While serving with Operation Mobilisation in India in 1967, tuberculosis forced me into a sanatorium for several months. I did not yet speak the language, but I tried to give Christian literature written in their own language to patients, doctors and nurses.
Being an international seminary student in America, and studying the Protestant Reformation in Germany, as well as more recent church history in England and America, made me realise how little I know about the Reformation in my own country of Finland.
Everyone refused — some politely, some rudely. I sensed many weren’t happy about an American (to them, all Americans are rich) being in a free, government-run sanatorium. They did not know I was just as broke as they were!
The first few nights I awoke around 2.00am coughing. One morning, during my coughing spell, I noticed one of the older, sicker patients across the aisle trying to get out of bed. He would sit up on the edge of his bed and try to stand, then in weakness fall back into bed. I did not understand what he was trying to do. He finally fell back into bed exhausted. I heard him crying softly.
The next morning, I realised that the man had been trying to get up and walk to the bathroom. The stench in the ward was awful. Other patients yelled insults at the man. Angry nurses moved him roughly from side to side as they cleaned up the mess. One nurse even slapped him. The old man curled into a ball and wept.
The next night I again woke up coughing. I noticed the man across the aisle sit up and again try to stand. Like the night before, he fell back whimpering. I don’t like bad smells, and I didn’t want to become involved, but I got out of bed and went over to him. When I touched his shoulder, his eyes opened wide with fear. I smiled, put my arms under him, and picked him up.
He was very light, due to old age and advanced TB. I carried him to the rest-room, which was just a small, filthy room with a hole in the floor. I stood behind him with my arms under his armpits as he took care of himself. After he finished, I picked him up and carried him back to his bed. As I laid him down, he kissed me on the cheek, smiled, and said something I couldn’t understand.
The next morning another patient woke me up and handed me a steaming cup of tea. He motioned with his hands that he wanted a tract. As the sun rose, other patients approached and indicated they also wanted the booklets that I had tried to distribute before. Throughout the day, nurses, interns and doctors also asked for literature.
Weeks later, an evangelist who spoke the language visited me and, as he talked to others in the sanatorium, he discovered that several already professed faith in Christ as Saviour as a result of reading the literature!
What did it take to reach these people with the gospel? It wasn’t health, the ability to speak their language, or a persuasive talk. I simply took a trip to the bathroom — anyone could have done it!
Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Evangelical Times in November 2012. It is well worth featuring here again. The author has served in global missions for nearly 47 years, of which 20 were in the Philippines.