established in the district. In the C.M.S. part of Tinnevelly there was an Indian "medical pastor," the Rev. Manuel Cooksley, son of the Rev. Perianayagam Arumanayagam, who died a few years ago after forty-two years' service.

But Medical Missions are few and small in South India, and indeed elsewhere among the purely Hindu population. It is among the Mohammedans of the North, who are so hard to reach by ordinary preaching, that they are especially valuable. They are also very effective among the Hill tribes. The S.P.G. Chota Nagpur Mission has hospitals for men and women, and in the C.M.S. Bhil Mission Mrs. Birkett's medical work has done much to win that timid and suspicious tribe. Among the general population three Medical Missions stand out conspicuously. Two, at the great S.P.G. centres, Delhi and Cawnpore, have already been mentioned. The third, at Ranaghat in Bengal, was started in 1892 by Mr. James Monro, C.B., who had been a civil officer in that district, and who after a term of service at home as Chief Commissioner of Police in London, dedicated himself and family to missionary work in his old Indian sphere, at his own charges. It was a highly successful venture, and when he retired, he handed it all over to the C.M.S.

But of special importance have been the Medical Missions on or near the North-West Frontier. The "Beginning" of these was in the semi-independent state of Kashmir. The missionary-hearted British rulers of the Punjab in the sixties, civil and military, looked longingly at that adjoining country, notorious for both its beauty and its vices, to which Heber's lines applied more emphatically than to Ceylon:

"Where every prospect pleases
And only man is vile";

and wondered how a Christian Mission could get in there. Englishmen were only allowed there in the summer months, and the Mohammedans were exceptionally bigoted and bitter. In 1862 a memorial was sent to the C.M.S. by these faithful servants of the Lord, and among the signatures were that of the Lieutenant-Governor himself, Sir R. Montgomery, and those of Sir Donald McLeod, Sir Herbert Edwardes, Sir Douglas Forsyth, Generals Lake and Maclagan, Dr. Cust, etc. The memorial said nothing, however, about a Medical Mission; what they wanted was to get the Gospel Message into Kashmir somehow.

In 1864, Robert Clark, the senior C.M.S. missionary in the Punjab, went over the mountain passes into the far-famed Valley for the hot season, with his wife; and Mrs. Clark, with characteristic energy and without asking anybody's leave, quietly opened a dispensary on her own account, at Srinagar, the capital. She was not a qualified doctor, but she knew more than the native hakims, and very soon a hundred patients a day were attending. One convert from Islam was given to them immediately, but on his being baptized the Governor of Srinagar himself organized a riot, attacked the house, and publicly whipped the people who came to it. The British Resident could do nothing, because the Maharajah pleaded that the Government of India had promised that English visitors would not "proselytize"; and every foreigner was turned out of Kashmir before winter.

But the energetic Christian officials who had signed the Memorial were not going to give up. They had been corresponding with the Edinburgh Medical Mission, a home Mission in the Scottish capital which has supplied well qualified doctors to various missionary societies, and which long enabled the United Free Church to stand first among societies in the number of its medical missionaries. A young doctor of distinction, W. J. Elmslie, M.D., responded to the Punjab appeal; but he was a Presbyterian, so how could he join the C.M.S.? The Punjab officials wrote to the Society, and begged that as they were themselves prepared to defray the whole cost of the Mission, an exception might be made in his case, "provided that he was prepared cordially to act upon the Society's principles." The Society agreed to make the exception for a layman and a doctor in the special circumstances of Kashmir, and Elmslie was to be a pioneer, just as Livingstone, also a Scottish layman and doctor, was to the U.M.C.A. in its earliest effort in Africa. In the following summer, when the Valley was open, Elmslie went in and opened his dispensary, May 9, 1865.

For seven summers the work went on. Visitors helped Elmslie, among them the Rev. A. Brinckman, an ex-army officer and honorary S.P.G. missionary, who had Kashmir much upon his heart. The Maharajah surrounded the dispensary with a cordon of soldiers to mark who attended, and also opened a rival hospital himself, which was all to the good, as there had never been anything of the kind before; but the people soon saw the difference between Elmslie's skill and Christian kindness and the Hindu doctor's rough treatment, and year after year they thronged the Mission. A few converts were gained, but when baptized were instantly expelled the country. But in 1872 Elmslie, after thus successfully "knocking," in Bishop Cotton's words, "at the only door through which the truth could enter," died while crossing the mountains.

Other doctors followed; the Maharajah's Government became more favourable; a fine hospital was built; the annual expulsion for the winter ceased; and now for over thirty years the work of the brothers Arthur and Ernest Neve has been known and admired all over India, as those understand who heard Lord Curzon's eulogy of them when Dr. Arthur Neve read a paper before the Royal Geographical Society.

Such was the Beginning of the Frontier Medical Missions. Kashmir is on the Frontier, though not a part of the North-Western Frontier Province. And now we see well-equipped Mission hospitals at Peshawar, at Bannu, at Dera Ismail Khan, at Quetta, and also at the great city of Amritsar itself; also women's hospitals in Kashmir, at Multan, at Batala, at Tarn Taran, besides many branch dispensaries. In estimating the medical work done, the true standard is the number of beds; and of them there are in these hospitals 1,200, which receive some 14,000 in-patients a year; while the visits of out-patients number about half a million a year. There are nearly thirty qualified British doctors, one-half of them women; and several missionary nurses, besides trained Indians. Part of this remarkable work belongs to the C.E.Z.M.S. Four of the doctors have received from the Government of India the first class gold Kaisar-i-Hind medal. One of them, the late Dr. Pennell, was a man of the highest distinction and character. He was a cousin of Lord Roberts, who wrote a preface both for a book of his on the Afghan tribes and for his biography--which latter work was written by his widow, one of the Sorabjis of Poona, and herself a qualified doctor now carrying on his work. Another, Dr. A. C. Lankester, has been commandeered by the Government to superintend measures to deal with tuberculosis all over India. One other should be named, the late Dr. Henry Martyn Clark, of the Amritsar Mission, who was an Afghan by birth, but was adopted in infancy by Mr. and Mrs. Robert Clark and brought up in Scotland. He was a brilliant student at Edinburgh, and became a missionary of extraordinary influence among the Moslems.

One smaller branch hospital should be mentioned. In 1868 the Deputy Commissioner of one of the Frontier districts put it up at Tank, a small town among the mountains, and applied to the C.M.S. for an Indian doctor with an official qualification. The Rev. John Williams, a descendant of an old Indian Roman Catholic family, who was so qualified, was sent, and laboured there more than thirty years. Such was his reputation among the wild Pathan mountaineers that when they raided the little town, they spared the hospital, in which some of them had been patients. This little Mission gained converts, one of them a Kulin Brahman with a notable history.

At those of the stations above mentioned where the Medical Mission has been the original pioneer, as in Kashmir and at Quetta, it has opened the way for other important branches of the missionary work. A signal instance is Mr. Tyndale-Biscoe's famous school at Srinagar, which has exercised such an astonishing influence upon the Kashmiri boys.

Thus, if Medical Missions are in themselves preeminently a work of mercy, they have again and again opened the door to the truth of the Gospel.

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