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  • Writer's pictureShari House

HSS - Ida Scudder {Knock, Knock}


Ida Scudder was born on December 9, 1870, to American missionaries serving in India. Her grandfather was Dr. John Scudder Sr., the first American medical missionary, and her father, Dr. John Scudder Jr., was one of seven sons who followed their father into missions. In total 42 members of the Scudder family became missionaries, many of whom served in India. Ida had spent her childhood in India and was all too familiar with the poverty and despair that permeated the country. She was happy when they returned to America for a furlough when she was just a young teenager, and even more happy that she wasn’t required to return to India with her father when their furlough was finished. Two years later though, she was devastated when her mother returned to serve alongside her father leaving her behind to stay with family. It was a very traumatic time in her life and just added to her disdain for that “horrible country with its heat, dust, noise, and smells.”

After completing high school, Ida attended D.L. Moody’s seminary for young ladies in Northfield, Massachusetts. In 1890, shortly after graduating, Ida received word that her mother had become gravely ill, and she was needed to come to India to help care for her. She was happy to see her family, but made it known in no uncertain terms that she had no intention of following in the family’s “business” and when her mother was well, she would be returning to America to pursue her own dreams which included wanting to find a nice rich man to marry and settle down with because she wanted more out of life than to toil away as a missionary. She ended up staying longer than she expected and found herself in charge of a school of 68 girls. Through a series of events one evening, and after much prayer, she decided the Lord would have her go back to America to study medicine for the purpose of returning to India to help her father, particularly with the women and children.

In 1899 Ida was one of the first women graduates of the Cornwell Medical College. In 1900 she returned to Vellore, India as a well-trained doctor and opened a one-bed clinic and dispensary in an 8x12 room of her father’s bungalow and used the veranda for a waiting room. Her work started slow, and just a few months after she arrived back in India her father passed away. She was on her own, but she knew she was not alone. The Lord was her constant companion and guide, and she was ready to serve the women and children of India. The people were leery of her abilities, and when her first patient came to her with a case she could do nothing about, the patient’s death further fueled the people’s doubts. After Ida was able to successfully treat a lady with conjunctivitis, word spread, and she soon had many cases. It wasn’t long before she was seeing 100 or 200 cases a day. All patients were not only given medical help, but also received the Gospel. Bible studies and classes were held daily for patients to attend. In 1902 she opened Schell Hospital, which was built using funds she had raised in America and had 40 beds. Her compassion for the people and their desperate need saw her 16-hours-a-day work load continue to increase. In 1903 she began training women as compounders. In 1906 she began her famous “roadside” dispensary ministry which took medical supplies to surrounding villages outside of Vellore where the life expectancy was only 25. Throughout the years this ministry to the rural villages expanded to treating thousands of people each week. Within just a few years the number of patients she was seeing yearly rose to 40,000.

Ida realized that even if a dozen more doctors came from America, it wouldn’t be enough to handle the need. She knew that Indian women needed to be cared for by Indian women. This thought was the driving force for Ida to begin training nurses, and so in 1909 she started the School of Nursing. This was almost unheard of in Asia, but she began small with 17 girls that she taught herself. Ida set her sights high and thought if she could train nurses, she could train doctors, and so in 1918 her heart’s desire came to reality when she started the Christian Medical College (CMC) for the purpose of training women doctors. Skeptical men said she’d be lucky to get three applicants, but her first year she had 151 women apply. The time came when Ida had 14 girls ready to sit the medical exams. Officials said the girls would never be able to compete with the men, but when the exam results were read, 80% of the men had failed and all 14 of Ida’s girls had passed. Her medical college became one of Asia’s foremost teaching hospitals and has graduated thousands of skilled, dedicated doctors (men were not admitted until 1947). From her humble start of working a dispensary out of her father’s bungalow, she saw her life’s work grow to include one of the largest medical centers in all of Asia that had a 1,700-bed medical center with departments that included radiation-oncology, thoracic surgery, nephrology, leprosy surgery and rehabilitation, microbiology, mental health, ophthalmology, and many other fields.

Ida was world-renowned and doctors from all over the sub-continent would send her their hardest cases. Ida retired at the age of 75 and turned her work over to one of her most distinguished students, Dr. Hilda Lazarus. She continued to be active for another decade teaching her weekly Bible classes, advising doctors on difficult cases, and entertaining family, friends, and dignitaries which included visits from presidents, government officials, and even Ghandi. Many awards were conferred on her, and she was so famous, a letter sent from overseas once reached her in a country of 300,000,000 people simply addressed to “Dr. Ida, India.”

Ida’s medical college is still going strong and today offers 175 different post graduate courses in medical, nursing, and other health disciplines. There are over 2,600 students enrolled every year, and on average sees 8,000 outpatients and 2,000 inpatients daily. Each day many Bible classes are held, and hundreds of patients are visited by a chaplain. The rural clinics provide health care and spiritual care to further tens of thousands daily. Today the CMC employs over 8,800 people including 1,528 doctors and 2,400 nurses. They continue to follow the Lord’s leading with the attitude in which Ida first started the work, “. . . we thank God for the way He has led us in the past and look forward to an even greater future.” Ida died on May 23, 1960 at her home in India at the age of 89. She is truly a woman of whom it could be said, “She hath done what she could.”

Her Story/My Story:

Anyone who has heard of Ida Scudder or the vast number of things she dared to accomplish and miraculously did knows her story about the famous “three knocks in the night” which is where it all began. She was back in India for a short period of time to nurse her ailing mother, all the while dreaming of when she could return to America and pursue her own dreams. One evening late at night while Ida was in her room reading, she heard a knock at the door. It was a high caste Brahmin who had come to the doctor’s home to ask Ida to attend to his child-wife who was in labor and having trouble. The Indian midwives had done all they could, and the young girl was near death. Ida told the man she knew nothing of midwifery but that her father would be home soon, and she would send him. The Brahmin said, “She had better die than have a man come into the house.” Ida felt sorry for the girl knowing the customs of the land that no woman could be attended to by a male doctor, but she didn’t know what she could do about it. She returned to reading her book. Her father returned home and once again she could hear someone knocking on their front door. Thinking the Brahmin might have changed his mind, she opened the door to find a Muslim man standing there. He was asking for her to come and help his young wife who was also struggling during childbirth. Try as they might Ida and her father couldn’t get him to change his mind about letting Ida’s father tend to the young girl. The man begged Ida to come, but she was not equipped at all to help. She closed the door on him and returned to her room, but her mind was too consumed with the plight of the two young girls to take up her reading again. Before the night was done a third knock came, this time from a high caste Hindu. He also had a young wife dying in labor and wanted to know if Ida would come. She gave him the same response she had the other two. Ida couldn’t sleep and spent the night in anguish and prayer. “It was too terrible . . . here were three young girls dying because there was no woman to help them.” She didn’t want to spend her life in India. Her friends were begging her to return, and the idea of living life in America was calling to her. She was awakened in the early morning hours by the “tom-tom” drum beating in the village and it struck terror in her heart. She knew it was the death message ringing out to inform everyone that someone had died. She quickly sent one of the servants to find out who it was and when the servant returned, she was told that all three girls had died in labor. She returned to her room in such despair and prayed and thought very seriously about the plight of Indian women who had no one who could see to their medical needs. When she emerged from her room she went to her parents and told them that she would be returning to America to study medicine and that she would return to help the women of India. The girl who never wanted to be one of those “missionary Scudders” wholly gave her life to the Lord when He came “knocking” on her heart’s door.

The Lord has come to “knock” on my heart's door several times in my life to give me life-changing “orders.” I had the opportunity to travel to Mexico and the Dominican Republic on short missions trips as a teenager, I learned Spanish in high school, and in Bible college I worked on a Spanish bus route. I thought if the Lord was going to call me to be a missionary anywhere, it would most likely be to a Spanish-speaking country. During my sophomore year we had a missions emphasis week and there was a mission board there who was looking for students who wanted to do short-term missions trips the following summer. I was so excited to sign up on that first day, but much to my disappointment, all the slots had already been filled for Spanish-speaking countries and they were just looking for students willing to go to Africa. I just turned and walked away after I informed the gentleman that “this girl doesn’t do snakes.” He replied with, “Aren’t you even willing to pray about it?” I stopped in my tracks and decided I guess I should since I was in Bible college. As I prayed that day, I felt a “knock, knock, knock” on the door of my heart. After much prayer and counsel, I opened the door, and long story short, I went to Kenya that summer and fell in love with the country and the people. A year or so after college a missionary couple in Nigeria asked if I would be willing to join them in their work. Again, I felt that “knock, knock, knock” on my heart. This time I was eager to fling the door right open but sought counsel and prayer again to make sure it was the Lord’s will. About a month later, I began raising support to go to Nigeria as a full-time missionary, and I arrived in Nigeria in June of 1995. I loved it! The Lord knit my heart with the hearts of the people. I embraced every bit of the culture that I could and often wore traditional Nigerian clothing with head wraps, learned to eat cassava and curry with my hands, and learned to carry heavy things on my head. I was given the Nigerian name “Ilelabola” (“The beauty that has been brought into the house of God”), and I just knew I would spend my life there. Two short years later the Lord came knocking again and much to my dismay He was asking me to leave Nigeria and go to New Zealand. I balked at first saying New Zealand wasn’t a mission field, but the Lord taught me that wherever there were people there was a need for missions work. Ten years later I heard that “knock, knock, knock” again and the Lord was asking me to go to Thailand, a place I had never considered that I’d ever end up. What a ride it all has been, and I thank the Lord that He came “knocking” on my heart’s door. I don’t live life wondering when that next “knock” will come, nor do I know the next “where” I will be asked to go, but I do pray that when and if He comes “knocking” again, I will be willing to fling the door open and say “I’m ready, lets’ do this thing!”

Bible Study: Knock, Knock

The peephole in a door is a great invention. It allows you to see who is knocking on the other side of the door and helps you to decide whether or not to open it. It allows you to know if this “knocker” is something or someone you need to give your attention to or if you should run out the back door or at the very least pretend you’re not home. Our heart’s door gets knocked on by lots of things we see in society, things we watch on TV, or things we listen to and read. Sometimes we can be pulled in many directions. Anyone who has sat and watched a missionary update video knows what it feels like to have your heart strings pulled by what you see and wonder if the Lord might be calling you to the mission field. Sometimes circumstances like losing a job or a once-in-a lifetime job opportunity comes along, and we might struggle to determine if it is the Lord or just opportunity knocking at our door. Discerning who the “knocker” is can be difficult at times. This is the case in many circumstances in life - who to marry, what career path to pursue, how to spend your money, where to invest your time, etc. How do we discern between direction and leading from the Holy Spirit as opposed to just happenstance circumstances? Don’t you wish there was a peephole on your heart’s door, so that you could know for sure it was Jesus knocking and you could fling the door open wide and say, “I’m ready, let’s do this thing.” Here are four very basic ways to confirm it is in fact the Lord knocking on your heart’s door.

1. Pray for Peace. Ask God to confirm in your heart whether it is He who in fact is “knocking” on the door of your heart. He will not leave you in limbo. He will give you a settled, determined, peace.

Matthew 7:7-8 “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.”

Jeremiah 29:12,13 “Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find [me], when ye shall search for me with all your heart.”

Psalms 32:8 – “I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye.”

2. Search the Scriptures. Check to see if what you are considering lines up with the Scriptures. God will never ask you to do something contrary to His Word. Ask God to show you verses that will confirm His will.

Isaiah 30:21 – “And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, . . .”

Jeremiah 42:2-3 “And said unto Jeremiah the prophet, Let, we beseech thee, our supplication be accepted before thee, and pray for us unto the Lord thy God, even for all this remnant; (for we are left but a few of many, as thine eyes do behold us:) That the Lord thy God may shew us the way wherein we may walk, and the thing that we may do.”

3. Speak with your counselors. Often you will find that the Lord has been working or speaking to their heart about the same thing, and He uses them to help confirm His will.

Proverbs 20:20 “Hear counsel, and receive instruction, that thou mayest be wise in thy latter end.”

Proverbs 11:14 – “Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety.”

4. Look to your past. When you look back in your past, you can often see things God has put in your life that have prepared you for the work He is now calling you to. He has been equipping you for His current plan and you didn’t even realize it. This is why it is so important to stay yielded to the Lord in good and bad times and to always strive to learn what you can from every situation you find yourself in.

Proverbs 16:9 – “A man's heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps.”

Proverbs 3:5,6 – “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”

Serving the Master joyfully,




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