Saturday, August 15, 2009

Brother Wenger finds medical care 110 years ago

A.D. (Amos Daniel) Wenger's 14 month trip around the world, with "Six months in Bible Lands," the title of his 1902 book has been a fascinating read. A widowed Mennonite evangelist and teacher, he relates everything he sees to scripture, theology, and modern (19th century) times. He must have been in extremely good condition, because although there was good train service in those days, probably better than today, for any distance they used a carriage, donkey, or went on foot. He believed in nonresistance, so wouldn't arm himself or hire armed guides. And it was very dangerous territory with many robberies and assaults. Sometimes he appears to be traveling alone except for his guides, other times he mentions people he meets--Europeans and Americans, some with children--and they go in groups. Since about 3/4 of our group got sick in March 2009, I did wonder about their medical care. On p. 332 he mentions it, and develops a sermon of sorts:
    "Thinking there was a bug in my left ear I crossed the valley to the English Ophthalmic Hospital a short distance southwest of Jerusalem. The examination revealed the fact that I had taken a severe cold.

    At this hospital as well as at several others in the city a great many persons are treated for diseases of the eye. In our country the proportion of blind is only about one in a thousand while in Palestin and Egypt there is one to every hundred. It seems to me that the dust, the rapid changes of temperature between day and night and the glare of the brilliant sun from the white limestone rocks and stones in all parts of the country have something to do with causing eye diseases and blindness; but the chief cause of the spread of eye disease is very likely through the medium of flies. Apparently, mothers never brush the pests from the faces of their babies and it is quite common to see the flies clinging in half dozens round the eyes of the children. Mothrs allow this when the babes are yet helpless in order to keep off the "evil eye." Thus the children become habituated to it in infance and do not resent it when they grow older. The diseases are spread by the insects carrying infection on their feet from one child to another. . .

    Blindness is mentioned so many times in the Scriptures that we must conclude it was very prevalent in Bible times, especially in the time of Christ. (notes John 5:3, Luke 7:21) Everyone who will not see it to his best interests to prepare for a home in glory is awfully blind, but the case is not beyond the healing power of the great Physician, whenever employed..."
Here he notes a visit to some German colonists living near the hospital, members of a religious order called Templars, who do not believe in Jesus Christ, although they give him honor. He is grieved that some Mennonites from Germany and Russia have united with them, and tries to turn them from their error. From there he visits a leper's hospital built and maintained by the Moravians. He describes their hideous conditions, limbs rotting, and body sores. He thinks if marriage could be prevented the disease would be reduced, but many lepers refused to live at the hospital and preferred to beg on the streets, where their pitiful condition could support several people. Again, A.D. quotes the appropriate passages about lepers.
    "Leprosy is a most striking type of the more deadly leprosy of sin. Often the children of leprous parents are just as pretty and as healthy looking as other children, but by and by some of the signs indicated in the 13th chapter of Leviticus make their appearance. There is no escape from it, every child born of such parents must fall a victime to the dread disease. It is just so with sin. . . The Lord alone can heal the leprosy of the soul. He who cleansed the leper with a word can forgive sin and save the soul. All are invited to come and be healed of the leprosy that eats as doth a canker and mars the beauty and loveliness of the soul." (p. 337-8)
As I noted before, I have been impressed with his readability--and he can even spell ophthalmic, one of the few words in English that has the "phth" and is even misspelled in medical journals! He's a lot easier to read than William Dean Howells, a prominent 19th century American writer just a few years his senior.

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