Greetings From Nazareth: A short history of the Nazareth Hospital EMMS

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Things continue to go well. There's lots to do here and I am kept pretty busy - which I like.  I'Il share more about my time and daily life soon.

The history of how this hospital came to be is a story worth telling. It's foundations are based upon and continue to be in love for Christ and fellow man.

Medical treatment here in the early 19th century was part folk remedies that worked & part procedures that didn't work & could even cause harm.   The Ottoman Empire offered little healthcare and allowed local religious institutions to operate fairly freely.

The American medical missionary, Peter Parker, served in China and traveled the world to raise funds and awareness. In 1941, he visited Edinburgh and inspired Dr. John Abercrombie to found the Edinburgh Medical Missionary Society (EMMS).  Their aim was partly to "give intelligent proofs of the nature and practical operation of the spirit of love which, as the fruit of our holy religion, we desire to see diffused among all nations."

In 1835, Pakradooni Kaloost Vartan was born in Constantinople to an Armenian embroiderer and his wife. Upon the death of his father, P.K. Vartan trained to become a translator. That training led him to work with the Turkish army in the Crimean War (which incidentally began as a dispute over holy sites in Palestine).  Medical conditions were deplorable. Soldiers were left in their fighting clothes and most deaths were caused by hospital conditions rather than war wounds.  This is where Florence Nightingale first improved sanitation and greatly reduced the death rate. Perhaps these conditions and her example inspired Vartan to study medicine.

He chose the highly respected medical school in Edinburgh that was established in 1726.  Initial funding came from the wealthy aunt of a British Army general. Upon her death, EMMS paid for him to complete his schooling in 1861.  Following an invitation from the Anglican Episcopal Mission, he left for Nazareth.

In December, 1861, he rented a house and immediately began work on "the diagnosis and treatment of disease and the dealing with patients on the concern of the soul."  He was the first medical missionary for the EMMS and was assisted by the local Anglican priest.  In spite of local resistance to new medicine and Evangelical missionaries, Vartan saw 15,000 patients during his first five years there.

While on a fundraising trip to Britain, he married Mary Anne Stuart, a Scottish nurse. She was a fitting partner for his missionary and medical work. Immediately after their wedding, they left to serve in Nazareth. Their lives were not easy. Only five of their ten children survived.  Mrs. Vartan helped create "a neat, fastidiously clean, well-aired house, with admirable contrivances for protecting patients from noise, and the glaring rays of the sun."

By 1874, Vartan saw 50-60 outpatients daily, visited local villages on horseback twice/week and cared for 9-10 patients in the hospital that was also partly his home.  He dreamed of building a proper hospital but had many financial and governmental obstacles.  Eventually a location was secured largely with funds from a bazaar held in Edinburgh.  In 1904, Dr. John Scrimgeour came to assist, and ultimately succeed Vartan.

The "hospital on the hill" was taken over by Turkish authorities when they allied themselves with the Germans in WW1.  The hospital administration was restored in 1919 but the building had suffered greatly. Scrimgeour launched a restoration fund and the new hospital was inaugurated in 1924.  More building was completed in 1931 and electricity was installed in 1935. Patient numbers, building facilities and staff continued to increase.  Like today, they served Christians, Moslems, Jews, and anyone without regard to religion.

Nurse training had been part of the operations since early days.  The mission hospital was recognized in 1919 under the British government mandate as one of the 13 hospitals for training nurses.

Now, the "English Hospital," as it is called by locals, is the general hospital for the area.  The parking lot is full.  It thrives with all sorts of medical care and the support modern technology/quality standards require.  The chaplain and new spiritual director both seem to be kept very busy. There's a pilot program coming where patients can privately listen to solar-powered devices for health care tips and the Bible. This place continues to work for the health of both the body and the spirit.

Love to all, Laurie.