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Thomas Hale writes about being a missionary surgeon in the same delightful way James Herriot writes about being a country veterinarian. Dr. Hale's incredible experience in tiny, mountainous Nepal are surpassed only by his talent for telling about them. Imagine, for example, the culture shock of moving to a Hindu country under such rigid religious control that it is not only illegal to proselytize, but illegal to change religions as well. Imagine further the shock of moving to that country as a missionary doctor. ...
Thomas Hale writes about being a missionary surgeon in the same delightful way James Herriot writes about being a country veterinarian. Dr. Hale's incredible experience in tiny, mountainous Nepal are surpassed only by his talent for telling about them. Imagine, for example, the culture shock of moving to a Hindu country under such rigid religious control that it is not only illegal to proselytize, but illegal to change religions as well. Imagine further the shock of moving to that country as a missionary doctor. Thomas Hale and his wife, Cynthia, also a physician, too on that awesome challenge in 1970.
God wasted no time teaching tom the peculiarities of his new culture. But His unusual method left Tom wondering what God was up to. Here is how Tom tells about it:
"These were not the phlegmatic, easy-going Nepalis described in books and orientation courses. Those who spoke gesticulated fiercely. Some looked around menacingly; others spat. One thing was certain, however: in the cause of their anger they were united. The word was out: the new doctor had killed a cow. My own sense of participation in the proceedings was intense. I was the new doctor."—Excerpt
As Tom goes on to describe the events the preceded the angry scene in the Nepali village, the image of the spiritually superior missionary quickly evaporates. In a humorous, yet deeply insightful way, the author makes it clear that he is merely a servant, using his skills to the glory of God.
Tom concludes this chapter with a thoughtful confession:
"In the long run, that cow did much more for me that I did for it. The mild-mannered, uncritical beast made me see in myself those negative attributes I had always ascribed to other American surgeons. Facing two hundred angry men proved to be effective therapy for removing most traces of condescension with which I previously regarded them. It also improved my relations with missionary colleagues and with Nepali brothers and sisters in the church. I guess God had no gentler way of removing some of my imperfections. I only wish I could say, for His trouble, that He finished the job. But it was a start." — Excerpt.
Dr. Hale's book refused to be preachy or condescending. It presents missions as a "want" rather than an "ought." It is sensitive, warm, honest, incredibly funny, and filled with important truths illustrated from unusual and sometimes unimaginable situations.
A few months before I completed my duty as an army surgeon, Cynthia and I began the hectic business of outfitting ourselves for Nepal: sleeping bags, kerosene heaters, step-down transformers, kitchenware, tools, refrigerator, washing machine, typewriter, a five-year supply of clothes in increasing sizes for two growing boys (ages one and four), five years of Christmas presents--everything, it seemed, but a toilet seat. (Cynthia's mother would bring that the following year.) Nothing was available in Kathmandu we were told, and if it wasn't available there, we reasoned that it certainly wouldn't be available anywhere else in Nepal. We packed everything in large drums. For padding we crammed rolls of toilet paper (which supposedly wasn't available in Kathmandu either) into the empty spaces, two huge cartons of it purchased at bargain rates from the army PX. I can still recall the wide-eyed girl at the PX checkout counter staring at our pile of goods, then at us, then back to the pile. Why did we need eight different sizes of children's shoes, all at one time? And enough toilet paper to last a company of men six months? What were we going to do with the stuff--go into the retail business? There were regulations about that sort of thing. We explained that we were going to a very remote area where these items weren't available, and she told us there was no place so remote that it wouldn't have a PX. We said we weren't going to be with the army, which only confirmed her suspicions that we were into something illegal--or that we at least were abusing the system.
Finally we were rescued by a senior clerk who had read in the bulletin of the base chapel about our going to Nepal. "No problem," he said cheerily, helping us carry our purchases outside. The toilet paper cartons were too big to fit inside our Volkswagen station wagon, so we had to tear them open in the parking lot and throw the rolls in one by one. We got everything home in just two trips.
Two months before our scheduled departure for Asia, a letter came from the United Mission to Nepal saying we had been assigned to a small fifteen-bed hospital located out in the hills, a day's journey from Kathmandu. The hospital was still under construction. There wasn't even a road to it. We would have to fly to a grass landing strip and then hike six miles up a mountain.
Cynthia was stunned. This was more than she had bargained for. Since we were both highly trained, certified specialists--Cynthia in pediatrics and I in general surgery--we had assumed we would be assigned to the big 125-bed mission hospital in Kathmandu. It was the second largest hospital in the country, located in a large palace once used by Nepal's ruling family. There we reasoned we would be able to put to use a good part of our training. But what were we going to do in a tiny, ill-equipped rural outpost?
The letter put an end to Cynthia's long-cherished visions of missionary life in Kathmandu: the open and tastefully furnished home; the opportunity to entertain educated and influential Nepalis--perhaps even royalty; the piano concerts; an elegant but not extravagant wardrobe; the chance to use her silver service (a wedding present as yet unused, saved especially for Kathmandu). After all, the upper classes needed God as much as the poor. But suddenly all those visions were swept away and replaced by a crude mud-walled house, where our neighbors would be illiterate and unkempt hill people. Cynthia made her biggest adjustment to life in Nepal right then and there.
For me, on the other hand, the challenge of a pioneer situation and the chance to rough it held great appeal. But it created another problem: What was I going to do for surgical instruments? A surgeon is helpless without instruments, and I didn't own even a pair of forceps. Under normal circumstances, hospitals provide whatever equipment a surgeon needs, but certainly this tiny rural hospital wasn't going to provide any. I had spent the past twelve years learning to be a surgeon, and here I was being put in a place where I would be unable to do what I'd been trained for. I saw myself spending the rest of my professional career treating runny noses, colicky babies, worms, and the itch--all cases that paramedicals were perfectly competent to handle. Twelve years of training and experience down the drain.
And so Cynthia and I found ourselves chafing at what we later would recognize was our first lesson in missionary life: Be prepared for a comedown. Being asked to do something other than we were trained for was not what bothered us so much; it was being asked to do less. We learned what every missionary must sooner or later learn: If it's job satisfaction you expect, forget about being a missionary.
The Road to Nepal one
Scrap Metal two
Amp Pipal three
New Doctor on Trial four
A Matter of Character five
A Matter of Adjustment six
Modern Medicine Comes to the Hills seven
The Doctor Knows Best nine
Favorite Bus Rides ten
Govinda Devkota eleven
The Flood thirteen
Administrative Capers fourteen
Demonstrations and Strikes sixteen
Tila Kumari seventeen
Maya Gurseni eighteen
Shaktaman Ghale nineteen
Not Enough Money twenty
Too Much Work twenty-one
An Abundant Life afterword
Five Loaves and Two Fish
Posted January 23, 2000
Dr. Hale was a friend of our family in Nepal and in this book he will provide you with personal stories that will allow you to peer into the Nepali culture of the hills and not just the culture found in Kathmandu and other tourist areas. Humorous and inspiring...a pleasure to read.
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Posted January 3, 2012
What a fascinating peek inside the life of an American Surgeon in Nepal. I always really get enthused by learning about another's life from the inside, but I found this especially enjoyable since my father grew up in a foreign country, the son of missionaries and I grew up two blocks from a community of retired missionaries. Having worked in medicine most of my life as well, I could appreciate the medical intricacies also. Going from our life of plenty and excess into a society on the edge of survival is a type of culture shock I can only imagine. Add to that the desire to do your best for the Lord and the pressure becomes unimaginable I ached through the loss of every patient who died and cheered along when one was saved. A captivating book, full of personal insights and honest accounts of personal struggles. This is a special book. A must read for anyone considering missionary work.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 4, 2011
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