Making Doctors and Nurses for Jesus: Evangelical Children and Mythical Mission Lands

Speaker: Categories: Jan 12, 2002


[55min, 59sec / 49min, 19sec]


"I'm gonna be a missionary doctor when I grow up."

"Well I'm gonna be a missionary nurse on one of those boats en the Amazon or someplace."

"I'm gonna help heal heathen people in those far away mission lands!"

Sound familiar? Did your son or daughter make such a commitment to a career choice, perhaps even at a very young age? If so, what prompted such decision making?

How about you, might you also have uttered such words in the days of your childhood or youth? If so, what might have prompted you to make such a commitment to a career choice?

And how did the factors, which prompted such decisions, color ones perspectives of the people and culture of these mission lands?

Rennie Schoepflin, our first Forum presenter for 2002, notes that a resurgence of scholarly interest in Christian missions has developed over the last several decades, fueled by both a first and third world interest in post-colonial studies. This work, conducted by scholars in a wide variety of disciplines, including anthropology, history, sociology, religious studies, and cultural studies, has enriched our understanding of what missions and missionaries meant to both"sending"and"receiving"cultures. But it has also made clearer the variety of cultural artifacts, often unnoticed, that were exchanged in these cross-cultural"missionary"encounters. American foreign missionaries, for example, took more than"Jesus"to the heathen; they exported much of their protestant-republican-capitalist culture as well. And they returned home with a variety of exotic objects and ideas tucked away inside their baggage and"mission stories."

"Among the things progressive-era American missionaries took with them to foreign lands,"states Dr. Schoepflin,"scientific medicine often stood out. My paper will describe and analyze the nature and content of a representative sample of the medical missionary stories told to evangelical, Christian children. Furthermore, I will argue that such stories influenced these children's image ofmythic mission lands, formed their understanding of the role that medical doctors and nurses intended that scientific medicine should play inheathen lands, and biased their view of the values, worldviews, and cultures of peoples whovisited witch doctors and prayed to the devilwhen they became ill. And all of this while at the same time these stories reinforced a dominant message of American culture that asserted the superiority of western, American values and world views."

Based on what January's San Diego Adventist Forum speaker has alleged, it would appear that becoming a doctor or nursefor Jesusmight have included far more than healing the sick!


Rennie B. Schoepflin, Ph.D., is associate professor of history and chair of the department of history, politics, and society at La Sierra University in Riverside California. He has conducted workshops and published numerous articles on the contemporary and historical relationships between health and culture. Of particular note has been his exploration of the interactions among alternative healing, religious healing, and modem scientific medicine. He is author ofLives on Trial: Christian Science Healers in America(Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002). His interest in multicultural issues also has led him to develop college-level curricular innovations for general education that seek to combine the resources available through multicultural thinking and acting, with critical thinking and a dedication to responsible community service. He currently is director of the Institute for Cultural Exchange at La Sierra University.

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