By Herbert N. Giebel ’88 and Gail Giebel
Lessons in Africa
We hope we made a positive difference in our years working at the Seventh-day Adventist hospital in Ile-Ife, Nigeria. What we know for sure is that serving in Africa helped us grow! We learned (slowly) to let go of our natural selfishness and of the joy that comes from sharing what you have, even your shampoo and toothpaste. We learned that you don’t have to know how to read to be wise. We learned that a place can look completely uninhabited, but if you are either giving something away or needing help, people will materialize out of thin air. We learned that more people can fit in a car and in a house than we thought possible. We learned that it isn’t equipment and medical supplies that bring healing. We learned that war doesn’t make sense. We learned that the job you are called to do gives you credibility, but what you do in the community on your own time is what gives you fulfillment. We learned that fear is the same in any language, but, fortunately, so is love. We learned that sharing Jesus and bringing hope gives one more joy than anything else. We learned that “home” can truly be anywhere. And then, we learned that it is harder to leave than it ever was to go.
Serving in India
Six years ago, after 16 years in Nigeria, we were asked to transfer to Christian Medical College (CMC) in Vellore, India. We had never thought of working in India either! We quickly found that Africa and India do have some similarities: both countries have interesting wildlife, both are hot places to live, both places have lots of people, both places have dangerous roads, and both places have vibrant, intelligent students. We learned they also have many differences.
Probably one of the biggest differences for us is the work place. The hospital in Nigeria is a 100-bed hospital which never had enough equipment or supplies or staff but still provided the best care it possibly could with love and hope. CMC is like a giant compared to that little hospital. Its main hospital has more than 2,700 beds with hundreds of doctors (in most of the clinical and non-clinical specialties of medicine), residents, interns, and students. Before COVID-19 arrived, over 9,000 clinic visits were made in the different outpatient clinics every day. Fortunately, CMC is filled with love and hope too.
History of CMC
All of this began with the impact that three knocks on the door had on a 20-year-old Ida Scudder. Ida’s grandfather, Dr. John Scudder, was the first American medical missionary to India. Her father was one of John’s six surviving sons and two daughters, all of whom became medical missionaries in southern India. Ida grew up witnessing the effects of disease and famine that killed thousands and decided she did not want to do anything medical, and she definitely did not want to stay in India. While studying in Massachusetts, Ida made plans to marry a rich man so she wouldn’t have to work and could enjoy life in America. Then her mother became ill, and her father asked her to return to India to care for her.
One night, as her mother was recovering, there were three knocks on the Scudder home door. Ida answered each of the knocks. The first was a Brahmin man who told her that his young wife was in labor and needed help. She said she would get her doctor father and he said, “No, no man can look upon my wife. You come.” She explained that she knew nothing about delivering babies, and he finally left, saying that it was better for his wife to die than to have a man come and help her. Responding to the second knock, she found a Muslim man with the same story. Incredibly, later that night Ida answered the door a third time to find a high-class Hindu man who had the same story and made the same request.
The next morning, on learning that all three of the women and their babies had died during childbirth, Ida was convicted of the need for trained women physicians in India. She studied medicine in the United States and returned to India where she opened a one-bed hospital in Vellore in 1900. In 1902 she opened a 40-bed hospital. In 1909 Ida began training nurses, and in 1918 she began training female physicians. As she raised money to build the medical school she said, “We are not building a medical school. We are building the kingdom of God.”
Today, CMC operates a network of primary, secondary, tertiary, and quaternary care hospitals with approximately 4,500 beds in eight campuses in and around Vellore. The emphasis is still on training, and currently there are 22 undergraduate degree courses offered in medicine, nursing, and the allied health sciences in addition to 11 diploma courses. There are also 148 postgraduate courses. This year the school of medicine was honored (as it has been many times in the past) to be named the second best medical school in India. A unique aspect of CMC is that all graduates must serve a bond period at the mission hospital that sent them to study at or within CMC.
Many Loma Linda graduates have served at CMC, making a lasting impact on the work of this institution. Somehow, we were privileged to join this group. Herb was asked to be part of a team to develop a lifestyle medicine program as the focus of one of the medicine units. Currently, he coordinates the training in lifestyle medicine for interns, residents, and medical students. He also gives research guidance to those with lifestyle medicine topics. This is in addition to his involvement in seeing patients both in the outpatient and inpatient settings.
Both of us enjoy being involved in mentoring the Seventh-day Adventist students who are part of CMC’s training programs. Schools in India operate on a six-day study week, Monday through Saturday. CMC is the only professional school in India to make concessions so that Seventh-day Adventist students are able to keep the Sabbath.
CMC’S Response to COVID-19
In 1922, Ida told graduating nurses,
You will not only be curing diseases but will also be battling with epidemics, plagues, and pestilences and preventing them. … You must learn to be cool, collected, and quiet; to have presence of mind; rapid thought and action in the most trying circumstances. You must learn to have wise judgment in moments of great peril. … Practice and experience will train you to have firmness and courage. Do not always look for gratitude, for sometimes when you are most deserving, you will get the least. … There are the valleys into which you descend, but stand up bravely, be true and keep on climbing. Face trials with a smile, with head erect and calm exterior. If you are fighting for the right and for a true principle, be calm and sure and keep on until you win!
Today, these words are part of the preamble to the CMC COVID-19 treatment guidelines. When news of the new virus began to circulate in January 2020, CMC began to plan its response. By the time the declaration of a pandemic was made, CMC had protocols and plans in place and became one of the first private institutions in India to be approved as a COVID-19 testing and treatment center. Over 25,000 tests have been performed at CMC so far. Currently, there are 830 level 1 and 2 beds for isolation and care of patients with mild to moderate symptoms. There are 80 ICU beds for those who require intensive care, with 65 ventilators available. By September 23, 2020, CMC had admitted more than 6,500 patients with COVID-19, and 85 percent of those have recovered and been discharged.
Recently, CMC was recognized by the Consortium of Accredited Healthcare Organizations for having the best workplace safety during the pandemic in the large hospital category (over 600 beds). Praise God, though a number of the CMC staff have been infected with COVID-19, and some even required ICU care, all have recovered.
There is no sign yet that India has reached a peak in COVID-19 cases. With the lifting of many travel restrictions, it is likely that the number of cases will increase. There are still many challenges ahead. However, there is no challenge too big for God. Our time in medical ministry in both Africa and India has taught us that God can always be trusted.
CMC’s motto is, “Not to be ministered unto, but to minister.” Ida did that until she died in India at the age of 89. India has taught us that it’s not about whether we have electricity, or if we like the food or weather, or what our salary is, or how people treat us. What matters is that we obey God’s command to go and serve. We are privileged to be part of the worldwide team that is building the kingdom of God. How grateful we are to be alumni of Loma Linda, a training center that fostered in us the desire to do just that and continues to support us in our service.
Pictured with their daughters, Dr. Giebel and his wife, Gail, currently serve in Vellore, India. He holds specialties in preventive medicine, lifestyle medicine, and family practice.