Christian History Home > 2003 > Medical Missions' African Legacy
Medical Missions' African Legacy
For generations, missionary doctors have healed body and soul in Africa.
Fifty years from now, the summer of 2003 may be known as the time when Americans rediscovered Africa. HIV/AIDS in Botswana, bloody internal warfare in Liberia, and yellowcake uranium from Niger have all appeared on television newscasts and the front pages of newspapers. The overall impression of many Americans is that Africa is a continent of coups and contagion. But in the midst of such tragedy (by no means new to that continent) stands hope—in the form of Christian medical missions.
The modern-day marriage of health-care and Christian evangelism has a relatively unknown history of success. It has saved the lives of individuals, families, and villages, and introduced traditional societies to the transforming power of the gospel and Christian community. It is one reason why an estimated 380 million Christians dwell in Africa's 56 nations.
A historical—and living—example of this marriage is Harold Paul Adolph, a retired missionary surgeon and the son of a missionary surgeon. During his career, Adolph performed 25,000 operations, mostly overseas, beginning after he completed his m.d. in 1958 at the University of Pennsylvania. Adolph practiced in Ethiopia, Niger, and Panama's Canal Zone, as well as suburban Chicago. In 1997, the Christian Medical and Dental Society named Adolph as its Missionary of the Year.
But Adolph and his wife Bonnie Jo have not been content to spend their retirement years resting on their laurels at their home in Wisconsin. This year, they have been traveling the United States, raising $1 million to build a new 200-bed missionary hospital in rural south central Ethiopia, a remote region subject to drought, famine, and disease. captionhough the Adolphs don't have all the funding in place (they're about $300,000 short), they will be heading back to Ethiopia in a few weeks to help oversee the initial stages of construction.
Adolph's passion is not just for the missionary hospital. He's also committed to recruiting a new corps of missionary doctors from the ranks of students at American medical schools. In 1997, Adolph wrote an arresting first-person narrative, "Surgery on the Edge of the Desert" for the Bulletin of the American College of Surgeons. The article described in graphic detail 24 hours in the life of a missionary surgeon in Galni, Niger. After publication, dozens of medical schools invited Adolph to speak with students about overseas medical missions. "We see the sad disappearance of the career medical missionary," Adolph said recently to journalist James Adair. Adolph works closely with Project MedSend, a Christian agency that helps new doctors in debt get into the mission field.
A proud history
In all of the discussion about Africa's problems, missions-based health care stands out as one of the evangelical movement's best examples of holistic ministry. The history of the medical missionary is rich, varied, and touches on all major branches of Christianity. It encompasses such legendary figures as David Livingstone, known more for his famous explorations of South Africa and discovery of Victoria Falls than his bedside manner, and Albert Schweitzer, the son of a Lutheran pastor, author of Quest for the Historical Jesus, founder of a missions hospital in Gabon, and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952.
There are many more contemporary heroes—to mention just two, Helen Roseveare and Paul Brand, who died on July 8 following several weeks in a coma after a fall.
Roseveare, born in the U.K., was profiled in the 1994 book Ambassadors for Christ. She arrived in the Congo in 1953 with Worldwide Evangelistic Crusade and spent much of her working life caring for the sick, administering a hospital, and training Africans to be doctors and health care personnel.
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