Mary Slessor of Calabar (Nigeria) – Pioneer Missionary

Free Book Recommendation!

Dear Readers,

Since I mentioned Mary Slessor last post, I decided to republish this about her life.  It’s now a free book on Kindle, so I hope you are blessed in reading about this heroine of mine.

by W.P. Livingstone

I have been reading it this time through the lens of life experiences since I have now visited several “third world” countries, including jungles, and can better appreciate the hardships she endured. She had such passion to give the wonderful good news of Jesus Christ to cannibal jungle tribes in Nigeria from 1876-1915, and endured much physically and emotionally as she trusted God to transform the people by His power.

Mary Slessor- a Scottish single lady who devoted her life to reaching the cannibal tribes in Nigeria

Challenged by the life of David Livingstone, Mary Slessor offered her services as a missionary in Calabar, Nigeria. Arriving there when she was 28 years old, she overcame her fears and inexperience with a genuine love for the people and shared with them the hope of the resurrection through faith in Jesus Christ. Earning the nickname “White Ma” she became mother to many adopted children and never failed to preach the love of Christ to all she met. Many times she was ill with fever from malaria, but God renewed her strength repeatedly so she could carry on the work.

The natives believed that any mother who gave birth to twins must be cast out and the twins be killed immediately. Mary rescued many twins and raised them herself to demonstrate the love of Christ to them.

Mary Slessor with some of her beloved adopted children.

She worked long hours as a mill worker in Scotland before coming to Nigeria in 1876. She was a diligent student of the Bible although she never received any formal training herself. When no worker could be found to go with her into the jungle, she went alone with some natives, trusting God to open doors. She wrote in a letter home in 1888, “I am going to a new tribe up-country, a fierce, cruel people, and every one tells me that they will kill me. But I don’t fear any hurt –only to combat their savage customs will require courage and firmness on my part.”

Even though she was not a formally trained nurse, she did what she could to relieve the people’s sufferings who usually went to the witch doctor when ill. In 1896, she decided to move further up the river with her many adopted children since most of the tribe had moved there. However, there was much sickness among the children by an infectious disease which caused the death of four of them. To make matters worse, smallpox then swept through the country, killing hundreds of people. For hours daily she vaccinated all who came to her hut. A man from the mission downriver arrived when her supply of lymph had run out and assisted her to take blood with a penknife from the arms of those who had already been inoculated so they could inoculate more.

She returned to her old house and converted it into a hospital, and people flocked to it. When she heard her beloved Christian chief Edim caught the smallpox in the new village, she tramped back alone through the jungle to nurse him, but it was in vain.  The Lord took him home to heaven in the middle of the night. Since she had no one to help her, she fashioned a coffin with her own hands, placed his body in it, dug a grave, and buried him.

Mary with Chief Edem who later died of smallpox

Two white Christian men arrived from the Mission House down river to help, and she asked one of them to go back to her old house to gather some supplies. When he arrived in the village, all was total silence and he knew something was wrong. He opened the door of her house to find it full of corpses of those who had died from small pox. The place was never fit for habitation again, and gradually was engulfed in bush and vanished from the face of the earth.

Later in her life, the British government appointed her as Vice Consul because of her unique command of the native language, her understanding of their customs, and the great respect and love the people gave her. People would flock to her from miles around so she could preside as judge over their cases. Sometimes her judgement was to assign hard labor for 1 to 3 months, while other times she would box the person’s ears! This was a huge change from when they would administer the poison bean to some while pouring boiling oil over others. Previously, whenever a chief died, they would kill many of his wives and children to serve him in the afterlife. As more and more became Christians, the twin killing and killing among the tribes gradually stopped.

Mary presiding at Okoyong Court

So I hope I have told you enough to whet your appetite to read or reread this classic biography. You will be blessed, amazed, and challenged as you see how God used this humble little Scottish single lady to transform  tribes of cannibals through the power of Jesus Christ! Her image is now on the 10 pound note in Scotland.

Mary's image on the 10 pound note of Scotland!

“and ye shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” Acts 1:8

Modern day photo of Cross River, Nigeria where Mary labored.

A Mother of None or Many?

May, 2001

After examining me, my gynecologist gently said, “Pam, I’m afraid you need to have a hysterectomy. I don’t want to let you keep bleeding like this and ending up with an emergency situation.” I choked back the tears and replied, “Is there any way I could be on a different floor so I don’t have to see the new babies?” Dr. Sally said, “No, because the nurses on the other floors aren’t familiar with post operative care of gynecology patients. But I will make sure you have a private room as far away from the nursery as possible so you don’t hear the babies cry. The surgical staff will call you with the date.”

Upon arriving home, the tears flowed as I poured out my heart to God. I know that I am too old to have a baby at the age of 46, nor would I have the energy to run after a toddler, but I grieve for all the children I never had. My pastor has been preaching an excellent series of messages on how to handle trials, so this is my opportunity to learn all I can from this difficult exercise. He said to start by thanking God for the trial. I recited the familiar verse, “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” I Thessalonians 5:18 God brought another verse to mind. “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9 

As I continued in prayer, I asked the Lord to teach me all the lessons He could from this trial, to comfort me, and to help me to think rightly from His point of view and not my own. I decided to do a Bible word study of “barren” since that is the word the Bible uses for women who cannot have children. Over the next weeks, whenever I read an encouraging verse, I wrote it in bold black ink (so I could read it through my tears) on an index card. Every morning I read through my growing stack of “comfort verses” and hid them in my heart. The ones that encouraged me the most were Isaiah 54:1 and 5.

Sing, O barren, thou who didst not bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, thou who didst not travail with child; for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the Lord….For thy Maker is thine husband, the Lord of hosts is His name; and Thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel; The God of the whole earth shall He be called.”

I noticed the command to the barren was to SING rather than cry, so I started singing whenever I felt like crying. God always lifted the clouds away after I sang to Him. I also noticed that there is no limit to the number of spiritual children I can have. I just finished reading Amy Carmichael’s biography. She started an orphanage in India and became the spiritual mother to 1000 children! I recalled how Gladys Aylward went to China as a single lady and became the mother of many orphans and led them to safety over the mountains during World War 2. Mary Slessor adopted abandoned children in the African jungles. (see post on Mary Slessor )

Surgery

This is my first time to stay overnight in a hospital as a patient. I’m a little apprehensive as I’ve always heard that nurses and doctors make the worst patients. It feels strange to be the one receiving care rather than giving it. I am so thankful that my sister flew in from the Midwest to be with me. She is also a nurse and a Christian. God quieted my heart as we prayed together this morning and asked the Lord to give the doctor wisdom and to give me a good recovery.

I barely remember being rolled on the stretcher from the recovery room to my nice big private room at the end of the hallway far from the nurse’s station. They gave me a clear liquid tray for supper which promptly came back up. Yuck! What a mess… The pain isn’t too bad for which I thank God. My sister was hesitant to leave me because she wasn’t sure I could call for the nurse because I was so groggy.

The night nurse woke me up this morning and said she had to put the catheter back in my bladder since I was unable to urinate. I was under anesthesia the last time they did it. I recalled how many of these I have placed inside my patients over the years.

Tonight I’m feeling better and could eat solid food for supper, but sleep is escaping me. I decided to walk down the hallway and look at the babies in the nursery. As I looked through the window at each baby, I prayed for each one to receive Christ as his Savior and for his parents to look to God for wisdom in raising him. I thank the Lord for each precious new baby.

Reflection

A few months later, I was asked to share all the lessons God taught me through this exercise with ladies’ groups at several different churches. A number of women who were unable to bear children came up to me afterwards and said the lessons I had learned were a blessing and encouragement to them. I also typed in large print all the “Comfort Verses” God gave me at this time. I have handed out hundreds of these to others who are sorrowing and many have said how God used these verses to encourage and comfort them.

Bible Verses the Lord gave me prior to surgery which encouraged my heart.

http://www.middletownbiblechurch.org/christia/verses.htm   

Above is the link if you would like to print out your own copy. I carry a copy of these verses in my purse so I’m ready for the next time I encounter a difficult situation.

Since my mother died of breast cancer and my sister also had aggressive breast cancer several years ago, I decided to have the doctor remove my ovaries at the same time that she removed my uterus. The genetic counselor told me I had a 50% chance of having breast cancer. Many women who have breast cancer also have ovarian cancer.

About ten years later, I had repeat genetic counseling. They said because I had my ovaries removed, I reduced my chance of breast cancer to 3% and eliminated ever getting ovarian cancer.  Little did I know that I would lower my risk of cancer so much by having my ovaries removed at that time. Truly, God’s ways are higher than my ways. My sister, Marsha Swinehart, later developed ovarian cancer and the Lord took her home to be with Him nearly two years ago. I miss her so much, but am thankful she is no longer suffering and experiencing wonderful fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ. That will be a wonderful day when we are reunited at His throne!

I thank God that He has given me a number of spiritual children over the years, and I pray that He will give me many more before He calls me home to heaven. It is so wonderful that I am never too old to bear spiritual children!

 

My Nursing Thesis Published!

September, 1998 – New England, USA

After I completed my thesis in graduate school, my advisers encouraged me to submit an article summarizing my research findings for publication. The unwieldy title of my thesis was, “Coping Strategies of Successful Caregivers of Nonambulatory Family Members”. Nonambulatory means that the person is unable to walk.

My parents and one of my patients that I had followed as a visiting nurse inspired me to do the research. After my mother had a major stroke which left her paralyzed on one side and with the mind of a ten year old, my dad stepped up to the plate and cheerfully became her full time caregiver. He had to assist her in the shower, dress her, learn to style her hair, do the grocery shopping, cooking, driving, and pay the bills. Prior to her stroke, my mother was an avid artist and gardener. She grieved that she could no longer do these hobbies. The Lord took her home to heaven to be with Him five years after her stroke. I thanked God that she was no longer suffering.

“…Death is swallowed up in victory….But thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” I Corinthians 15:54, 57

My parents were my inspiration for my research.

Another patient I visited at home was an elderly lady who was paralyzed from the waist down from a blood clot that went to her spine. Her husband faithfully learned how to provide all her care and purchased a van equipped with a wheel chair lift. He struggled at times with sadness over his wife’s loss of many abilities, but he did all the household tasks and driving. Other patients with similar disabilities ended up being admitted to a nursing home because their caregiver simply couldn’t cope with all the extra responsibilities.

During my research, I interviewed nine caregivers of family members who were unable to walk and then summarized their problems and coping strategies. I repeated similar research that was done with caregivers of home hospice patients to see if they had the same problems and used the same or different coping strategies. Comparison of the two groups showed they only had one problem in common (stress) and three coping strategies (social support, cognitive reformulation, and respite). I developed an educational handout for nurses to give new caregivers of family members who were unable to walk.

I submitted my research article to The Nurse Practitioner journal and was thrilled when they accepted part of it for publication.  They condensed my year of research and 48 page thesis into THREE paragraphs. Such is the world of publishing… They included it under Practice Pointers and named it Lending a hand to caregivers.

If you need to counsel a caregiver of a family member who has recently lost the ability to walk, use these suggestions to ease the load. First, tell him not to try to give care alone, but to ask for and accept help from family, friends, and health care professionals. To relieve stress, suggest that he try exercise, massage, eating out, music, prayer, reading, and napping.

Make sure he asks a physical therapist for assistance in choosing a wheelchair, if his family member can use one. Suggest using cordless and cellular phones, a lifeline necklace, and a pager to communicate with his loved ones when the caregiver is out of the house.

Finally, when traveling, recommend the caregiver pack a travel kit with a list of medications, provider phone numbers, straws, wipes, and other supplies.”

Reflection

I can’t recall the last time I saw a lay person use a pager, and cordless land lines are disappearing rapidly. Cell phones are commonplace now, but they were rare in 1998.

After I entered the full time work world as a nurse practitioner, life seemed to become too busy to continue to do research. However, I have participated in the Nurse’s Health Study 2 since 1989 conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health. Their findings collected from surveys every two years of thousands of nurses have contributed significantly to women’s health. http://nurseshealthstudy.org If you are a nurse and you were born after 1964 and live in the USA, they are looking for participants to join Nurse’s Health Study 3. I hope you will do so and continue this wonderful research that was begun in 1979!

Happy Birthday, Florence Nightingale!!!

Happy Birthday, Florence Nightingale!!!

Today we celebrate the life of Florence Nightingale, the mother of modern nursing who was born in Florence, Italy, on May 12, 1820. She was also called “The lady with the lamp” and was known for her contribution to her profession as a nurse.

Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing.

Her wealthy family did not support her choice of career. One doctor told her father, “Some of the nursing is done by drunken prostitutes who were given the option in the police courts of going to prison or to the hospital.” But she defied all odds to not just become successful at nursing but to revolutionize it entirely.

During the Crimean War, she and a team of nurses improved the unsanitary conditions at a hospital on a British base in Scutari, Turkey, greatly reducing the number of deaths.  She described in her journal the horrific conditions that greeted them. “We have four miles of beds eighteen inches apart. We are steeped to our necks in blood. Eleven men died in the night simply from exhaustion, which, humanly speaking, might have been stopped could I have laid my hand on such nourishment as I knew they ought to have had.” She and her nurses soon set up a diet kitchen, purchasing food for the soldiers from her own funds. Her next problem was the hospital laundry. Only six shirts were being washed per month for the thousand or more wounded because the rate of theft was high. Again, using her own money, she rented a nearby house, had boilers installed, and hired the soldiers’ wives to wash clothes. Then she purchased 10,000 shirts for the soldiers since they literally only had the shirts on their backs when they landed in the Crimea, thinking the war would only last one day. Florence made sure the old vermin infested blood soaked clothing was burned.

She was known to work for 20 hours without stopping for a rest. As she made her midnight rounds with her lantern, the soldiers saluted her in appreciation for all her care. Longfellow immortalized this nightly tour in his well known poem in which he speaks of Florence as “the lady with the lamp.”

Lo! In that hour of misery, A lady with a lamp I see

Pass through the glimmering gloom, And flit from room to room.

And slow, as in a dream of bliss, The speechless sufferer turns to kiss

Her shadow as it falls Upon the darkening walls.

After the war ended in 1856, she returned to England and was given a heroine’s welcome, much to her surprise. She insisted on compiling statistics to present to the government to improve the conditions for their soldiers. Seven times more men died from disease than from battle wounds. She won her battle with Parliament, and in 1858 they provided the funds to ventilate and heat the barracks, introduce a sewer system, remodel the kitchens, and use gas lights rather than candles. To safeguard the soldiers’ moral health, she built reading and recreational rooms, coffee shops, and lecture halls.

In 1859, she published her Notes on Nursing which became an international bestseller worldwide.  Her Notes on Nursing were used to guide the nurses during the Civil War in the United States which began in 1860.

In appreciation for all the lives of the wounded British soldiers that she and her team of nurses treated, Queen Victoria awarded her $250,000. Florence used this money to establish St. Thomas’ Hospital and the Nightingale Training School for Nurses in London in 1860. Fifteen students were admitted to the school on the condition that they would serve in public hospitals and infirmaries.

She was an invalid the last 40 years of her life, but she wrote and published a number of papers during that time. She reflected, “Wretch that I was not to see that God taking from me all human help in order to compel me to lean on Him alone. O Lord, even now I am trying to snatch the management of Thy world out of Thy hands… Too little have I looked for something better and higher than Thy work, the work of Supreme Wisdom… O God, to Thy glory, not to mine, whatever happens, may be all my thought.”

“Whether, therefore, ye eat, or drink, or whatever ye do, do all to the glory of God…not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.” I Corinthians 10:31, 33

The “Lady with the lamp” died in London, on Aug. 13, 1910 and was buried in a simple family grave as she requested.

(All quotes taken from “Florence Nightingale” by Basil Miller, Bethany House Publishers, 1947, 1975)

Overwhelmed in Chemistry Class

College Freshman – September, 1973

” When my heart is overwhelmed, lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” Psalm 61:2 ” …and that Rock was Christ.” I Corinthians 10:4

I entered my nursing adviser’s office and sat down. “Mrs. M, I signed up for pre-medicine chemistry rather than pre-nursing chemistry this quarter because I liked chemistry in high school. But the professor covered everything I learned in high school in the first two lectures! I am totally lost in the lectures and feel like I’m in over my head. Do you have any suggestions?”

Chemistry Lab

Chemistry Lab
-photo by S. Rao-used with permission.

Mrs. M reviewed how I needed to get an A or B in pre-nursing chemistry to have any hope of being accepted into the school of nursing next fall. Last year, 800 freshman applied for the 200 openings, so it is very competitive. She advised me to drop pre-med chemistry and sign up for pre-nursing chemistry winter quarter instead which was taught at a slower pace. She said I could still register for sociology this quarter so I wouldn’t fall behind in my prerequisite courses.

December, 1973

I followed Mrs. M’s advice and had a fairly easy first quarter of 18 hours credit: Psychology – 5 hours, Sociology – 5 hours, Music History – 5 hours, Introduction to Nursing – 2 hours, and Horseback Riding – 1 hour. I really enjoyed all my classes and learned my way around the gigantic campus after a couple weeks. We had 12 minutes between classes, so I rode my bike sometimes so I wasn’t late. I loved to hear the melodic bells chime from the tower at noon as I crossed campus, especially when they played beautiful hymns!

I was richly blessed by attending the weekly campus Bible class and traveling one hour to the Bible Church  for worship services on Sundays with the other students. On Wednesday nights, we handed out gospel tracts outdoors in nice weather, or inside the dormitories during cold or rainy weather. I always asked the Lord for boldness, love, and wisdom in giving out His precious gospel. Sometimes the students were receptive, and other times they slammed the door in our faces or argued with us. It was quite the learning experience! Afterward we met together to share our experiences and pray for the people to receive Christ as their personal Savior.

I also started a Bible class for the girls in my dormitory. Only a few attended, but I was blessed in studying the gospel of John to prepare for it. How I thank God for bringing me here to this University, a huge mission field with students from every state and many countries around the world. This has been the most exciting time in my life!

Reflection

The Lord was very kind and gracious to give me an easy first quarter academically. It was quite the culture shock for this country girl to adjust to a big city of over one million people which surrounded the University of 50,000+ students. By God’s grace, I received an A the next quarter in chemistry and was accepted into the school of nursing!

I still use chemistry daily when I interpret my patients’ laboratory results, prescribe medications, and develop their plan of care. I understand now why the school of nursing emphasized the chemistry grade, because it indicated if a person had critical thinking skills which is essential for a nurse. When I contemplate all the delicate chemical balances within our human bodies, I praise God, the Chief Chemist, that He created us so marvelously!

“I will praise Thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Marvelous are Thy works, and that my soul knows right well.” Psalm 139:14

One Scary Night – Nursing Assistant

August, 1973 – Midwest, USA

“When I am afraid, I will trust in Thee.” Psalm 56:3

One Scary Night! (photo by R. Spearrin-used with permission)

One Scary Night!
(photo by R. Spearrin-used with permission)

Vera, the other nursing assistant, was working with me that night at the nursing home, and we had just finished our lunch at 3 a.m.  It felt good to sit in the patient lounge for a few minutes to rest our feet as we chatted. We had wrapped the silverware, and finished our first diaper rounds and bed baths. She picked up her purse and pulled out a small revolver!

“Pam, my dog told me to bring my gun to work tonight. She said the evil men may attack us tonight and that I should be prepared.”

I stared wide eyed at her since I had only seen policemen carry revolvers. I stammered, “Y-y-y-your dog talks to you?”

“Oh yes, she talks with me every day. She’s my best friend!”

“Vera, please put your gun away. I’m going to check on the patients in the other hall way,” and I quickly walked to the other end of the building as I prayed,

Dear Lord, Please don’t let Vera shoot anyone tonight. And please keep those evil men away from us tonight. Put a hedge around us and protect us. In Jesus’ Name, Amen

I realized I didn’t know the number of the police to call if the “bad men” showed up since this was the next town over from ours. I continued to check on the patients and sat and read my Bible during my next break. I decided to avoid Vera the rest of the night.

At 5 a.m. I began going room to room to fill each patient’s water pitcher with fresh ice water. I was still deep in thought about Vera and her talking dog and loaded gun as I walked into my last patient’s room. All of a sudden, she screamed,  leaped out of bed, and lunged for me! I turned and ran out of her room and down to the end of the hallway as fast as I could, my heart racing! I stopped and turned around, but all was quiet. I waited a few minutes and asked the Lord for courage. I slowly walked back down to her room and peaked around the corner. She was back in bed fast asleep. I decided to wait and fill her water pitcher after the day shift arrived. After the sun rose, I walked in her room, and opened her blinds.   She opened her eyes and smiled sweetly at me. I exhaled a sigh of relief that the night was over.

Reflection 

I never saw Vera again after that night. Years later I worked as a Nurse Practitioner in a psychiatric hospital and learned much more about psychosis (being out of reality) and auditory hallucinations (hearing voices). Vera was likely mentally ill and very paranoid that night. Today, there are many effective medications for psychosis, but in the 1970’s there were only a couple available.

When growing up, I don’t recall anyone ever being murdered in my town or hearing about workplace violence. We only had the newspaper for local news, so I led a rather sheltered life in the country. I really had no idea how much danger we were in that night if Vera would have started shooting imaginary “evil men”. We were very isolated among the cornfields, and 9-1-1 did not exist in those days.  But God clearly was my refuge and strength that night and protected us! I love Psalm 46:1- God is our refuge and strength, a very PRESENT help in trouble.

Prayer for Our Veterans

Nurse Case Manager

I dialed the phone and on the third ring, an elderly man answered in a deep gravelly voice. “Hello?”

“Hi, Mr. G, I am your nurse case manager from the veterans’ clinic and work with your doctor. Your veterans’ clinic home care  nurse said that you came back to your assisted living apartment from the nursing home today, so Welcome Home!”

Mr. G. sadly replied, “I wish I was still in the nursing home. They were so nice to me there. I won’t take any pills until my nurse, Jane, comes here and puts them in my pill box!”

“Mr. G, I’m afraid the nurse from Medicare has to see you for a few weeks first until you are stable, and then Jane will be back.”

“But I don’t like the Medicare nurse! I love Jane. She’s wonderful! I fought in World War II for this country and gave this country the best years of my life. If it weren’t for guys like me, you would be speaking German or Japanese right now! I should be given the nurse I want! Why are you dumping me now???” he shouted into the phone.

I took a deep breath and prayed silently, “Dear Lord, give me the right words for this dear veteran. Help me to explain the rules to him.” “Mr. G, Jane is not allowed to see you twice a week like you need right now. She is only permitted to see you once or twice a month after you are stable for health maintenance visits. Please let the other nurse come to visit you for a few weeks, and then Jane will come back. If you don’t like the Medicare nurse, call me and I will ask the agency to send a different nurse.”

“Well, OK. If that’s how it has to be. I’m so lonely ever since my wife died and went to heaven to be with the Lord. I’ll be glad when I see the Lord Jesus Christ and her again. Thank you for your help, Pam. You’re OK! Could I tell you one more thing? God loves you, and so do I!”

My eyes filled with tears. “I love you too, Mr G.” I slowly hung up the phone and prayed,

Dear Father, Thank you for all our veterans who served our country. Thank You for the freedom I have in the USA. Bless and strengthen and protect our troops right now around the world. I pray that each one would look to you and receive Jesus Christ as their personal Savior. Amen.

Thank You, Lord, for our Veterans!

Thank You, Lord, for our Veterans!

Reflection

Mr G. died the next year at the age of 93. I thank the Lord for him and our other veterans that I might enjoy the freedom I have here in the USA. As a nurse case manager working for the federal government, it was sometimes very challenging to explain the complex rules and insurance regulations of the various programs available to veterans. As we honor our veterans here in the USA on November 11, I pray God would bless and strengthen them.

I also pray that we would all be good soldiers of the cross for the Lord Jesus Christ as we are in a spiritual warfare daily. May we be able to echo with the Apostle Paul, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith; Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day; and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing.” 2 Timothy 4:7-8