Like most people, I don’t like going to the doctor or even listening to the doctor because I know that I am going to be told to do something that I don’t want to do. Like get a test, give some blood, take medicine, or get a further test for something that feels fine (just to double check, of course). I’d like to think that I have better things to do with my time because unless I am in severe pain, then everything is fine. For missionaries, or anyone else in Christian ministry, there is the added temptation to ignore doctor’s advice because it will take time away from the Lord’s work.
I ran across a story in the autobiography of Daniel McGilvary that reminded me that doctors are sometimes ignored with dire consequences. McGilvary was a 19th century missionary pioneer to northern Thailand and we pick up the story as he returns home to Chiang Mai from an extended evangelistic tour through the jungles of Northern Thailand.
“On our arrival in Chieng Mai we found Mr. Phraner very ill with abscess of the liver, and suffering at times intense pain. He had been warned by physicians and friends to desist from his work and take his furlough. But, as chairman of the Evangelistic Committee, he had been pushing the evangelistic work too eagerly to heed these warnings. He refused to leave his post till those who were absent should return. Soon after we arrived he started for the United States, but, alas! it was too late. He died in Singapore on January 15th, 1895, leaving a wife and two little boys to pursue their sad journey alone.” (Daniel McGilvary, "A Half Century among the Siamese and Lao: An Autobiography", Fleming H. Revell Company, New York, 1912, p.376-377)
I was particularly struck by this account since my wife and I have a 3 year old and a newborn. Even with me around, the kids are a handful so I can’t imagine what trials she would face if something were to happen to me. Perhaps I should drag my feet a little bit less the next time our mission’s doctor sends us to get some tests done or blood drawn. If some extra time taken now can help me to stay healthier in the long run, both for my family’s sake and for the sake of the ministry, then it is worth it. For missionaries, “the work” will usually always be there but if we don’t take care of ourselves, we won’t be there for the work. Unfortunately, Mr. Phraner had to learn that the hard way.