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Through disease, witchcraft and war, missionary nurses follow call to serve


Visiting Nigerian Christian Hospital several decades ago, I felt I was on holy ground, because it was set apart, unlike any mission work of Churches of Christ in the 1960s.

Traveling there with my cousin, Henry, who had been there as a missionary, made it special. I also remember two nurses from there, Iris Hays and Nancy Petty, visiting in our home in Jerusalem in 1967 on their way home on furlough. Their stories captured our hearts. I remember my mother saying, “Someone needs to write a book on this.” Someone has!

“A Time to Heal: Missionary Nurses in Churches of Christ, Southeastern Nigeria (1953-1967)” by Martha E. Farrar Highfield. 2020. 367 pages.

“A Time to Heal: Missionary Nurses in Churches of Christ, Southeastern Nigeria (1953-1967)” by Martha E. Farrar Highfield. 2020. 367 pages.

Sulis Academic Press recently published “A Time to Heal: Missionary Nurses in Churches of Christ, Southeastern Nigeria (1953-1967)” by Martha E. Farrar Highfield, the daughter of the founding doctor of the hospital, Dr. Henry Farrar. Highfield is a professor emeritus of nursing at California State University/Northridge and serves on the Board of the International Health Care Foundation/African Christian Hospitals.

As a missionary kid in Nigeria from 1964 to 1967, she observed her dad and her mother, Grace Farrar (also a nurse), devote themselves to giving spiritual and physical hope to hundreds in a region where there was only one physician for every 35,000 to 50,000 people. Today the hospital is staffed and governed by Nigerians.

The book has 33 chapters, a timeline of the medical mission from 1942 to 2020, hand-drawn maps, pictures, and many insightful stories — with data from private collections, personal communications, correspondence, diaries, interviews and publications. The stories of failures and successes leave the reader with timeless lessons on faithfulness and endurance.

The narratives of these nurses — Glenna Peden, Mary Kelton, Grace Farrar, Iris Hays and Nancy Petty — document their challenges, heroic commitments to God’s mission, care for people, humorous experience working cross-culturally and real-life issues in the face of an Asian flu, a measles epidemic or exhausting work.

Nigerian Christian Hospital, Nlagu, Road, Aba, Nigeria

Their small clinic would triage 180 to 250 people a day. The book shares stories of persistence as they treat people at their back door, equip local nurses and travel to serve 19 villages. They open a clinic and brave multiple challenges to establish a hospital. Their experiences highlight the faithfulness of God.

Highfield has gifted us with a priceless missiological legacy, capturing the difference a few faithful disciples of Christ can make when they follow their calling into an unknown world, through difficult team dynamics, inadequate support, tropical diseases, witchcraft, home sickness, attacks from Christians back home, government dysfunctions and wars.

You will want to read how “their only obligation was to do what they could,” as Highfield writes, and how “intentional health care saved evangelism.”

EVERTT W. HUFFARD is a professor emeritus of leadership and missions at Harding School of Theology in Memphis, Tenn. He serves as facilitator for church equipping for Mission Resource Network. He and his wife, Ileene, worship with the Millington Church of Christ in Tennessee.

Filed under: Africa book review Evangelism mission missionary Nigeria Reviews

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