This is a complete and accurate transcript of the first oral history interview of Richard Edgar Scheel (CN 83, T2) in the Archives of the Billy Graham Center. No spoken words have been omitted, except for any non-English phrases which could not be understood by the transcribers. If the transcriber was not completely sure of having gotten what the speaker said, "[?]" was inserted after the word or phrase in question. If the speech was inaudible or indistinguishable, "[unclear]" was inserted. Grunts and verbal hesitations, such as "ah" or "um" were usually omitted. Readers should remember that this is a transcription of spoken English, which, of course, follows a different rhythm and rule than written English.
... Three dots indicate an interruption or break in the train of thought within the sentence on the part of the speaker.
Note: English language reference works on Ethiopia seem to make it a point of honor to make sure that at least half of the Ethiopian place and ethnic names are spelled differently than those in any other English language reference book. For this transcript the transcriber used as definitive Area Handbook for Ethiopia, published by the U.S. Government Printing Office in 1971 and Area Handbook for Somalia, same publisher, 1977. Place names mentioned by Scheel are spelled differently than those in these volumes when his pronunciation indicates he is using a different spelling. The definitive spelling is given in brackets.
.... Four dots indicate what the transcriber believes to be the end of an incomplete sentence.
() Words in parentheses are asides made by the speaker.
 Words in brackets are comments by the transcriber.
This transcription was made by Robert Shuster and Paul Winterhalter and was completed in September 1993.
Collection 83, #T2. Interview with Richard Edgar Scheel by Mary Ann Buffington, January 29, 1980.
BUFFINGTON: This is an interview of Dr. Richard Scheel by Mary Ann Buffington for the Missionary Sources Collection of Wheaton College. This interview took place at Dr. Scheel's office in Wheaton [Illinois] on January 23rd, 1980 at 3pm. [tape recorder turned off and back on, feedback sound] So that we'll know that we'll know that we're on the air here.
BUFFINGTON: The first topic I'd like to talk to you with, just this afternoon, is probably just a little about your background, your family background, your educational experiences, why you came to Wheaton. Not only is this a...a Missionary Sources Collection file for your experiences in the mission field but also for Wheaton college.
BUFFINGTON: So, if you would like to tell us....
SCHEEL: I was born in LaGrange, Illinois which is just about twelve miles west of here [the town of Wheaton, where the interview took place], west and.... No, it would be east, what am I saying? [chuckles] South-east, okay we got it. Back in my grade school days my folks were very concerned that the children in the family have a Christian education. I have two uncles that, during high-school years went astray and my parents felt very strongly that it was the liberal education they received in high-school that was partly responsible. And so back in the thirties they were making inquiries to housing in Wheaton. A number of times they had gone out to look for homes. In a very remarkable way on a...a weekend in 1937 they not only found a home but within two days we moved and the following Monday I started school, this was at Wheaton Academy [a private Christian secondary school] in 1937. Not only did I but my four sisters all have the opportunity then of attending Christian schools in the community and this was a profound influence in our lives in directing us towards Christian service. I had four years at Wheaton Academy. In my senior [high school] year I took Bible survey in the College, in 1941 formally began studies at Wheaton College. These were interrupted in '43 in the spring...I guess it would have to be '44. Anyway, I was sent to Great Lakes [Navy Base] in the service and a few months later went on to medical school but all this time during medical school training, I lived in Wheaton, so again there was a strong attachment to Wheaton College during my medical school days. We attended Wheaton Bible Church. In 1947 I graduated and took internship and subsequently residency at Augustana hospital in Chicago, and in 1950 we went to the field to Ethiopia. Does that cover what you had in mind?
BUFFINGTON: It sounds like you covered a lot. When you were in Wheaton what sorts of things did you do? What were you involved in other than your studies? Did you just...was it basically an academic life when you were...? Did you live...?
SCHEEL: This is college years?
SCHEEL: I lived at home and since it was during the war years and since things were accelerated, about the only extra-curricular I had was the orchestra, I did go regularly to orchestra. I did not attend athletics, I did work. I was involved in buildings and grounds department in the basement of east Blanchard [Hall, the main building on campus at that time] and earned quite a bit of my expenses that way.
BUFFINGTON: What effect...I'm sure the war did have an effect on the college, the activities that were there. Do you remember anything in particular that happened that was a significant event, that...special projects or special programs that took place on the college campus during this period?
SCHEEL: Well, I had an interview early in my college course with Dr. [Enoch C.] Dyrness and I felt that I should drop everything and go off to the war and he indicated that until the country asked for me I would be better...to continue my training, that I would be of more value to the country as an educated volunteer than as someone not educated and that was more or less his counsel. However, we did have an opportunity to sign up for Army ASTP [Army Student Training Program] or V12 [both were military training programs for college students] with the Navy and I was accepted into the V12 program, and that was how I eventually secured some of my medical training. Actually in the V12 program, too, they wanted to send me to a school in Michigan and I had orders but I went into the Ninth Naval Headquarters in Chicago and showed them the curriculum at Wheaton and what courses where offered and how I could complete my pre-medical requirements a year earlier at Wheaton than if I went to this school in Mount Pleasant, Michigan, and they subsequently did cancel my order to active duty and allowed me to stay on at Wheaton to do pre-medical entirely at Wheaton. So there were a couple things that happened that were...had a very far reaching influence.
BUFFINGTON: What about some of those particular teachers. You mentioned a Dr. Duress...Dyrness....
BUFFINGTON: Was he....which department was he in?
SCHEEL: He was the registrar. He was on the board of TEAM (Evangelical Alliance Mission)...the senior Dr. [John W.] Leedy was a close friend, Dr. [Clinton O.] Mack was the head of the biology department, zoology department and he was my faculty advisor, but also John [L.] Leedy's father was a professor and John Leedy who we know now as the senior John Leedy happened to be my Sunday school teacher, so I felt like I knew these men very closely and they certainly were kind in giving advice and in being helpful regarding classes that would be of value. Dr. [Russell] Mixter too. He had taught at University of Illinois in the medical school for one year, so he had advice as to subjects that would be helpful in preparing for medical school.
BUFFINGTON: So you knew when you came to Wheaton that you were interested in med school?
SCHEEL: I also had Edith Claire Torrey in Bible. She was the daughter of Reuben Archer Torrey and I remember some of her classes had a profound effect. Dr. Joseph Free I had for Bible survey and I really appreciate his emphasis on archaeology and bringing some of the Old Testament up to modern day discovery.
BUFFINGTON: Sure. That sounds interesting [very faint]. What about your classmates at Wheaton? Do you have some...
SCHEEL: Yes, there were....
BUFFINGTON: ...remembrances of some of them?
SCHEEL: Yes. Ralph Christensen is in town right now. He and I were classmates. He's has been with TEAM in South Africa. Some of the others who were with me, were in premed club and went on to medical school. John Elsen was a year ahead of me and he and his wife Virginia were classmates. John attended Northwestern University and has been involved in our support through the years. He's also involved at Moody Church [in Chicago] and in practice at Evanston, Illinois. Some of those who were in school have been supporting us through the [Wheaton] Bible Church. Esther Lou Depue and the Bensons (Stanley Benson and Gaile Benson) have all been involved in getting our prayer letters out so there have been close associations as a result of friendships made during college years.
BUFFINGTON: Well, now I know then that after you went to Wheaton for a while you went to med school. When did you decide that you needed to go to the mission field? When did you feel your calling to the mission field?
SCHEEL: The call to the mission field came in my junior year of high school. We were in the [Wheaton] Academy which is the building that the [Wheaton College] graduate school now uses on the corner of Franklin and Irving [the building known as Schell Hall in 1993]. During special meetings, evangelistic meetings, the academy would attend college chapel. And at that time the speaker was Robert [Alexander] Jaffray [Christian and Missionary Alliance missionary to China and what is now Indonesia] and definitely the Lord spoke to me through his message concerning missions. So it was at one of those meetings that I gave my life for foreign missions, so it was even in high school years that I felt lead toward the mission field as a result of a service held in Pierce chapel at Wheaton College.
BUFFINGTON: So from that point you were preparing yourself through Bible studies.
BUFFINGTON: [unclear] What was your decision...how did you decide to go out under SIM [Sudan Interior Mission, the board Scheel served under.]? Did...did...?
SCHEEL: Well, first was the decision on Ethiopia. In my...at the end of my second year of medical school the Lord definitely indicated that He had in mind Ethiopia. There was a memorial service held at Wheaton Bible Church and the veterans (there were three) who had given their life during World War II were remembered and also in that group Don...(excuse me) Robert, Robert Hockman was remembered. Now he wasn't directly in World War II but he was killed during the Italian war in Ethiopia and it was at that service of remembrance that the Lord very clearly indicated to me, "Now I want you to go to Ethiopia and replace the life laid down by Dr. Hockman." [The papers of Dr. Hockman are in collection 200 of the Billy Graham Center Archives.] Subsequently (to answer your question about which mission board or why SIM) I wrote...or I looked over a list of boards working in Ethiopia and I think there were three or four that I wrote and the one that really encouraged me to follow through with them was Sudan Interior Mission. One of the other boards gave me a short answer and indicated they were sending a bulletin and I never received the bulletin and it was incidently the board that the Hockmans had been under [the Hockman's served under the Foreign Mission Board of the United Presbyterian Church], but Sudan Interior Mission had encouraged me and subsequently, yes, that was the board we went out under.
BUFFINGTON: Now S.I.M is a faith mission right?
BUFFINGTON: So then you were required to enlist or find your [financial] support before you went.
BUFFINGTON: I also know that before you went to the field you married...
BUFFINGTON: ...just prior to your leaving. So did you and your wife apply to the board and were accepted or how did that work?
SCHEEL: In those days SIM had a rule that if you applied singly, you had to do language study and after language, successfully passing language you could get married. Well, we had already waited three years during her nurse's training so we didn't feel that we should wait much longer and therefore we married and actually the first stop on our honeymoon [chuckles]...the headquarters of SIM in those days was in New York, we went immediately to New York and applied and were given an appointment to come into candidate school in February. This was early January that we were with them in New York and then we had our honeymoon and then subsequently to the mission home for orientation. We were accepted around the fifteenth of March and by the fifteenth of April we were in Africa. Things went very, very quickly.
BUFFINGTON: You were very fortunate to be able to go so quickly. It seems a rare case where things move so rapidly [laughs].
BUFFINGTON: You can definitely see there was a hand...
BUFFINGTON: ...in your need to go.
BUFFINGTON: I know that your first stop was in Nigeria at the....
SCHEEL: Correct. Kano Eye Hospital.
BUFFINGTON: Right, and where you were replacing a doctor on furlough.
BUFFINGTON: And...so...do you want to talk a little bit about your experience?
SCHEEL: Well, Doug Hursh is a Wheaton alumnus and he started the eye hospital at Kano. [Interviews and some papers of M. Douglas Hursh are in collection 186 of the Billy Graham Center Archives.] We had been in correspondence and also talking with Dr. Albert Helzer, who was in SIM in those days. And Dr. Helzer had mentioned a need in Nigeria. And we were interested in going there to get some experience in eye. We had correspondence from a doctor in Ethiopia. He indicated there was a lot of eye disease and we should try and get some eye training. Therefore we had talked to Dr. Helzer, who was the station head from Kano. "Could we go to Kano and work with Dr. Hursh?" "Yes," he said, "but he's going on home leave for a year's furlough, so if you plan to do that, you should do it quickly." Then he said, "Would you possibly consider helping, perhaps taking his place for a year?" Well, we had no objection to that. So that's actually how it worked. We went out to the field in April of 1951 and had three months with Dr. Hursh and then when he was on home leave, it was our responsibility for the fifteen months he was back in the States.
BUFFINGTON: To keep the hospital running.
BUFFINGTON: Now, obviously in the three months that elapsed or four months that elapsed between the time you applied and the time that you left, you didn't have any language study. What sort of barriers did you find when you got to [chuckles] Nigeria? Was...was there a language study available?
SCHEEL: That's a very good question. All the staff spoke English, so that in communicating with the staff we could speak in English. In caring for patients, no, we did not have the language and we would have to use an interpreter and that was difficult. However, there were a number of ministries that were to English speaking population. On Saturday nights we had Youth for Christ meetings and those were in English, so we were involved each Saturday in Youth for Christ. And Sunday evening was the English church service of an evangelistic nature and we were involved in that each Sunday. And in addition then to our medical work there were certain things being done in English that we could get involved [sic].
BUFFINGTON: I would imagine that that was a real barrier [laughs], although I imagine there are some things that when it's pain, it's pain and you can understand...
BUFFINGTON: ...it. Medical problems are sometimes easier than others. [pauses] Let's see. Well, you had left the United States to go to a Third World country. What sort of culture shock did you experience? I am sure there was some adjustment that had to be made. The climate was different and the surroundings were different. But....
BUFFINGTON: Do you remember your first impressions as you arrived?
SCHEEL: Heat was one big thing. Kano...it's up over a hundred [degrees Fahrenheit] just about every day. I think the Lord knew what was ahead and used Nigeria and Kano particularly, an established station, to orient us and prepare us for what was ahead in Ethiopia. As it turned out, our assignment in Ethiopia for ten years was in the Somali desert area. And this was a Muslin culture, which was Kano. Secondly, there was a high incidence of eye disease. And thirdly, the heat was present both in Kano and in the Somali area. So in all three ways the Lord was orienting us for what was ahead in Ethiopia and getting us prepared. We had read some about Islam, but it was great to be in Nigeria anyhow and see how they actually worked and witnessed to Muslims before being on our own in an entirely new and pioneer situation in Ethiopia.
BUFFINGTON: What kind of opportunities did you have then for evangelism? I'm sure you did have many opportunities in your work or otherwise. You did mention that you had other projects that you worked with, like the Youth for Christ on Saturday night and the English speaking church. What sort of other opportunities did you have for evangelism and what sort of problems did you encounter with, like, the language barrier?
SCHEEL: Now are we dealing about Nigeria or are we dealing about Ethiopia?
BUFFINGTON: No, let's talk about Nigeria for a while.
SCHEEL: Okay. Nigeria was an established station, an established work. So much of the evangelism was put in the hands of the national and all that was demanded of us was to take our turn and occasionally in the evening I would speak in the ward, taking my turn in an evangelistic message and occasionally on Sunday I would go into the ward and give a message, using a translator to interpret to the local people. But the full responsibility for the witness was in the hands of the Nigerian Christians and they were well able to do this so that as far as myself was concerned, it was just to set an example to let them know I supported them in this and I was with it a hundred percent, but really it was their responsibility. Does that cover what you had in mind?
BUFFINGTON: Fine. Now that was with the Nigerian church.
BUFFINGTON: I'm going to move back now. You say...so you were there fifteen months.
BUFFINGTON: A year and a half practically.
BUFFINGTON: Then you and your wife traveled to...
BUFFINGTON: ...Ethiopia to the Somali area.
BUFFINGTON: Now you were establishing mission...medical work there, is that right?
SCHEEL: Establishing a new station. It was an area that was hostile. An area that had never been contacted before and it was felt that medicine was a opportunity to demonstrate Calvary [e.g. Christian] concern. And at the same time as making friends with these people then, a witness could also be given. So there was no church, there were no believers and we essentially were starting from scratch and it was an entirely different situation than what we had been up against in Nigeria. In the early days I would often preach twenty-five times a week. Well, never had I done that in Nigeria. On the other hand, if I didn't preach, no one preached. So I felt like that was the reason we were there and many mornings I would speak three times in the course of a morning. As folk gathered and the waiting room filled, I would just take out fifteen minutes and explain a little bit about what the Bible had to say and if folk wanted to hear, they were free to listen. If they wanted to sit outside, that was also permitted. And then at the end of the brief messages we would take patients and examine them until that group was finished. And this would happen at least twice a morning, like as I say sometimes even three times a morning, that we would have service, my feeling being that while we didn't have to compel anybody, certainly we ought to give them the opportunity to hear and then what they did with it was their responsibility. We were there nine, possibly ten years and in that time I feel that there were thirty-five that were genuinely converted, who made a decision to follow the Lord Jesus Christ. And I think subsequent events have proved this. At one point the workers in Mogadishu (this is the seaport capital of the neighboring country of Somali Republic) indicated that the people in their church were people...two thirds of the people in their church were people who first heard the Gospel at Kallafo, which was our station. This was a real encouragement to us, to know that the years there were not in vain, that the Lord used it to break down hostility and to begin a work and also the formation of a church.
BUFFINGTON: You started that mission...that mission station yourself.
BUFFINGTON: I'm sure there were problems in trying to establish the work from scratch. What...did you have any other helpers beside your wife or...?
SCHEEL: I had a single nurse, I had a single man who was involved in the school and I had a builder and their [sic] wife. Early in the entry, I became sick [fall of 1953]. It was a form of malaria called black water fever and in a very remarkable way the Lord sent help. An airplane got...came in. No plane had landed and they actually marked the area with sheets that hadn't been used for the hospital but that was their intent. But they lined up, a strip had been cleared, and a doctor came out from the neighboring country of British Somaliland and stayed with me for two weeks until I was out of coma and able to be moved. And at that time he moved me to his hospital in Hargeysa, British Somaliland and then I was subsequently evacuated to the United States for convalescence and recuperation. We returned in '55 and I...I felt that our homes would be prepared against malaria, that this would not need to recur. In the early days we didn't have a screening, we didn't have a proper prevention. We were taking anti-malarials, however. But it an area that's high in falciparum malaria and people die. The Lord in His grace kept me alive.
BUFFINGTON: I do know that when you returned to the United States during the time you were recovering you worked with the Christian Medical Society...
BUFFINGTON: ...traveled around.... What were some of your experiences. I'm sure you probably went all over. I don't know if you....
SCHEEL: Yes, we traveled about 40,000 miles that furlough on behalf of Christian Medical Society. When we took the assignment, I wasn't sure this was what we should be doing, but I agreed I would take it for a brief period just to see. The other employee at that time was Ray Knighton, who is well known today as head of MAP [Medical Assistance Program]. Ray suggested I go west and the first day was Wheaton to Kansas City, Missouri, as I recall. That night we were in a home and as I recall it was in a basement. And there I was with two babies and my wife in a basement. And about eleven o'clock there was a knock on the door and two medical students were there. One definitely lacked assurance of salvation and the other, I think, was interested in missions. Anyway, we talked with them to...well into the morning. And at the end of the interview, my wife and I were both convinced, "Yes this is what the Lord wanted us to do at this time," just from this brief encounter with these two medical students who had come to talk with us. Meanwhile, we didn't get vast numbers of recruits for SIM. That really wasn't our purpose. Our purpose was to encourage Christian students in their campus witness and to challenge them with the opportunity of world missions, wherever the Lord would lead them and how He would lead them. And in that way I do think the Lord blessed that year we worked with the Christian Medical Society.
BUFFINGTON: So then you returned to Kall...Kall....
BUFFINGTON: Kallafo. And then you had an interesting experience I found with a court case involving a small child or baby that died as a result of....
BUFFINGTON: And that was interesting to me. I'd like for you to talk a little bit about it. I don't....
SCHEEL: You've done your homework.
SCHEEL: The Somali had a custom called blood money and in the case of any death, the tribe would insist that they be remunerated. For example, when the hospital was building, one of the Arabs bringing stone came into the com...compound with his cart. There was a little decline and coming down that slight hill his cart went out of control and ran over a child and for that, yes, blood money to the tune of fifty camels had to be paid. Of course, that was his responsibility. But then later in the clinic Arte Muhammad brought his child moribund with malaria and seeing that he was unconscious, unable to respond, we felt that, well, we would do heroics. We gave him cholorquine by an intermuscular needle and fifteen minutes later he expired, he died. [Incident described very briefly in Scheel's diary entry for November 15, 1955 in box 1 folder 7 of collection 83] Well, right away they said it was our injection that killed him and because of this we were involved in litigation for six months, first in the local court, then in the subprovincal court, then in the provincial court, then all the way up to Addis Ababa. This taught us many things. [both laugh] One thing, of course--patience. But through it the Lord became precious and confirmed that He was not abandoning us, that He understood. And this man Arte Muhammad on at least three occasions threatened my life, indicated that he was going to kill me. At one point the government said that they would protect me by putting him in jail. Well, I said if there was going to be a killing, he wouldn't do it anyway. He would get one of his tribesmen to do it. And so we didn't have him put in jail. But the thrilling thing was perhaps two years later, three years later, Arte Muhammad in our presence knelled...knelt and asked the Lord Jesus Christ into his heart as Savior and subsequently two of his children, two of his boys, attended mission schools. So this was a tremendous thing that this man who had been our bitterest enemy would first become a child of God and then subsequently would have his own children in the mission school.
BUFFINGTON: [pauses] Fantastic story. I was very interested in the seeming custom or tradition of the blood money. It's an interesting concept since it's not something that's...
BUFFINGTON: ...practiced in the United States. Then the next year you had some excitement, I know, when the Emperor Haile Selassie came and visited the school [August 28, 1956]. I believe he came and visited the school with a gift [$500].
SCHEEL: Yes. We had asked folk on that previous furlough that the Lord somehow undertake and improve our communication. It was at least a seven day drive from our station to Addis Ababa and it was almost a non-existent road. It was more or less a track or it is a trail. And so we felt that if the king would come visit, this would allow us a bit of publicity. Whenever the king came, for example, they would build roads and possibly even His Majesty would do something about improving communication. Well, the Lord did answer that prayer. I know folk were praying and the king paid a visit. Before that not even a governor had been down. That is how remote the area was. But the king visited and after his visit he asked the air force to fly in twice a month and began a regular airplane service to our station. To do this, the air force had to be in communication and had to have radio contact, so they put a transmitter in and asked us to man it. This meant giving weather reports twice a day to their central headquarters near Addis Ababa. We did this willingly and in return, we were allowed to fly on their plane. I did ask that we get consideration for our children and the ten years we were there or in the years we were there subsequent to that, our kiddies did go back and forth on that plane to school and they were never charged. The missionary adults, we did pay a fee for flying but the kiddies went free because of the radio communication that we gave. But it was a wonderful thing to have this service and that way we could get to Addis Ababa in about four hours as compared to seven days. In those days MAF and SIM Air were not things...they weren't licensed and we hadn't come that far in our thinking. In Nigeria, yes, we did have SIM Air, S I M [each letter pronnounced individually] Air and MAF was flying in Sudan but that's the closest they were to Ethiopia.
BUFFINGTON: Let's see. [Pauses] Well, I am sure that when he came there was a lot of preparation and excitement. How did the people respond to a...a visit by the king to that area? You say it was very remote and no one...even a local governor had not been, so I'm sure they were excited to see him.
SCHEEL: They all turned out. They...they had plenty of advance notice that he was coming and he was dearly loved. I have some idea what the thinking is today but at that time the populace really appreciated his leadership, they loved him, and they were out there in full force to welcome him to our area. And he was very benevolent, as you indicated. He gave a cash gift to the school. And they had prepared a large banquet. It was very hot and he felt at the noon hour that he had had all the heat he could take, so he left rather abruptly. But that was because of his own personal health, not because of any other happening. But, no, there was a tremendous welcome. And then later when we were at Soddu he came there for a three day visit and we had the same thing repeated. And he in turn put on a banquet and entertained five thousand people simultaneously. And the missionaries were in a special building where perhaps two hundred of close guests sat down in the king's presence. And we were right in the front row, with His Majesty ahead of us on a raised dais and took a meal and it was about eleven courses. And they apologized because it was so impoverished. It was fast month and they really couldn't put on a proper banquet, they said. [Chuckles]
BUFFINGTON: [unclear], I guess. The mission work in Kallafo [hesitates slightly over pronunciation]...
BUFFINGTON: ...(Oh, finally.) was mostly with Muslims.
SCHEEL: Right. It's about 99 percent Muslim there.
BUFFINGTON: I'm sure there were difficulties in relating your Christianity to the Muslim population. How did you all go about evangelism in that respect.
SCHEEL: I indicated the daily clinic service. Secondly, we would have a service Sunday morning and Sunday afternoon we would have a Sunday school for the children. Also we had the elementary school and in the elementary school we had Bible. Now we had by this time neighboring stations across the border in the Somali Republic, but this was a government that was Muslim and would not allow the teaching of the Bible in a public school. In our situation inside Ethiopia, the law indicated that Bible was to be taught in the public school. So this was our privilege as well as our obligation and we tried to make it as interesting as possible. We had quite a file of flannelgraph stories. My brother-in-law by this time was the teacher and each day he had a Bible lesson. At one point the students boycotted the school and indicated they would not have Bible and we said in that case the school would close, because it was requirement that Bible be taught. So they simmered down and by introducing the flannelgraph it became interesting. And I felt that this was a real opportunity for getting these young people and giving them God's Word and, yes, the Lord did bless and a number made profession [of faith] and subsequently grew in grace and became leaders in the local church. So the biggest evangelistic thrust was right in the elementary school, where the daily Bible lesson were the means of producing conversions.
BUFFINGTON: So you're saying the flannelgraph was one of the most effective means of presenting the Gospel...
SCHEEL: That they could visually see it at the same time it was given.
BUFFINGTON: What other methods seemed to be effective or was there another method?
SCHEEL: Well, we did the clinic evangelism. We had vehicles and we could go up and down the river to villages and have evangelistic services. The Lord also supplied a boat and during certain seasons of the year the river was in semi-flood stage. We couldn't go by car and we could go by boat and hold these clinics. And we had a series of messages (ten in all) where we would begin with creation and through the Old Testament stories and gradually work into the New Testament -- the life of Christ, the story of Calvary, the story of the resurrection and the story of the Second Coming and in this way over a period of ten lessons give a short Bible exposition to introduce raw heathen to the Scriptures and I felt this was a tremendous opportunity to get the Gospel to a new area that had not been contacted before.
BUFFINGTON: How did you approach each group? I am sure the initial contact had to be the medical aspect, but....
SCHEEL: Right. You see in their Muslin culture they believed in creation and they believed in Nebe [?] Adam (that's the Prophet Adam) and they believed in Nebe [?] Noah (which is Noah). So you had a certain basis to work on. Also, they knew the Ten Commandments. And it was great to be able to take the Ten Commandments then and use them to illustrate that they were guilty of breaking God's law, that God had a law and just as a civil authority would punish those who trespassed, so God must punish. In this case His own Son was punished. Now that of course was a place where they objected. They didn't think Jesus was the son of God. But in dealing with this I would never contradict them as to what Islam teached or taught. I would just say, "That's what you know and I'm not going to argue about that, because you are more acquainted with Islam than I am." But I said, "Let me teach you what the Ingel [?] says." 'Ingel' [?] being the Gospels. They have four inspired writings: the Pentateuch, the Psalms of David, the Ingel[?], and the writings of Muhammad. The Ingel [?], number three, is Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. And very briefly, you have John 14:6. Jesus Himself is speaking. He says, "I am the way, the truth and the life." "Did Jesus speak the truth or was this somehow...he was misguided and really not knowledgeable." They would become irate. They would say, "He was a prophet! Don't you understand. Whatever He said had to be the truth." "Fine. If it was the truth, here it is. He said He's the way, no man comes to God but by the Lord Jesus Christ." And let the Bible speak for itself. And in that way the Holy Spirit, through His convicting work, could produce results.
BUFFINGTON: So [pauses] did you use this presentation, this means, on your weekly trips out to different camps or groups of tribes that were around? Were there...was this the way you presented it each time you went out?
SCHEEL: Yes. As I recall, in a ten mile radius we had eighteen villages.
SCHEEL: So there was plenty of opportunity up and down this river for contacting folks. And they didn't do much travel during the flood season. And when we had the boat, we could go to them. And this was a time when malaria was rampant and other diseases like dysentery. And when they needed help, I felt, well, that by all means we should get to them. And it was a Bible class of Americans in Jimma, west of Addis Ababa that gave the money for the boat and the motor. So that it was God's provision all the way around, allowing us to get out and to meet these people in the local area.
BUFFINGTON: Well, I know you were able to build a hospital. Did they patients come in or...most of the time or did you make daily treks out?
SCHEEL: No, the trek was only once a week usually and like I indicated, in the rains the hospital census would drop because they couldn't get in because no they couldn't...
BUFFINGTON: Sure, they couldn't....
SCHEEL: ...get there 'cause of.... And this is part of the culture. They depended on the flooding of the river to produce a crop. Without that water (there was no rain) without that flooding, they would not have a harvest. There would be famine. So it was very necessary that the river flood and they get the ground prepared and soaked so they could put in a crop of beans, corn.
BUFFINGTON: That was a current another year, I remember, '61 when the river flooded so much that [unclear].
SCHEEL: Yeah, that was something that had never happened to that extent before, something like sixty square miles went under water and the people then moved on. And then SIM had a big decision as to what to do, because while the people could abandon their homes (they were sticks and grass), it was difficult for the mission to abandon a hospital and station that had cost a fair amount of money. But if ninety percent of the people had left, there wasn't much sense in keeping your missionaries. Subsequently there was a couple who did go back and utilized the school and had a ministry. But we were transferred then to the south. SIM had five hospitals and only two doctors, so they kept they two open at which they had government contracts and we were assigned to Soddu in the south, which was a revival area and [unclear] was the other hospital they kept open. [The Scheels arrived in Soddu April 17, 1962.]
BUFFINGTON: What about the...we...you spoke earlier of the Nigerian situation where you had translators for the language difficulty. What about in Kallafo?
BUFFINGTON: Were you able to pick up the language after a while or...
SCHEEL: In our first assignment in...
BUFFINGTON: ...was mostly English spoken?
SCHEEL: ...our first assignment in Ethiopia was to language school and we learned the Amharic language. Now this is okay for communicating with government officials, but locally the people did not speak Amharic. It was only the police and government officials who spoke that language. So locally they used Somali and my wife and I, as soon as we arrived at Kallafo started Somali study on our own. It wasn't until the fall of '61 that actually we got formal Somali study. And this is something that we'll never understand but it was right after that the flood came in and we left. So while we know Somali today, we haven't used it very much in contacting with the people.
BUFFINGTON: Now when you flew to Soddu...
BUFFINGTON: ...you were working with the Wollamo [Wolamo]...
BUFFINGTON: ...tribe, right? Now, what differences did you find between...?
SCHEEL: Very good. The Wollamo tribe is essentially a pagan tribe, so we're not in Islam anymore. We're with a group that worship trees and stones and idols and there's been a tremendous response there and a large Christian community. And it was thrilling, actually, to be involved in a training program where we had nationals that could be given medical training, folk who had made spiritual profession [of faith] and were going to be like medical missionaries among their own people. In the early days these folk were illiterate, so when they came to us, we had to give them training in mathematics and language, teach them English because their own language does not have enough medical terms, anatomical terms to give them medical studies. But the government recognized this training (it was a three year course) and these men were certified as dressers and when we left the program there in '69, there were perhaps thirty-five out-clinics where these young men were working, giving medicine and also a Gospel witness to the local people.
BUFFINGTON: So you found the reaction to the Gospel and evangelism greater in the Wollamo area...
BUFFINGTON: ...then you...of course in the Muslim area.
BUFFINGTON: So [Scheel clears his throat] did you find it...? What sort of evangelistic methods did they respond to as opposed to the other group or was the flannelgraph also an important tool in...?
SCHEEL: In Soddu we had big campaigns. Once a year they would have a week long conference. And this was possible because you had a large Christian constituency and then they would bring in unsaved relative and neighbors to hear the Gospel. Again, there were churches, large churches, and each Sunday they would met regularly to worship and it was an entirely different situation from the area in Kallafo. The church then took much of the responsibility for evangelism and they had a whole system of church government. Interestingly, the name they used was a name they use here. I am not sure how it originated but it was called a terepeza. Terepeza means "the table." Now we have a term in our vocabulary, "the church board." Now, if that's where it came from, I am not sure but it was...if the terepeza had said it, that was official. And these men were responsible to see that evangelists were on duty in the hospital. These were the men who approved the applicants that were accepted for medical training in the hospital. Most of the evangelism was done through them and was...we just cooperated with them in it.
BUFFINGTON: What about other mission agencies? Were there other mission boards that operated in the same area?
SCHEEL: Not usually. Ethiopia has what's called "comity," an inter-mission council and the country was divided so that the Baptists worked in one area, the Presbyterians in another, Sudan Interior Mission in another and we did not overlap. Now there were two or three board that did not recognize this policy and I'd suppose you'd call them "sheep stealers" but they did move in and tried to lure away certain key people by tripling the wage or in one way or another get them into their fellowship. It was a bit of a problem, particularly one group. But otherwise most of the mission boards recognized one another's area and sphere and abided by the allotment that had been given. And it was a real precious thing for us to go to Addis Ababa and on Thursday afternoon the various missions would meet for an inter-mission prayer meeting and we would each give requests and it was wonderful to have friends in the Baptist mission, in the Presbyterian mission, to kneel and pray with them in intercession for their specific problems on specific stations. And later when I did a fair amount of eye work, I would go to some of these same missions and do eye surgery at their hospitals because their men were mainly family practitioners or general surgeons who didn't have much expertise in eye. And then we were able to do cataracts and other eye operations that needed attention, that were not being cared for in their local areas.
BUFFINGTON: It sounds like you kind of had a revolving wheel there where you could kind of interwork. What was the government response to your Christian endeavors and did you find...obviously in Kallafo, you were able to work with them, the air force and the military to have access to air and whatever. But what was their response? Did they encourage your work or were they receptive to your work? Did they allow you free rein or were they apt to put the thumb down and stop some of your activities? They felt like you were encroaching...?
SCHEEL: This is a very interesting question. It's quite possible that we were sent...that we were allowed into Kallafo, into the southeast with the idea...the idea of civilizing an area that had previously been not contacted. I know this has happened in other areas of Ethiopia where the mission has been allowed in and then shortly thereafter when a church has been established, then the government follows with the tax collector and other government services...services. The reason I make this statement is because, yes, in Soddu there were periodic persecutions, there were periodic times when the Christians were beat up, when they were put in jail, when they were under very strong pressure. Now in a situation like this, somebody on the outside, somebody at home who is asked to pray would write back and say, "How can the king [Haile Selassie] allow such a thing as that. If he's a Christian, why does this take place?" Well, the answer is very similar. Just like we have a Christian president, Jimmy Carter. Jimmy Carter can't very well be responsible for all that happens under Mayor [Jane] Byrne in Chicago. Even so, Haile Selassie couldn't be responsible for what happened in Soddu. But in the two or three instances when the situation became intolerable, and His Majesty was appealed to, yes, he would directly intervene and action was quick in coming and giving deliverance. So we felt...several instance where the mission did appeal to the king, yes, there was action given. Now on a smaller scale but illustrative of this, when I went to Soddu the hospital built in the late '20s and was badly in need of repairs and I asked the mission could I approach the king about a certain consideration. They said yes, if I wanted to do it personally, but please, they would not do it. So fine, I went to the private secretary to ask for an appointment. And he said, "Well, what is your matter." He said, "I won't deny you an appointment with the king, but maybe I can help you." I said, "Well, I have limited funds and for a period of one year I would like to ask for tax exemption. In other words, I don't want any money but if you could just give me customs and duty exemption while I make modifications...modernization of the hospital, you would help make my dollar go further." "Oh," he said, "we can help you with this." And, yes, for a one year period, all medicines, all building materials, everything that came in for Soddu Hospital was exempt from all tax and duty. And this was the kind of thing that His Majesty delighted in doing. Again, we have already alluded to that when he came to Soddu, he came to the mission station. And this was generally the case. His Majesty would come to a community and he hadn't been there long when he would say, "Where's the mission?" And immediately he would go the mission and make a tour. Well, in the eyes of local citizens, this was a...a big thing. I mean here was their king going to the missionary and more or less making a pilgrimage or visiting with them. And it gave a certain status to the missionary. So in many ways while the king did not come out wholeheartedly for SIM or any one mission, yet he did favor missions in a very quiet, loving way. Another thing was the encouragement that he gave to Scripture translation.. the [Coptic] church had always kept the Scriptures in an ancient priest language called Geez and His Majesty insisted that it be translated into the vernacular, into the Amharic, that it be studied in the schools, and that it be distributed. And over this he made enemies. But it was terrific that he encouraged Scripture translation, he gave the Bible Society a piece of land right in the center of Addis Ababa for their headquarters, and in various ways he helped the cause of the Gospel.
BUFFINGTON: That's very interesting. What about the church services you attended in Soddu. Were they...how were they structured? How did the church structure their...
SCHEEL: ...in Soddu there was no mission church, there was no church on the mission station. Now that was in marked difference to Kallafo. But see, at Soddu we're dealing with an indigenous church. And the Wollamos had a rule that no church could be closer than thirty minutes from the next church. And while some of the churches were large, they could not split or they could not divide unless they were at least thirty minutes walk from the closest adjoining church. We had two churches near the mission. One was twenty minutes away, one was perhaps thirty minutes away. And we would attend regularly on Sunday and they would have a service lasting from two to three hours. Usually there were two to three ministers. These would be elders who had a gift of teaching. Quite often they would even be in school, because illiteracy was very high and not many could read and write. And these men were in school with the idea of learning how to read, getting the Scriptures for themselves. In fact, even today illiteracy is well over ninety percent in Ethiopia. Was that what you had in mind?
BUFFINGTON: Right. And what about the church reaction to you as a foreign missionary coming into their church? How did they...as a...did they want you as a leader or did they just want you to watch them?
BUFFINGTON: [chuckles] Yeah.
SCHEEL: Yeah, often they would ask for comments and if we wanted to add something to the sermon that had been given, fine, we were free to do so. If we wanted to give a sermon, they would be thrilled to have us launch out for thirty, forty-five minutes. Seldom would I do that unless there had been previous contact. In other words, if they told me the week before, "On Sunday we'd like you to give a message," well, fine, I would be glad to do it. But to extemporaneously get up, no. Usually we just went with the idea that we were there to worship and fellowship with them. I think they appreciated that, that we were part of them, that we weren't seeking to run it.
BUFFINGTON: But yet you were willing to just share.
SCHEEL: Right. About the only status would be that they would give us a...a stool on which to sit, it was usually a three legged stool. But I think that was more culture, that they recognized that in our society they always sat in a chair. For themselves they would always put down fresh banana leaves and they would usually sit on these banana leaves right on the floor. Communion was an interesting thing. They were very strong as to who could take communion and who couldn't take communion. And whenever anyone was barred from the communion table they would make a public announcement as to why so and so was not taking communion that day. Maybe he had beaten his wife, so he was restricted from communion for six months, or whatever it was. They would read out the accusation or the reason why the elders were forbidding communion. Again, membership or baptism would be denied on very stringent grounds. They would ask the person, "You say you don't drink, you don't use alcoholic beverages in other words. But do you make alcoholic beverages? Are you selling alcoholic beverages in the mark...market." And they would really quiz their applicants. They would start their service for baptism on Saturday afternoon and all Saturday night, through the night hours they would be quizzing and interviewing the various applic...applicants to satisfy that they had...had had a genuine experience, that they were whole hearted in their desire to follow the Lord before they would give permission for them to be bap...to be baptized. This had a profound effect on us, to see the thoroughness at which they went about their responsibility of taking folk into church membership. And certainly it was not our...not at our instigation. This was their idea. Again, the method of baptism (now my wife comes a Lutheran background [Lutherans baptize by sprinkling]) but they decided it would be by immersion.. Now this was a reaction against Coptic Christianity. Coptic Christianity sprinkles, they have annual sprinkling. And to distinguish their baptism from their culture, they insisted that any baptism that they perform be once and it be by immersion.
BUFFINGTON: The Coptic Christians. How did you deal with that form and that group...? Or were there very many Coptic Christians in the area...
SCHEEL: Well, most of...
BUFFINGTON: ...Christian in the area?
SCHEEL: ...your officials and most of your priests would be Coptic and His Majesty would be Coptic, of course. But His Majesty had a definite idea of what the Scriptures taught, he had an understanding of the new birth [conversion to belief in Christ], he knew that Jesus Christ was more than a prophet, that he was God's Son, he was the Savior, that he had died and rose again, was coming. And the average Copt does not have this knowledge. The average Copt has a lot of ritual he goes through and I suppose an apt comparison would be an RC or a Roman Catholic today. Mind you, there is no comparison on the local scene. It's just that Roman Catholicism in America is similar to Coptic Christianity in Ethiopia. By like token, we know that there are people in the Catholic Church in America who are followers of the Lord Jesus Christ and we'll be in heaven with them. And even so I am sure there are Copts in Ethiopia who have a genuine experience of the new birth. But for the most part, like I indicate, it was a religion of ritual, a religion of good works, of alms, of fast days, of prayers, of feasts for the dead. And very little emphasis on doctrine and new birth, on salvation by atonement. These were things that were really not understood by the average church member.
BUFFINGTON: What about the priests? What were your relationships with them? What were their reactions to your moving among their people?
SCHEEL: Some...some priests gave splendid cooperation. I remember during the early days in language school, there were...there was one priest who came to us for literature and all the literature we could supply him with, he would use and use wisely in getting to his local people. On the other hand at Soddu I know some priests who were very antagonistic and bitter against Christians, really were one of the main reasons for persecution. Again in our last term, we went to a large church area, an area called Lalibela, an area where there are ten churches and we passed out [New] Testaments and I would say we passed out perhaps ninety, maybe a hundred testaments to priests and they were very favorably received. And you couldn't predict. I mean, sometimes a priest would welcome the Word of God, sometimes they would become angry and it was difficult to say in advance how it would turn out.
BUFFINGTON: You can't always predict.
BUFFINGTON: Because you're alw...everyone is different. Let's see. You mentioned the lack of education a few minutes ago or...
BUFFINGTON: ...the illiteracy rate was so high. Now, I do know that you did have a school. What response did you have among the people in regards to trying to educate? Did they want the education that you had? Were they anxious to have it or were they leery of it? And I am sure with so many lacking education, you might have had a problem in encouraging it. I don't know....
SCHEEL: We've always had schools on our stations. In fact, the government insisted that each station in Ethiopia that SIM established, there be [knock on the door] a clinic.... Come in! [responds to knock on door] There be a clinic and there be a school....
VOICE: Excuse me.
SCHEEL: Hi. What can I do for you?
VOICE: Oh, hello.
SCHEEL: You want to stop this thing for a second?
VOICE: Oh, I'm sorry.
SCHEEL: It's all right. It's a recording.... [tape recorder turned off and on again]
BUFFINGTON: There we go. I think we were talking about education and response of the people to education and schools. Let's see this here [adjusting tape recorder]. What did you find in the mission...? An the government had encouraged schools. You said each...everyone required that SIM have a school provided on the mission station.
SCHEEL: Yes. There is a differentiation here that I think should be made. I know there was some feeling in those days that, "Get out, educate these people, teach them better hygiene, teach them morals and you'll make good citizens out of them and you will prepare them for Heaven and to receive the Word of God." And that to me is inverting the whole thing. We found that our best candidates for school and educations were children from believing homes, that these were the folk that were interested in what the mission had to offer and who sent us their children and said, "Please, train my child for advanced studies." Most of the families would utilize the children to herd the animals or work on the farm. It was the believers who would insist that their children be enrolled in school and receive an education. And that's what I maintain, that it was the Christians who had a right orientation to God and the Bible, who had their whole lives rearranged and were the ones then who asked for education and who wanted to be properly clothed, to be properly housed, proper diet, and so on. In other words, I felt that the Gospel was the thing that changed their lives, not civilization and not education. In line with this, the church began a tremendous program of insisting that young people who had the advantage of an education not graduate from eighth grade until they had given at least one year in teaching. So quite often at seventh grade, the student would be sent out to his local church or local district and asked to teach literacy in the local church, to get the young people there to teach them the alphabet and how to read and write before he could come back into eighth grade and get his diploma and graduate from grade school. Again, in our last years at Soddu, as we went over the figures, I think it was something like thirty thousand young people in the church were enrolled in these church schools, where the church was asking that their young people become literate. And it was in those years in the requirement for baptism they asked that they had to be able to read and write and that they had to be able to quote the catechism. More and more, the elders were making certain rules as to what constituted requirement for membership or requirement for baptism. Is that what you had in mind...
SCHEEL: ...for education?
BUFFINGTON: Uh-huh. And the curriculum that you used in your school, was it set up so you had to teach certain subjects? I know you said that Bible was required in Ethiopia as a course. Was...
SCHEEL: Yeah, right...
BUFFINGTON: ...the curriculum for the school [unclear]....
SCHEEL: ...and again it was set up by the ministry of education. Now in this week's Christianity Today [magazine], one of the lead articles is concerning the mission work in Kenya. ["The Church in Kenya: A Catch 22" by Tim Stafford in the January 25, 1980 issue] This is an adjoining country. But one of the things it singles out for a bit of criticism in that article is Rift Valley Academy. Well, Rift Valley Academy is not the school that the AIM [Africa Inland Mission] has for nationals. That school (and the comparable school in Ethiopia is Bingham Academy) was established for missionary children. Therefore its curriculum is US oriented. They teach US history, they don't teach Ethiopian history or Kenyan history, right on down the line. They teach English, they don't teach the local language. And therefore people who come to this school are not going to be better Ethiopian citizens when they graduate. It's not...that's not its purpose. Its purpose is prepare missionary kids for schooling in the United States when they get to be high school or college age level. So, you have to understand these things. But in line with the question, the curriculum that we taught in our mission schools was given to us by the government of Ethiopia. Now this brings up another point, mainly that in the...in '74 when the Marxist government took over, the curriculum was dictated by the government again. And immediately they indicated that our doctrine, our teaching had to be Marxist doctrine. And we said, "Look, no way are we going to teach that there is no God or are we going to teach other Marxist philosophy." Immediately it meant thirty or more missionary ladies were redundant, that we closed our missionary schools. At least the mission was not teaching them. If the community wanted to take them over, the local church wanted to take them over, that was fine. That was their responsibility. But the thrilling thing was that the government did give permission for translation to be done in tribal languages. And this had never been allowed. And today we're doing translation work in fifteen languages. Already key Scriptures (this is a project of about two hundred pages) has been completed in about seven languages. And so people in the tribal groups now have Scripture in their own languages, so they can read it and write it as they know it, not just in the Amharic, which is a great advance. And the Lord used these redundant school teachers to do this project. And because of the high rate of illiteracy, it's all being put on tape so that it can be done in multimedia as well as through reading.
BUFFINGTON: Politically...we just started talking about the Marxists there. Let's leave education and go to the political scene if you will. I know you were in a...I feel like you were really fortunate in the time that you spent in Ethiopia because you saw a real shift from...in government there.
BUFFINGTON: And you were there in '60 when the first...or when there was an attempted coup, I believe and...
BUFFINGTON: ...and if you want to talk a little bit about that. I know...I believe you were in Addis Ababa at the time...
BUFFINGTON: ...when the...to pick up the children at the school or something.
SCHEEL: Okay. In 1960 His Majesty had gone to South America and a group attempted to take over the government. [December 13-14, 1960] Presumably the crown prince was leader. I don't believe that. I think they put a gun in his back and told him, "You read this over the radio," an address. He made the announcement. It was short lived. Three days later His Majesty returned and took over the reins of government and the thing was put down. But during that time the missionaries were caught in crossfire. There were two opposing armies and there was a tense scene of twelve hours where we were under fire and were sleeping on the floor and a number of bullet holes were in the mission residence. The next morning we had elected to move because of this cross fire and in a precious way, right at dawn when we said we were going to go (and that time had been determined in advance), lo and behold, the firing ceased and for that hour there was a convoy, maybe fifteen or twenty vehicles with the large truck containing food supplies, moved across the city and there were no shots exchanged. The Lord got us from the central part of town to five miles outside of town, where the mission school was with no incident and we spent the next two days then on this compound with the children and the fighting continued until His Majesty returned. But [pauses] the [pauses]...the idea was that land was held by the monarchy and the church. Two-thirds of the land was probably in the hands of government and church and probably less than a third in the hands of the local citizen. Large tracts were held by rich people and the average citizen was asked to farm and often would get less than fifty percent of the harvest. This meant that the harvest they received was not used for food. It was sold and the money received was used to buy things like cloth and tea and sugar, commodities that weren't produced, so that they could keep body and soul together. And they actually persisted on a false banana we called ensete but it was mainly starch and cellulose. Well, that does not give you any protein, and so their diet was very malnourished or low in essentials. And obviously something had to happen to get a more equitable distribution of land and resources and so it was in '73 that famine came to our area. Perhaps two million people were afflicted. This was in the north in the Wollo province...Wollo, Tigre provinces. SIM played a major part in rehabilitation, in helping. Two or three of our workers were at home at the time and did recruiting. The Lord sent us a hundred young people from Canada. These were young people in Bible college who agreed to give a year of their time, some two. And they came and the Canadian government likewise reciprocated and gave a million Canadian dollars, so that we had personnel and we had the funds. And we had grain coming up our area at the rate of two semi-trucks a week and this was distributed then by these young people and used to meet the real emergency. But as a result the country was very unsettled and they felt that they had been exploited and not allowed their own farms. On the heels then of this disaster, this famine, came a military revolt and His Majesty was put under house arrest [Haile Selassie was deposed and arrested September 12, 1974.] and sixty of his close advisors were executed and a military government took over. They indicated that they were socialists. Well, Britain is socialist, Sweden is socialist and we get along with them okay. But very early it became apparent that their brand of socialism was Mao and Marxist philosophy and that we couldn't agree with. And more and more they were indicating to the Christians that either they support or they be punished and many were punished and persecuted because of their stand when the government asked them to take sides. Is that what you had in mind?
BUFFINGTON: Uh-huh. Exactly.
BUFFINGTON: I just wanted your interpretation of the events that happened then. I wanted an idea of the political scene when His Majesty was...
SCHEEL: Well, His Majesty...
SCHEEL: ...was conscious of the famine. His Majesty allowed help. I don't think you could blame the famine on His Majesty. It was withholding of rain that really provoked the famine. But we were right in the heart of it and I can attest that I never want to go through anything like that again. I mean, one community where I went, we saw them die at the rate of forty a day. And just to handle forty corpses a day and arrange for burial, that in itself is a massive job, not to mention trying to feed the thousands who are starving and destitute. The logistics were just indescribable. And yet how precious that the Lord should give us this large funding so that we were able to help them. And interesting the plan that the Lord gave us was very similar to what's in Scripture. That when the Lord wanted to feed the five thousand, He set them down in groups of fifty. [Luke 9:10-15] And that's exactly what we did here. We set them down in small groups of fifty and ministered to them in small groups and the Lord kept us from having chaos, because you can readily appreciate and people are hungry, you are going to get mobbed. And the Lord...yet the Lord kept us from that. Then subsequently when grain became available and we were able to distribute it to them and allow them to plant, the Lord helped us in doing water resources and community development, where we introduced alternate economic ventures in addition to agriculture, things like forestry and poultry and leather work. Oh, there were about thirty projects that we were involved in and I was able to recruit ten from Britain and Europe and they came out and helped. But this was an intermediate phase then that went on in '74, '75 and '76, where we were trying to upgrade the economy and help them so that the situation like the famine which had occurred would not recur. But... [Pauses] What was our question? I'm wandering.
BUFFINGTON: Well, that's fine. We were just talking...you were talking...had gotten into the economics at that point or the economy as to.... Did you find...? Well, I'm sure in the outback country where you were at first, the agriculture was the only means of...
BUFFINGTON: And the famine came about because America came in the '30s and '40s, into an area that was malarial and they cleaned out the anopheline mosquito and people were able to come in and farm. But it was not an area that had ever been designed for farming. The rainfall was insufficient. And while it was free of disease, it didn't have the rainfall. And when they cultivated it and turned the soil, it became a dust bowl and subsequently now they realize that it has to be for forestry and for grazing.
BUFFINGTON: And they just can't subsist on farming in that area. I believe that coffee is one of the main exports...
BUFFINGTON: ...so it's...
SCHEEL: Coffee was probably the number one and two would be hides and skins. Now, in the '40s and '50s America helped in upgrading their coffee crop. They had experts come out...in fact this Jimma project that we mentioned, the group at Jimma that we mentioned, the group at Jimma who provided the boat for us, these were Americans who had come for agriculture and specifically...specifically for coffee and introducing hybrid crops, so they could have a more competitive bean on the world market. Also, they introduced a coffee board which would then say which brand they were to plant and give definite time of harvest. And that prevented them from harvesting a green crop and rather getting a ripe crop, so that it was uniform. The idea of quality control, they never had anything like this before. So the coffee board was a big thing in as far as getting the crop on the market. Interestingly, one of our supporters from Ohio was a man who dealt in coffee and he would think nothing of buying up twenty railroad cars of coffee at a time and in talking with him, he indicated Ethiopian coffee was used mainly as a filler, that it was not the quality product that mocha coffee from the Arabian coast was. But I think that's changing. I think with point four [?] and the America help that came, they got in a brand of coffee that was better suited for competitive market.
BUFFINGTON: Back to the political aspect. The [pauses].... It escapes me now. Let's talk about the medical aspect.
BUFFINGTON: Something I am sure you were the most familiar with. The hospital conditions. Were there many government hospitals or did you provide the only assistance that was available in most areas? How were they receptive to your medicine as opposed to the probably indigenous medical practices of the area?
SCHEEL: In the early years, I mean, the only hospitals were mission hospitals. In later years, yes there were some government hospitals. The government got a medical school going in the early '70s and when we left there were perhaps fifty, sixty Ethiopian medical doctors. And this was a new day for Ethiopia then, when they could have their own hospitals and have their own doctors staffing them. But in the early days, the only hospitals were mission hospitals and early the government would help with subsidy. Now the Mennonite mission and I believe the Presbyterian mission had government subsidy, where they gave an operating sum for expense each month. In SIM I don't think we ever accepted much of that, although for leprosy work we did get an annual grant for our leprosy patients. The government did give SIM money for the care of leprosy work. And there was a lot of leprosy that SIM was involved in. At Dessie when we left, we had fourteen thousand leprosy patients that we were responsible for. This was quite a change, quite an evolution in...in care. Originally, of course, the treatment was to get the patient on a compound and give him medicine and over a period of months, perhaps years, achieve a cure. But then you've somebody whose institutionalized and it's not easy to take that person and get them back into their home environment. More recently, we've attempted to treat them in the context of the tribal area or the local culture. And, of course, this was possible because of a newer drug. The old drug was chaulmoogra oil. The newer drug is sulfone. After they have been on sulfone maybe four weeks, definitely by six weeks, they are not infectious. So there's not the need for isolation that there used to be. So we had a large case finding program, where we would go into schools and examine children. And I can remember some schools where we would find nine, maybe twelve (out of a thousand kiddies) who had leprosy. Well, that's a large percentage, twelve per one thousand. In this country, CDC (that's Communicable Disease Center in Atlanta, Georgia) says anything beyond two per one thousand is an epidemic. So at nine per thousand or twelve per thousand, we're definitely in epidemic proportions. And, yes, as our young men went out, we had fourteen thousand that we had found and had under treatment for leprosy. We had thirty-five men who we had trained and they would do circuit. They would have a definite rota and once every two weeks they would be at a specific place on a specific day and give out medication to patients and the patients would appear at that time then, and receive that drug. And anybody that didn't show up had to be penalized and they came to recognize that if they wanted to get healthy, if they wanted to get cured, yes, they would have to take their medicine on a regular basis. And the program was very successful and funding was no problem. We actually had three groups willing to help financially: the British Leprosy Mission, the government of West Germany and the federal employees of the Swiss government all contributed to the program and UNICEF gave us our medication. The WHO, World Health Organization. So this was a great thing and in the north we were in an area, again, Muslim and partly Copt and missions were really not free to do a lot of trekking or itineration. But with the medicine and with this case finding program of leprosy, our nationals could go anywhere and really not be challenged and so it was a wonderful thing to have Christian men, Christian health workers who were willing not only to do work for leprosy but at the same time preach the Gospel in the evening and at odd hours and we found this a great opportunity for outreach. We also did this with trachoma. As we went into the schools, we found an incidence of eighty-five percent. Well, this would be true in markets too. We'd go into adult populations in markets and find eighty-five percent of the population or more of the population with eye disease. And so if you could give them treatment for two, maybe three weeks, you could pretty well achieve an arrest and in many cases somebody who would eventually go blind, you could prevent blindness by giving them the sulfone or the teprisicline [?] as an eye ointment, the big disease being trachoma and it responds to antibiotic and ten percent would eventually have impairment of sight and really be considered economically blind.
BUFFINGTON: I'm going to have to stop this, I'm afraid.
BUFFINGTON: We're running out of tap....
END OF TAPE