I was about 14 and had decided I would be a physician. My seventh grade science teacher (and my Sunday school teacher) Margaret Beene had told us about her aunt who had a strange, little-understood disease called scleroderma in which the skin, inside and out, hardened to make the affected organs barely functional. In one form fingers could be resorbed from the tips due to the pressure of the skin on the bones, and internal organs such as the digestive tract and heart had major functional problems as their own “skins” hardened. Then Mrs. Beene got the disease, and I was going to find a cure for it: I was going to be a doctor.
We had traveled 50 miles from our small town to
“What are you going to be when you grow up, Bruce?”
“I’m going to be a doctor,” I answered from the back seat.
“And be a medical missionary like Henry Farrar?” she queried.
I thought, “No way! I’m going to do research and find a cure for Mrs. Beene’s scleroderma.” I had no idea who Henry Farrar was, but I was pretty sure that the kind of research I wanted to do and medical missions didn’t go hand in hand. But a seed had been planted.
A few years later my older sister married a latino evangelist, Victor Rodriguez, and the idea of missions came a little closer to home as they discussed possible work in
Dr. Farrar continued to appear in my life. First, on arriving at Harding and discovering the library, I read about him in the Christian Chronicle, his establishment of the
Most recently I’ve been impressed that Dr. Farrar has read and can discuss in detail or is even teaching from every book that I’ve read or been recommended on spiritual growth and development. His mind is still racing to know and to live under the lordship and teaching of Jesus Christ. The arthritis that has bent his tall frame in recent years belies the sharp mind that operates behind eyes keen once again after cataract surgery and under the blooming almond tree of white hair that foretells the wisdom to come from his lips. But his intelligence, sharp as it is and has always been, and his wisdom pale beside this man’s most marked characteristic, his faithfulness, the incredible trust that Henry Farrar has in his God, the Father of us all, and in Jesus Christ, our model as God’s only son, himself a medical missionary, as Henry has always reminded us.
I’m pretty sure Dr. Farrar was present at the first Medical Missions Seminar held by Churches of Christ in the fall of 1968 or the spring of ‘69 at Harding, though his quiet demeanor pales in my memory beside Joe Cannon’s more bombastic faithfulness and charges to physicians on that occasion: “You don’t go to the mission field because you’re worried about your 401K’s and your retirement funds. Why don’t you work until you’re done and then just die and go to heaven?” If it was Joe who said it, Henry Farrar has lived it. The closest to a word of complaint I ever heard from Doctor Farrar was that he was “underworked and overpayed” when he returned to practice in the States. I know nothing of his financial affairs, but he educated several children, one a surgeon, one a doctoral level RN, and one a missionary, and he has continued to give liberally to others who work faithfully in
At other medical missions seminars that unfolded over the years Henry encouraged successive generations of candidates to just finish medical school and get on the boat, go to the mission field. He seemed to disdain the urging of others to study culture and language, which they said was necessary so that inter-personal ministry on the field could be enhanced. But when my wife and I spent a few weeks at his hospital during my senior year in medical school, staying in what had been his home, I was pleasantly surprised to see an Ibo grammar as one of only two or three books remaining on the bookshelf of the mostly empty house. And he was not just respected in that part of
I think Dr. Farrar’s “get with it” advice may have been motivated by the fact that more than 90% of those who said during pre-med years that they were going to do medical mission work ended up in a private practice in the
When various circumstances suggested that the Farrar family return to the States for an indefinite period, Dr. Farrar flexibly “reinvented missions”, leading a wave of itinerant service by multitudes of physicians and surgeons, beginning at Nigerian Christian Hospital and expanding to numerous other facilities, a growth that continues today among some perhaps ignorant of its original inspiration. It is probably not an overstatement to say that these methodologies, itinerant surgical missions, owe their practice in Churches of Christ to Henry’s need to be here and be there, a need he has heeded up until the present. Thus he was able to not only continue to meet his own family’s needs and serve in Nigeria, but also to involve many of those who had said they would go, only to find themselves somehow unable or in some way unsuited after finishing their residencies. At least in some sense, a sense that has been a blessing on both sides of the service, the seemingly betrayed intentions of many have been fulfilled through imitation of the latter part of Dr. Farrar’s life, and not uncommonly through his personal invitation.
The influence of Dr. Henry Farrar in medical missions in Churches of Christ would be difficult to overstate. Though he is probably too humble to say the words, what he has done and the Christ-like spirit with which he has done everything cry in the words of the apostle for us to “follow me as I follow Christ”. It is at least fair to say that none of the rest of us might have ever been there had he not gone, so that Sunday school teachers, visiting missionaries, and Bible professors across the nation could invite those of us considering the practice of medicine to be medical missionaries “like Henry Farrar”, and thus like Jesus Christ.
P.S. Dr. Farrar fell Tuesday morning on arriving at his work, suffering a concussion and a fracture of his first cervical vertebra. He has awakened and is lucid and communicating, but is paralyzed from the neck down and is unable to breathe on his own. The family appreciates your prayers.
Any errors in the above stories are mine, as I remember them.
Margaret Beene lived to be 90 years old by the grace of God and the good care of many able physicians, some of whom she surely outlived. She always encouraged my decision to be a medical missionary, to the last years of her life.