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Christianity / Church / Church History / Church History For Kids

Ida Sophia Scudder: Reluctant Missionary

How did a Nebraska farm girl become a noted medical missionary in India?

Updated Aug 28, 2023
Ida Sophia Scudder: Reluctant Missionary

Just One Chunk of Bread

Nebraska farm life was like a dream to seven-year old Ida Sophia Scudder. There were the wide-open fields to run through, the sweet smelling hay to play in, and a beautiful horse to take care of. These happy days on the farm almost made her forget what had happened a year ago in India. Almost. But not quite.

It was the children's eyes that would be forever etched in her memory. Those rows and rows of pain-filled eyes all looking to her for relief. Eyes so weak they could scarcely be held open. Eyes full of hunger longing to be satisfied.

Even though Ida's basket was full of bread, she couldn't give them enough to really satisfy their hunger. Her mother had been clear about that. "Only one chunk of bread, Ida. Just one chunk for each child. Otherwise those at the back of the line will get nothing."

It was hard, but Ida obeyed her mother. One chunk of bread wouldn't satisfy these poor children suffering from India's famine, but at least their tummies wouldn't rumble quite so much. That evening as Ida looked at her own dinner, she felt guilty for having enough when so many had too little.

But all that was behind Ida now that her missionary family had returned to America because of her father's poor health. She loved the comforts of America, where there always seemed to be plenty of food to go around. Ida Scudderdecided to never return to India. She wanted to live an easy life in the land of plenty.

College Dreams

The girls giggled as they crowded into their secret meeting place. The furnace room was the perfect spot for "the bunch" to examine their loot. Florence had "borrowed" the headmistress' pen and Annie had a pot from the school kitchen. "I've got you all beat!" exclaimed Ida, as her hand slipped into her pocket. "These screws are right from the front gate of the seminary! Just wait till the headmistress comes through the gate!"

With that, the entire group dissolved into laughter. Borrowing and later returning items was just one of the many pranks "the bunch" had pulled during their four years at Dwight L. Moody's Seminary for girls. But now that graduation was nearing, the girls' thoughts turned toward marriage and settling down.

Ida too had dreams of a secure life with her own "Prince Charming" in America. Her dreams were interrupted by bad news from her parents, who had returned to their work in India. Ida's father needed her to come and care for her mother, who was quite ill.

"You're going to become a missionary just like the rest of your family," teased Florence.

Ida's anger flared. "Oh, no I won't! I will never be a missionary. You'll see. I'll be back in one year."

A Change of Plans

Once back in India, 21-year-old Ida helped her parents in their mission work, but secretly she planned her escape. One evening, Ida had settled into her room to enjoy a book. As she turned the pages, her mind drifted to her plans to return to America, marry "Mr. Right," and live out her days in the land of opportunity. The quick footsteps and knock at the door brought Ida back to the present. She looked up to see a young Hindu man trying to get her attention. "My wife is having our first baby and something is wrong," he blurted out. "I was told you could help."

"I'm no doctor, but my father is. He'll help your wife."

The young man's face fell in sadness. "Our religion does not permit a man to even look at my wife's face."

Ida implored him, "But without my father's help, she may die!"

In disbelief, Ida watched the man's sad eyes drop to the floor as he turned to leave whispering, "All is lost."

That night, another Hindu man came to Ida with the same request. He refused her father's help for the same reason. A Muslim also came, seeking help for his pregnant wife. When Ida gave him the same explanation, he replied, "If you cannot help me, then it is better that my wife die, rather than be seen by a strange man." With that, he bowed and left.

Ida spent a sleepless night praying for guidance. She felt she met God that night, and He was calling her to abandon her plans and follow Him.

The next morning, Ida learned that all three women died during the night. These senseless deaths occurred all because there was no female doctor. As a little girl, Ida hadn't had enough bread to feed the starving children, but now she knew there was a way to help the hurting women.

Ida Scudder prayed aloud, "God, if You want me to stay in India, I will spend the rest of my life trying to help these women." Once she chose to follow God's call, Ida never looked back. She returned to America to attend Cornell Medical College. In 1899, Dr. Ida Scudder was ready to begin her work in India.

Medication to the people

Ida examined the large open sore on the boy's leg. "Why didn't you bring your son in sooner?" she asked his mother. Ida was thrilled that the women were finally trusting her enough and coming to the clinic, but why did they sometimes wait too long?

"I thought it was the image of a god growing there," replied the mother. "Everyone told me I would anger the gods if I even touched it. Can you help him?"

Ida sadly sent the mother away. It was too late for her to help the poor suffering boy. The superstitions the people believed were keeping them from coming to her in time. She had to think of a way to resolve this problem.

Ida's "Roadsides" were the answer. With an ox and wagon full of medical supplies, Ida traveled to remote villages to treat the people where they lived. She would always pray with those she visited, and ask them if they had any questions about Jesus or Christianity.

Training Indian Women

Ida set her mind to train Indian women as nurses and doctors so they could help themselves. Though no one believed the women would be able to pass the final doctor's exam, Ida pressed on. When the scores were finally tallied, all fourteen of her students had passed! Ida's dreams of teaching the Indian women to help themselves were becoming a reality.

Ida helped start the Vellore Christian Medical College and Hospital, which is today known around the world for excellent research, healthcare, and disease prevention. There, Bible classes are held in nine different languages, and chaplains pray with patients. Dr. Ida Scudder, who once promised never to work in India, left a legacy that continues to touch millions of lives each year.

Make It Real! Questions to make you dig a little deeper and think a little harder.

1. Why didn't Ida want to go back to India after living in America?

2. What lead her to change her mind about being a missionary?

3. Ida was a "medical missionary." What do you think that means?

4. Look up Luke 9:23Æ24 in the Bible. What is Jesus asking his followers to do? How did Ida follow Jesus' instructions?

5. Are there ways that you can follow Jesus' command in your own life today?

Suggested reading:

Ida Scudder: Healing Bodies, Touching Hearts by Janet and Geoff Benge (Christian Heroes Then and Now series, YWAM

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Ten Girls Who Made History by Irene Howat (Christian Focus Publications)

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Cover Photo Credit: © Getty Images/Nayeem Ahmad

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About Church History For Kids

Ida Scudder prayed aloud, "God, if You want me to stay in India, I will spend the rest of my life trying to help these women." Once she chose to follow God's call, Ida never looked back.