Change of Heart
Bible Reading: Matthew 16:24-26
“He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.”Jim Elliot
Ira Scudder spent her childhood years in India. Her family had a legacy of missionary work in India ever since her grandfather, Dr. John Scudder, first went there as a medical missionary. He had been a successful young doctor in New York City in the early 1800s when he became convinced that he should travel to Ceylon. He became the first medical missionary ever to go out from the US to a foreign land. But his decision came at a high personal cost. His own father disagreed so violently with his decision that he cut John out of his will and announced that he never wanted to see him again.
At seven, Ira’s father’s health was declining because of various tropical diseases, so the family returned temporarily to the states. After he recuperated, he returned to India. Ida stayed behind with family members. Eventually, they too returned to India. She went on to private school. She grew up determined to never be a missionary. The troubles, diseases, and sacrifice associated with missionary life were not something she wanted to be associated with.
One day at school, she received a telegram. The telegram said that her mother was very ill and that her father needed her in India to help care for her. Reluctantly, she booked passage on a ship and after a two-month journey returned to India. She helped her mother and did various missionary related tasks, but she was still determined to return to America as soon as possible. She was adamant about that commitment. There was no way that she was going to stay in India. There was no way she was going to be a missionary.
One evening, she sat down to write a letter to a friend. The friend had an interest in serving as a missionary in India. Ira was writing to deter her. She began explaining all the reasons when there was a knock on the door. A Hindu man had come to the house. His wife was about to give birth to a child, but there was something wrong. He asked her to come and help. But she was not medically trained. She directed the man to her father—he was a doctor and could help. But the man wanted nothing to do with that—it was impermissible for a Hindu woman to be seen by a man outside her immediate family. He said that it would be better for her to die than to be seen by a male physician. He left. She went back to writing her letter. But another knock on the door interrupted her. Another man, a Muslim, came to the door. He shared a similar story. His wife was also having trouble with the delivery of their child. He pleaded with Ida to come and help, but Ida explained again that she was not qualified. She begged the man to let her father help. He again declined on the same basis as the first. She went back to writing her letter. But then again, her letter writing was interrupted by a third knock on the door. It was another Muslim man with a similar story. Three men asked for help for their wives. All three were directed to Ida’s father. All three refused based on the practice of their religion—it was better for their wives to die than to be seen by a man not from their family.
Ira did not sleep that night. The morning came, and she heard the bells of mourning—giving notice of the death of someone in the village. Anxiously, she awaited news of what had become of these women. She sent a servant boy to find out what had happened. Tragically, all three of the women had died giving birth to their children.
God used all of that to get a hold of Ida’s heart. She was then determined to go back to America to be trained as a medical missionary. She graduated from Cornell Medical College in New York as a part of the first class at that school that accepted women as medical students. She received a grant of $10,000 from a Manhattan banker in memory of his wife. With that money, she started a tiny medical dispensary and clinic. In her first two years, she treated 5000 patients. She opened a hospital in 1902. Later, she started a medical school for girls. Skeptical males said she would be lucky to get three applicants, but she had 151 in her first year (1918). Ultimately, it gained the support of over 40 different missions.
Ira’s first inclination was to not do as her family had done. It was to be married, comfortable, and divorced from the pain and suffering she had seen. And there is that temptation. But God worked in her heart. He got her attention. She was determined to give up that which she had dreamed of, for the sake of something better. Jim Elliot once said, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep, to gain that which he cannot lose.” She made that exchange. And God was glorified in it. Christ’s love was shown. The gospel was made known. God might not be calling you to go overseas to serve as a missionary. But God is calling you to sacrifice (Romans 12:1-2). It is all a part of worship. Worship involves sacrifice.
Take my life and let it be consecrated to Thee
Take my moments and my days, let them flow in ceaseless praise
Take my hands and let them move at the impulse of Thy love
Take my feet and let them be swift and beautiful for Thee