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.
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.