BANGALORE, India (BP) — A barren tract of land marked the spot in India — no trees, no fences and no buildings, only a dream.
Forty years later, a countless variety of trees and buildings have multiplied on that same tract of land where, now, the Bangalore Baptist Hospital (BBH) has garnered a lasting legacy.
Past and present physicians, staff and students filed into the new Smrithi Auditorium in mid-January. As the strains to “Great is Thy Faithfulness” faded, Benny Woods, director of chaplains at BBH the past five years, delivered three concise points: We can give God thanks for past accomplishments; we can enjoy a sense of His peace in the present; and we can look to the future with hope.
“Our hope is found in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. As symbolized behind me [by a cross], Jesus died for the sins of the world,” Woods said.
The hospital began with the Gospel and a high school essay. They inspired the dream of Jasper McPhail, the first Southern Baptist missionary to India, who eventually obtained permission from the government to build a Baptist hospital.
With the general region chosen, Ralph Bethea arrived, searched for and chose the site — a dusty 13-acre strip of land.
John Wikman arrived in 1967 as the first surgeon who supervised the beginnings of the hospital — first as a clinic out of his home in Bangalore, then in a converted cow shed on the property.
“When we got here, we hit the ground with evangelism work,” Wikman said. “We had medical clinics in slum areas where our church work was going on.”
BBH planted its first church in 1968 in Sonnen Halli, known as “Mosquito Village.”
“Before we had the hospital, we couldn’t go into the villages,” Wikman said. “It opened the door to share the Gospel.”
As church planting progressed, architects had designed plans for a 200-bed general hospital when an unforeseen messenger arrived.
Franklin Fowler, medical consultant with the then-Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board, brought news that the board would prefer an outpatient medical clinic rather than a hospital.
Wikman took Fowler to the state health minister to discuss the proposal.
The minister stated that Southern Baptists received an invitation to build a hospital and anything less would probably result in a revocation of the invitation.
“That meeting saved the hospital,” Wikman said. The architects altered the original plans to begin with 80 beds instead of 200.
BBH broke ground on Feb. 27, 1971, and celebrated its grand opening on Jan. 15, 1973, with Wikman in charge of hospital administration.
Arriving in 1974, William C. Mason, who later took over administration of the hospital, said, “As we were putting the finishing touches on the hospital, I wanted a Christian symbol to put on the wall.”
Today the carved plaque with the Scripture — “I am the way, the truth and the life” — can still be seen in the hospital.
After the hospital was completed, the contractor, Arasekia Vasudavan Paramashivan (AVP), would visit every day. “He would come at 10 a.m.,” Mason said, “and ask before leaving if anything needed to be fixed.
“I don’t know of any contractor in the United States who would do that,” Mason said. “They usually disappear when a job is done.”
When asked why he was willing to do this, AVP told Mason, “There are many contractors in India but only a few are chosen to build a temple.
“This is God’s temple, and it is my responsibility to make sure God’s temple works perfectly.”
In keeping the hospital doors open, Rebekah Naylor dedicated her life — beginning in 1973 — to BBH.
“I and BBH sort of grew up together,” she said.
The first day Naylor went to work, there were 12 patients.
As BBH expanded, Naylor arrived early and stayed late — performing surgeries, delivering babies, teaching doctors, mentoring one-on-one, training staff, taking up administration, planting churches and more.
“I loved what I was doing, so I was happy in the work,” Naylor said.
Among her many accomplishments, she served as director, trained physicians and administrators, and began the nursing program; yet she managed to make time to write family every other day.
“Letter writing was just what you did, and I did a lot of that — it recorded history,” Naylor said.
During the early years, Van C. Williams came to develop the pediatric department in 1975 and served nine years alongside Naylor.
By 1976, the hospital began to sponsor students from the Christian Medical College in Vellore for medical training.
“One of the students we sponsored is Dr. Naveen Thomas” and another is the current chief executive officer, Dr. Alexander Thomas, Williams said. “That’s what’s helped build the hospital staff — by sponsoring these students.”
In 1978, a nutritional rehabilitation center opened, made of traditional mud brick and a thatched roof.
One day, a lady carried a child covered in a cloth to the pediatric clinic. The 6-year-old weighed only 15 pounds.
She experienced many complications before Williams was able to move her to the nutritional rehabilitation ward.
“I’ll never forget being able to discharge her,” Williams said of the child who then weighed about 30 pounds.
Handing over management
One of the biggest turning points in the hospital’s history was the request — which came to Naylor in 1986 — by the mission board to sell the hospital.
“That was a very bad time for us,” Naylor recalled.
After three years, the IMB handed over management to the Christian Medical College and on Jan. 1, 1989, a partnership formed among IMB (then Foreign Mission Board), CMC and the leadership at BBH.
In retrospect, “I think the hospital could never be what it is today without that,” Naylor said. “God turned a seeming bad thing into something good.”
Some of the expansions and schools may never have happened under the leadership of the IMB, which did not allow fundraising.
Without proper leadership, the change of management “still could’ve been bad,” Naylor said, but the IMB remained present, the CMC is a “great place” and by 1989, “the ethos … was pretty well imprinted” like a child who reaches the age of 16.
“Adding all that together, it has turned out to be a remarkable partnership and it’s been working 24 years,” Naylor said.
Once the partnership formed, Naylor quickly learned how to fundraise in order to find $400,000 to build a private wing, which opened a couple years later in 1991.
“I’m still raising money today for the hospital,” Naylor said.
Alex Thomas, the current CEO, became the first houseman (junior doctor) under Naylor.
During the opening anniversary event on Jan. 11, Thomas said, “It is my pleasure [to introduce Naylor] because I had the privilege of serving under her,” and he recounted with laughter having to be at BHH at 6:30 a.m. every day.
Near the start of his leadership, a man offered to give BBH $1.5 million for the next five to six years on the condition of being allowed to serve as a member of the board.
Thomas refused his offer.
“God has been able to give us much more,” he said.
With the growth of competitive hospitals nearby, BBH began to train medical students from Malaysia. BBH also has focused on making every division more patient-focused; keeping each department aware of its finances; and instituting performance-based salaries.
Today, BBH is considering additional private beds, increasing its intensive care beds, adding a nine-story hostel for the staff and “looking at whether we need to start a medical college,” Thomas said.
Even as BBH leaders look to the future, former CEOs Naylor, Williams, Mason and Wikman traveled to the hospital’s anniversary in memory of the past.
BBH leaders honored the special guests in traditional Indian fashion with the draping of shawls.
The honorees cut ribbons during their visit to inaugurate a new auditorium annex, hand surgery unit and plastic surgery unit. Before cutting the ribbon, Mason said, “This is the first time I have been back to Bangalore Baptist Hospital in 35 years. I am absolutely stunned.”
Later, over a cup of tea, Carolyn Woods, wife of Benny Woods, said to Mason and the others, “I’m just so happy to be here with all of you who went before.”
That evening, a lamp lighting and a special dance honored the visitors with a cultural flare.
The anniversary celebration concluded Jan. 15 with the planting of 40 trees — one for each year of the hospital’s existence, a groundbreaking ceremony for a new nurses’ hostel and a trip down “Memory Lane” by the guests.
A final testimony by Michael Dean, pastor of Travis Avenue Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, brought the gathering to a close.
During one of his trips to BBH, Dean visited room-by-room, prayed along with the staff and shared the Gospel. One man, who was not doing well, accepted Christ as his Savior during that room visit. The next day when Dean returned to the man’s room, the bed was empty.
“In the night, he went to heaven,” Dean said. “That man is in heaven today because of the ministry of Bangalore Baptist Hospital.”
Hope Livingston is a writer in South Asia. For more stories on Baptist Medical Missions, go to www.asiastories.com. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).