Rehoboth Mission Hospital – Obsolete or Indispensable?

“You have made possible a beginning what now? Shall we drew back? Shall we proceed at the same speed? Shall we quicken our pace? Shan we not make an all out effort to possess the land?” Sentiments such as these taken from an article written by Missionary William Kosten of Formosa in writing about the Taiwan Mission (cf. The Banner, March 22, 1963 ), came to my mind here in Rehoboth Mission Hospital, where I have the privilege of serving as medical doctor for six weeks while there is no permanent medical director. The reason for the sentiment is the possible closing of the hospital, which has served the Navajo Indians and mission personnel for over fifty years. Except for occasional short periods of closure, the hospital has given medical care to the Indians up until the time Dr. Bas left over two years ago, at about the time that a two-hundred bed government hospital for Indians was opened in Gallup, six miles from Rehoboth.

During this time the hospital has developed an enviable reputation and a high degree of confidence, even among the rulers of the Navajo tribe. Patients come for more than one hundred miles for medical care. On several occasions, when looking at the distant address, I have asked them w1w they did not go to a government hospital or doctor nearer to them, and invariably I received the answer, “Because this is a Christian Hospital and I know I’ll get care by Christians. This place has our confidence and we want to come here.” We have even taken care of Indians who work in a government hospital and who come here for that which needs the personal interest and devotion which can usually be expected only from those doctors and nurses who are giving themselves to this work because they love the Lord and his people. Our hospital staff feels that working in a place such as this gives many opportunities to speak to others of their Savior. Possibly this is the reason why in the first three months of 1963, 4300 out-patients were taken care of at Rehoboth, along with up to twenty-six in-patients per day, although it must be said that a number of these came because the government hospitals were badly overcrowded and had to send patients over. The latter would disprove the contention held by some that sufficient medical care is available outside of Rehoboth Hospital.

Seldom is a person as receptive to the message of the Gospel as when confined to a hospital bed in serious condition, seldom are they brought face to face as intensely with the greatest need in life and death as when they are seriously ill. That is where the importance of a Christian hospital comes in. Christian doctors and nurses, enjoying the confidence of the patients and aided by native evangelists and workers, have a wonderful opportunity to approach them with the Gospel message, both in word and in deed. I have been deeply impressed by the staff with which this hospital is blessed, nurses, bookkeeper and native workers who begin the day with a half-hour of devotions and prayer for help and who then go on to work, not eight hours daily for five days a week, but for up to twelve hours daily for six days a week making use of every opportunity which presents itself to speak to the patients regarding their spiritual needs, then have a session of song, message and prayer in Navajo every evening at seven. During the day tapes with hymns and messages in English and Navajo are being played in the waiting room and wards, so that even those waiting to be cared for, are being exposed to the Gospel message in their own native tongue. Where e1se is there such an opportunity? Then I have been told there is the aid the missionary out in the field has from the fact that he has a hospital and a doctor of his own faith, where he can take his people. For centuries, in the mind of the pagan Indian the medicine man has been closely connected with his religion—the two are related and we cannot expect them to lose this connection in their minds over night. And thus the Christian doctor, the “Christian Medicine-man” and the hospital, are often made use of by the missionary in a similar way. Sending a convert now to a government hospital, where the care may be excellent but, by its very nature, non-Christian and often impersonal, may do much to damage the patient’s confidence in the missionary and his message. To this may be added the devastating influence of the faith-healing Pentacostalists who are working hard in this area and who would have an excellent argument in their favor if the hospital closes, thus doing additional damage to the work of the missionary.


The question comes up, “Is the hospital too great a financial burden on the mission fund?” “The hospital is there and several of the nurses’ salaries are paid for by interested churches. The patients are charged a small sum, $2.00 daily for hospital care and for the cost of medication, if they are at all able to pay. This cuts the operating cost down a great deal. If the place is kept open, there may be a need for expenditure to bring things a little more up-to-date and to increase the nursing staff, which is urgently needed, besides, of course, the hiring of a full-time doctor. Could not the answer to this be to use some of the money which is yearly used for expansion in new fields slowing down this expansion for one or two years, and making stronger the positions we now hold? In warfare there is seldom continuous advance. Frequently further progress is temporarily stopped in order to solidify and strengthen the positions gained thus far. Should this not hold for this type of program? We ought to solidify what we have, rather than cut out this work which is now reaping fruit in missions opportunity and reputation.

I understand that if the hospital expenses were dropped from the mission budget, the difference would be $13,500. If this is correct, there would be no saving at all because the cost of supply. ing the seventy-four ministers, evangelists and other workers and their families with hospital and surgical care insurance would at least equal, but most likely exceed, this figure. This would not take into consideration the cost of non-surgical care and medications which are available to them near this hospital and is not paid by insurance plans, nor the tremendous inconvenience and cost of taking any of the 190 Indian students on the grounds to the Indian Government Hospital in Gallup for medical care.

Before coming to Rehoboth I had no special opinion as to whether this place should be kept open or not, as I did not have sufficient knowledge of the needs and possibilities here. Being here only six weeks still does not give me all the knowledge I might need to know all the answers and I realize that there are problems connected with any operation of this type. However, I feel by being here my eyes have been opened to the tremendous importance of the hospital in the over-all mission program, to its place in the spiritual need of the Navajos and to its influence in maintaining our Reformed witness in all the stations of this far flung mission field.

As far as I know, the feelings of all of the six doctors who have voluntarily served this hospital during this year are practically identical as to keeping the place open and the Indian General Conference, which in the past has recommended closing the hospital, now has sharply reversed its stand and also sees that this would be a serious error. I realize there will be problems connected with keeping the hospital open, but I also believe that the problems created by closing the place could be far greater and more numerous and would result in serious losses in many areas. We pray that God will give guidance and wisdom when this matter comes up for decision at the next Synod and that the consideration of what is best for God’s Kingdom will be held uppermost!