The Very Best Thing Adventists Do
By Jack Hoehn, 07/21/2017
(Part one of a 3-part series on the Adventist church’s involvement with heath care.)
I am retiring from the best things Seventh-day Adventists do for this old world. The details of my retirement from medical practice are not that important, but the “best thing Adventists do” I would like to explore. This “thing” and the church’s part in it are something that Adventists should take great joy and satisfaction in. If you want to know why non-Adventists love Adventists, this would be why:
Adventists do a great job in kindly caring for sick people.
Personal Adventist Health
We didn’t begin by caring for sick people, we began by reforming health habits. Within weeks of organizing as an official church, our prophetess was taken off in a vision experience that told the newly minted church that not only should they change their worship from Sunday to Sabbath, and accept that dead people die and only have hope of life after resurrection, but also that they should improve their diets and use progressive cutting edge ideas to regain health. It can now be shown that the health ideas promoted were not original with Ellen White, which either means she was well read with a unique ability to select the valuable ideas of her time from the widely supporter errors of her day, or that God was working with Ellen White as he was working with Silvester Graham and Amelia Bloomer to improve the health of this sick world by all means possible.
Unique to Ellen White was not that tobacco was bad for you, and alcohol should be avoided, that plants were safer than eating things “with faces and mothers,” and that whole grains were superior to white stuff. What was unique to Ellen White is that the health of your body was a religious duty, that health was a spiritual issue, that God did care if you bathed, smoked, were too fat, or died too young.
Institutional Adventist Health
Starting in 1863 with “the Health Vision” what evolved in Adventism was a religious obligation to be healthy, to use only proven safe and effective remedies, and then later to expand prevention and care of illness to non-Adventists. This began after 1866 as “health retreats” where sick people would come to get a cure by diet changes and avoiding the poison chemical used by regular physicians as drugs. It expanded as the prophetess and her church funded young Adventists (like John Kellogg) in medical schools to get educations and degrees that the public would recognize, while promoting advanced ideas on cure.
Testimonies or letters were written to Adventists by the prophetess encouraging them to help take care of their friends and neighbors using the superior diet and health care ideas promoted. This was termed a “medical ministry” and the hundreds of these letters were later complied and edited into books sold to Adventists as “Counsels.” Toward the end of her life, Ellen White’s book making team published a polished and beautiful capstone book called The Ministry of Healing. Read this one if you want to get the message unconfused by personal applications that may or may not apply to you at this time in history.
Adventist Mission Hospitals
How this worked in my Adventist life is like this. My father (Gus Hoehn, MD) before I was born became an Adventist and then a medical doctor through his exposure to his older brother (Edward Hoehn, MD) who had become an Adventist physician, both graduating from the Loma Linda, California College of Medical Evangelists (CME, now Loma Linda University). My mother before I was born became an Adventist registered nurse at Portland Adventist Sanitarium (Portland Adventist Hospital in Oregon, now under Walla Walla University School of Nursing). They came back to Canada to work for the Adventist church at Rest Haven Hospital, a small church owned hospital near Sidney, British Columbia where I was born (closed by the government after national health service took over all Canadian hospitals).
From earliest memory I was indoctrinated each week in Kindergarten and Primary Sabbath School that we Adventists supported “missionary doctors and nurses”. And then my young parents accepted an official invitation by the SDA Church to become those, ending up as medical missionaries at Kendu Bay Mission Hospital in Kenya for my 6th birthday.
My mother read to me as part of my preparation to leaving Canada a series of children’s books called “The Jungle Doctor” by Paul White, that told of exciting adventures of a mission doctor working in Tanzania. Even when our own African mission service was cut short by my father’s illness, those books and the Adventist Sabbath School program implanted a goal that my Adventist church made achievable as I matured in church schools, academy, Pacific Union College, and inevitably Loma Linda University School of Medicine. When I fell in love with Deanne I made sure she was OK with my heart desire to be an Adventist African Medical Missionary.
After all she was an Adventist trained registered nurse, too. So we accepted a deferred appointment by the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventist while I completed my post-graduate training as a Family Physician at the University of Calgary, and by age 27 I was a physician and surgeon at an SDA mission hospital, Maluti Adventist Hospital, in Lesotho. Drs. Wilburt Hurlow and Richard Johnson introduced me to the way Adventists were caring for the underserved, unwealthy but beautiful people of Lesotho. The Seventh-day Adventist church paid for me to do this as a mission doctor. I admitted sick people to hospital beds paid for by the church and Lesotho government for whatever they could afford. No one was sent home for lack of money. I delivered mothers too small for their babies by Caesarian operations. I drained chests full of tuberculosis, I put skin grafts on burns, and I prescribed the wonderful drugs that heal instead of poison them that physician now have universal access to. And I taught nursing students and worked with Basotho graduate nurses who ran clinics or small rural health centers throughout Lesotho. My patients loved me, the student nurses loved me, because I was an Adventist caring for the sick for no other reason that that God had told us to do so.
At age 31 I was given an Adventist mission hospital to manage on my own, Mwami Adventist Hospital in Zambia. I was the head physician, the chief administrator, the chief financial operator, the head of human services, the development coordinator, the public relations specialist, the surgeon, the pediatrician, the obstetrician, the dermatologist (we had a Leprosy Hospital), the psychiatrist, the chief pharmacist, the supervisor of maintenance, educational superintendent for the school of enrolled nursing and midwifery and did this all for the Seventh-day Adventist church for a local salary of $270 a month. Which was more than enough!
A small team of Adventist missionaries including Dr. John Rogers and wife Sue shared this job with me. Then I was alone as the only physician for 6 months 24 hours a day 7 days a week working for the Zambian people in a 150 bed hospital whose average daily occupancy was 169 patients a day (mats on the floor under the hospital beds, multiple babies in one crib). Then Dr. Allan Shepherd and Judy, Drs. Don and Shirley Ashley joined me to make Mwami Adventist Hospital the best mission hospital in Zambia. Or at least that is what the head of American Aid in Southern Africa told me after he visited us. And it was all 100% made possible by Seventh-day Adventists working in cooperation of course with the Government of Zambia, other mission hospitals, and good people everywhere like Christoffel Blinden Mission in Germany, and all other people and organizations of good will.
When Deanne and I visited Mwami Adventist Hospital 20 years later we were treated as kings and queens, because people love what Seventh-day Adventists do in Zambia like everywhere else in kindly caring for sick people. When a patient died in Zambia at an Adventist Hospital, the relatives would sometimes come to thank me. “Thank you doctor, for trying. We knew they were going to die, but thank you for caring for them.” Caring for sick people are some of the best things Adventists do in Lesotho and Zambia, in Malawi and Tanzania, in Kenya and Angola, in Puerto Rico and Haiti, in Nepal and Thailand. I suspect it’s among the best things Adventist do for people in Walla Walla, Washington
Adventist Health in North America
After nearly 13 years of caring for African people, Deanne and I and our two sons moved to Walla Walla, Washington where for over 110 years Adventists have been providing care for sick people in this community. I am now in my 31st year of being an Adventist medical doctor in Walla Walla.
Some people in Eastern Washington appreciate our college and its music department, some like our primary and secondary schools, some attend our evangelistic meetings, listen to Adventist KGTS or watch Adventist Blue Mountain Television. But I suspect that the most appreciation this community has for Adventists comes from the Adventist Walla Walla General Hospital and its associated clinics.
Hospital care in the USA is now characterized by being urgent, serious, and brief. You need to be very sick to be admitted, and you are discharged as soon as you give any sign of becoming well. Your recovery no longer happens in hospital. There is very little time for appreciation or often even evaluation and understanding of what has happened in hospital.
That happens in the outpatient setting. After hospital care you are encouraged to attend to your primary care physician, review what you just have gone through. Sometimes patients don’t even know why they were in hospital until they come to my office for a post-hospital evaluation, and that is where they are well enough to understand what went wrong, and to begin to make plans to not let it happen again. It is in the clinics and doctor’s offices that you establish the kind of relationship with patients who become your friends. I delivered babies when I first came to town, and now at the end of my career see their children, and care for their aging parents.
I have learned that many patients seek Adventist physicians based on their previous experience. I have patients who drive 90 and 120 miles bypassing other hospitals and clinics to be attend to by “an Adventist physician.” We are not smarter or better doctors than those in their home towns, but there is something about the attitudes Adventist doctors have been gifted with by our Church and its institutions that meet needs in people’s hearts. My patients pay for each visit they make to see me, and very few complain about the fees. In fact scores of them bring me gifts in addition to paying their bills. I have received hundreds of kind tokens of appreciation beyond my charges in the past 30 years. As I retire I am burdened with a collection I don’t know what to do with, except to say thank you to the Seventh-day Adventist church that nurtured me, trained me, supported me in mission service, and had a place for me to function as an Adventist physician first in an Adventist Mission Hospital, and then in an Adventist Health Hospital and Clinic in the USA.
Is all well with the Adventist Health world? I’ll write about this next.
1 A simplified but fairly accurate positive summary of the 1863 Oswego, NY vision has been prepared by the White Estate, http://www.whiteestate.org/vez/jul07/1863%20health%20vision.htm .
2 Adventist Ronald Numbers is the best-known critic against the originality of Ellen White’s health teachings. Ron Numbers discusses his reissued book, Prophetess of Health, and its history in a very informative Spectrum interview: http://spectrummagazine.org/article/interviews/2008/08/10/prophetess-health-reappears .
3 Robinson, D.E. The Story of Out Health Message, 3ed edition, pages 143-155, Nashville: Southern Publishing Association, 1965.
5 The selections from recycled letters, admonitions, and periodical articles edited into compilations have been published as books by the Ellen White Estate after her death in various forms. The best-known health related are: Counsels on Health, Medical Ministry, Counsels on Diet and Foods, Temperance. See this article for a complete list of books published during her life, and afterwards https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ellen_G._White_bibliography .
Dr. John B. (Jack) Hoehn, MD(LLU), CCFP(Canada), DTM&H(London) has been an Adventist Physician for 45 years. He has worked in countries with socialized medicine, little or no medicine, and in the USA. He is a Family Physician, but has also been an obstetrician and surgeon. This article is the first in a series of three on Seventh-day Adventists and their health ministry in the 21st century.)