Ida Scudder was the granddaughter of the first medical missionary sent by the American church. John Scudder, her grandfather, went to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in 1819, and later to India, as a missionary doctor. Ida was born in 1870 and, after finishing school in the United States, returned to India to be with her ailing mother. But Ida's mind was made up: She would never be a missionary. She planned to go to Wellesley College, then marry and settle down in the States.

One night, three men in succession knocked on the door of her parents' home in South India. Each came with this request: "My young wife is dying in childbirth. Can you please come and save her?"

To each, Ida gave the same reply: "I know nothing about doctoring. My father is the doctor. I'll be glad to go with him to see your wife."

All three men—a Brahmin, another high-caste Hindu, and a Muslim—gave the same reply: "In my religion, no man outside the family is allowed into the women's quarters."

Ida couldn't sleep that night. Morning brought news that all three women had died in the night. Ida was never the same again. She graduated from Cornell Medical School in the first class open to women. Returning to India, she started a clinic for women, then a nursing school, then, finally, a medical school. Today Christian Medical College in Vellore remains one of the finest medical schools in India, having produced thousands of nurses and doctors to minister to millions in South Asia.

Stories like this are repeated many times, demonstrating the wonderful work of God among the hundreds of thousands of missionaries sent from American shores over the past 200 years. Many missionaries are remembered ...

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