BANGALORE, India (BP)–Florence Charles remembers speaking to Rebekah Naylor when the medical missionary missed her first-ever flight to Bangalore, India, back in 1974.
“She ended up in Madras [now Chennai],” said Charles, then the secretary at the Indian Baptist Society. “She was young and eager to get the work going at the mission.”
Charles and others at Bangalore Baptist Hospital and the Indian Baptist Society said they love to relive memories of Naylor, who retired in February after 35 years of service with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board. For most of those years, Naylor filled various roles at the hospital in the south Indian city of Bangalore.
“She was very hard-working,” said Charles, who retired as director of administration of the Indian Bible Society after 26 years of service. “I used to worry because she had no free time. People only wanted Rebekah to deliver their babies, so she would start to go out somewhere and would get a call to come deliver a baby. She was very dedicated.”
Naveen Thomas, associate director of Bangalore Baptist Hospital, said Naylor is “absolutely focused” and has “enviable” energy.
“Everything in her life is colored by Kingdom values,” Thomas said. “She worked with a tremendous amount of energy in spite of her ups and downs. Her energy reminded me of [the Apostle] Paul striving toward the goal.
“She didn’t sail along but put her soul and heart in whatever she did,” Thomas added. “If I didn’t know her so well, I would ask her what was the secret behind her focus and energy; but I know her faith in Jesus Christ is the secret of her drive and force.”
Flora Edwin, head of the hospital’s nursing division, said Naylor knew everybody’s job.
“When I would get a call to come, it would take five minutes to get from my house to the hospital,” Edwin said. “Before I arrived, she would lay out the table in the operation theater — the nurses normally do that. She’d put the instruments out and the necessary gloves and sutures too. She’d also get the anesthesia ready. She’d call and receive the patient, which the nurses would do. She’d check everything, and by the time I would get there, all was ready.”
Naylor would even take the dirty linens from the operating room down for cleaning, Edwin said.
“Even her walk was always brisk,” Edwin said. “Early in the morning and late at night, she didn’t seem tired. We know her even by her footsteps down the hall. She’d help with everyone’s work and make us all feel like she is just one of the team. We’re very proud that we had a chance to work with Dr. Naylor.”
Daisy Tennyson, head of finance at the hospital, said Naylor even involved herself with architects and engineers who were building additions at the hospital.
“She was not only a good medical officer but also a good administrator,” Tennyson said. “She spent time to learn how to do that. She was a very fast learner in accounts. She didn’t know about that at all at first but learned quickly.”
Edwin said Naylor always brought God to the operating table.
“Without prayer, she never started a surgery,” Edwin said. “She’d encourage us also to pray in our language. Then we would start the operation.”
Naylor saw the patient as a whole, Thomas said.
“She would not say this is a gynecology patient or a patient that another department should take care of,” he said. “Whatever the need was, she would pitch in. I wish we had more role models like her for the present generation of medical students and residents to see the patient as a whole and not as a lot of compartments.
“And she would not hesitate to talk about Christ with any patient,” Thomas said. “The whole thing revolved around presenting Christ.”
Charles said some of Naylor’s non-Christian patients became friends.
“Once, when a patient’s husband died, she visited the family, and this was a Muslim house,” Charles said. “She didn’t hesitate to talk about Jesus and the comfort He gives. I would’ve hesitated because there were Muslims all around us, but she grasped every opportunity to present the Gospel.”
K. Jacob, a chaplain at the hospital, said when Naylor had time, she would accompany him to villages to do ministry, sometimes telling Bible stories using flannel graphs.
“She did it very humbly and easily,” Jacob said. “She would make sure children would understand the story.”
Because Naylor’s schedule was so full, she would sometimes finish her lunch in a matter of minutes, Jacob said.
“She was very busy night and day, and even at midnight she would attend cases, and I would come along,” he said. “She was very strict — and even some were afraid of her, but the work was very hard. She is like my spiritual mother.”
Naylor is strict and straightforward but also loving and affectionate, Edwin said.
“She would ask us after busier cases if we’d eaten or finished eating and tell us to eat because even harder cases were coming,” Edwin said. “She’d take care of us personally.”
Edwin recalls trying to pull an April Fools’ Day joke on Naylor by calling her to help a “patient” — actually a pile of pillows under a blanket on a gurney — who was in “serious condition.”
“She ran to us, and we were so scared,” Edwin said. “But when she came and looked at what we had done, she said we needed to hurry and put the patient in intensive care. She called other doctors to come. They wrote orders down, and we did the orders. That was a really fun day. We can’t forget that.”
Florence Charles would accompany Naylor on shopping outings and to the movies.
“She is a very good friend,” Charles said. “I used to be sick and was in the hospital sometimes, and she was always by my side. She would come in early before her rounds and see me and sometimes eat lunch in my room. Always if I had any problems, she was there to help me solve them.”
Charles was the one who took Naylor’s call when she arrived in India. Charles also was the one to talk to Naylor about returning to the United States.
“Eventually, she had to decide — when her mother became very ill — to stay or go back,” Charles said. “I told her that she had no option. Her mother needed and needs her. She was torn in two. She lived and breathed the hospital when she was in the compound. I believe she left part of herself back here in Bangalore.”
Inspired by Naylor’s commitment, the hospital carries on without her daily presence, Tennyson said.
“The nursing school was her initiative,” she said. “Now we’re in the process of making the school into a college of nursing. We’re building more classroom floors and a new student hostel. Every few months when Dr. Naylor visits, she sees progress.”
Everyone aims to be alert and on top of his or her work based on Naylor’s example, Edwin said.
“She’s a very good teacher,” Edwin said. “We admire her and every activity she does — and the way she does them.”
*Name changed for security reasons. Ethan Leyton is an International Mission Board missionary serving in south Asia as a music and media strategist.