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Dr. John Scudder:  Medical Missionary (Part 2)

  By Belle M. Brain 

    In 1819 Dr. John Scudder left a successful and prosperous medical practice in New York to take the Gospel to Ceylon (modern day Sri Lanka) and years later also to India.  Dr. Scudder, his wife Harriet, and their small daughter set sail for Ceylon on June 8th of that year.  Before reaching their intended destination, however, their young daughter died from an illness.  Within the next eighteen months, they lost two other babes in infancy.  They were heartbroken, yet they continued on in their work, trusting God to raise up spiritual children from the lost people to whom He was leading them to minister.

    In July 1820, six months after reaching Ceylon, Dr. Scudder was commissioned to open a new station at Panditeripo in northern Ceylon.  It was with feelings of deep solemnity that the Scudders entered on their work.  The care of a whole parish of immortal souls seemed to them a heavy burden.  The degradation of the people was appalling.  “Were it not for the hope that the day is approaching,” wrote Dr. Scudder, “when the heathen shall be given to the Lord for His inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for His possession (Psa. 2:8), my heart would sink within me.”

    But, taking John Eliot’s motto for his own, “Prayer and pains through faith in Jesus Christ will do anything,” he plunged into work with great enthusiasm.  The early hours of each day were given to the healing of the sick.  The only physician among hundreds of thousands, his fame soon spread abroad and the people came to him in great numbers.  The surgical operations he performed seemed to them like miracles.

    The great influence he thus acquired was faithfully used for the furtherance of the Gospel.  All who came to him were prayed with one by one, and reminded that their present pain was nothing compared to the eternal woe in store for them if they refused the only sacrifice for sin.  Tracts were given to all who could read that others might be reached also.  Having no printed ones at first, these tracts were written on the broad, fan-like leaves of the palmyra tree.

    To the medical work were added the regular duties of a missionary.  Schools were opened and preaching services maintained.  Not content with reaching just those who came to him, Dr. Scudder went from house to house, preaching to the people, and from time to time took long tours into the surrounding country also – tours which involved many hardships and no little danger.  But even when the way led through dreary jungles infested by wild beasts, he was kept from harm. 

    As a rule, he was kindly received by the people, who were eager to receive the tracts and portions of Scripture he carried for distribution amongst them.  But more than once he was stoned and blasphemed, ridiculed and cursed.  Yet he counted it all joy and preached the Gospel wherever the slightest opportunity afforded – to the farmers in the fields, the fishermen on the beach, the beggars in the streets, the carpenters at work upon the mission premises.  All this was accomplished in a debilitating climate and in intense heat.  Yet he allowed himself but little respite.  “Eternity will be long enough to rest in,” he was wont to say.

    It was an overburdened life, yet in the midst of it, the busy missionary found time for private devotion.  “An hour and a half at early morn,” said his son, “and an hour at night were always sacred to reading the Bible, meditation, praise and prayer.  At noon he read the Bible regularly also.  Every Friday until midday was set apart as a season for fasting and prayer.”  These habits of devotion were continued to the end of his life. 

A Faithful Wife and Gospel Worker

    Meanwhile Harriet Scudder was proving herself a missionary of the truest sort.  Notwithstanding the care of her now large family (the Lord had since blessed them with eleven more children), she taught in the schools, held sewing classes for the women and visited them in their homes.  When the doctor was off on his long tours, the care of the entire mission devolved upon her.  Yet she was brave and cheerful, sending him off with a smile even though it cost her much to let him go. 

    Had it not been for their faithful servant Amy who had pleaded to accompany them to Ceylon, it would have been impossible for Mrs. Scudder to accomplish all she did.  Amy not only assisted in the care of the household, but rendered efficient service in the mission also.  She became a companion to Mrs. Scudder, though she never presumed to consider herself other than a Christian servant.

    One great continual source of anxiety to Mrs. Scudder was her husband’s slowly failing health.  In 1821, in the first flush of missionary zeal, he undertook a long tour on foot which so prostrated him that he was never quite so well again.  Though he worked incessantly, it was always with the handicap of failing strength. 

    In the autumn of 1829, Dr. Scudder’s condition became so serious that the mission sent him to the Neilgherries in the western coast range of India where the climate is cool and bracing.  It was left to Mrs. Scudder to decide whether or not she should go with him.  The thought of staying alone filled her with dismay, yet she heroically resolved to let him go without her.  “I had thought,” she said, “that should it be necessary for him to leave I would accompany him at all events.  But when I looked around at my charge at Panditeripo, and saw the sacrifice that must be made if I too left the station, my cry was, ‘Lord strengthen me to take up my cross’”  Nearly a year later, she had the joy of welcoming him back again, not fully restored, but very much better.   

    (To be continued)

    – Condensed from “Dr. John Scudder, First American Medical Missionary,” by Miss Belle M. Brain, The Missionary Review of the World, June 1909.