After Call the Midwife Christmas special, we urge the BBC to highlight modern mission

Article by USPG General Adviser Canon Edgar Ruddock…

I had the privilege of being involved in advising the BBC over some of the details for the Call the Midwife Christmas special, set in a rural hospital clinic in South Africa’s Eastern Cape.

Because I had lived and worked there for some years during the 1980s, I was able to connect the BBC team with various people who had worked in clinics during the 1960s.

As the screening of the programme approached, I was naturally apprehensive as to how accurately they would manage to capture the context and challenges of a mission hospital during those days.

However, overall, I was impressed with the authentic feel the programme managed to convey as the programme moved along.

Inevitably there were a few dramatic assumptions and liberties that had to be taken, but the setting, the conditions, the commitment of the staff, and the quiet determination of the patients all had a very familiar and authentic ring. I thought they did a great and very professional job!

The loneliness and isolation of the lead doctor were deeply moving; the sinister backdrop of the ubiquitous apartheid security police had a sadly realistic timbre to it.

The willingness of the local staff and work force to do anything to make the clinic and its water supply work, was impressive.

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I did find it a shame, however, that all the good things that must have been happening prior to the arrival of the team from London were a bit lost in the narrative – and then the place was suddenly transformed in a matter of a few weeks. Missionary life never was, and certainly isn’t now, anything like that!

It would also have been good to see a little more evidence of the local support staff in the clinic than we actually did.

A good docu-drama about mission hospitals today would be very instructive of a changing approach to mission, and could also make excellent television!

The heroes and heroines would be local people (or South-to-South Partners), and the transformation would be slow and deliberate – and probably a lot less dramatic. And the involvement of outsiders would be focused around developing local skills and leadership, and encouraging the local church in supporting its own mission hospital and clinics. USPG today supports exactly this very different model of community-based medicine.

I wonder what would happen if local congregations here in Britain and Ireland began to explore how they could help transform their own local hospitals and clinics in these days of stress and pressure on the NHS? We would surely have a lot to learn from our partners in Africa.

Having said all this, the witness of the Call the Midwife sisters and midwives, both in London and in South Africa, is a great reminder of the call to sacrificial service that is inherent in our gospel of God’s love being revealed as we become the hands and feet of Christ himself, in the twenty-first century.

Bravo BBC!

Views expressed on this blog are not necessarily those of Us.

2 thoughts on “After Call the Midwife Christmas special, we urge the BBC to highlight modern mission

  1. Thanks for the article, Edgar. I saw the programme, and feel that your response to it was much more generous than mine! ‘I wonder what would happen if local congregations here in Britain and Ireland began to explore how they could help transform their own local hospitals and clinics in these days of stress and pressure on the NHS? ‘ Maybe that should become a campaign – persuading congregations to look at that. There is a parish in Bedford with a parish nurse, which perhaps helps to take some of the pressure off the local NHS services, but there could potentially be more volunteer roles at the sharp end?

  2. Be careful for what you wish ! The last series The Missionaries made by the BBC caused such an uproar as ill informed producers sought out a series of eccentrics \|(and let’s face it, we know how eccentric expats can appear!) which caricatured missionary profiles ! I spent my days responding to complaints when working in the Policy and Planning department of the Beeb and in the evening advising fellow mission enthusiasts how best to get their voices heard. The then CRAC, Central Religious Advisory Committee followed through the complaints, were offered the chance for a second series redressing the complaints but chickened out at the last minute! Far better approach would be to liaise with independent programme making company who would sell a good idea for a series to the gatekeepers, controllers or schedulers of the network.

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