To India and Beyond
Memoirs of a Missionary Surgeon
This book is a lively description of the life of a missionary doctor — an American surgeon who spent his professional life sharing his skills, his friendship and his faith far from home, in India, Nepal and Cameroun. The story begins in Korea, where Archibald Fletcher (Archie) grew up as the son of a Presbyterian missionary doctor. Life at home and away at boarding school was different, but full of activity and fun. From his parents he caught the vision of faith and service, which followed him through his own career. This commitment deepened through the years of college and medical school and surgical residency in the United States, while his parents pursued their mission in Korea. Again, serious times and humorous episodes are shared with sensitivity. In college at Princeton Archie starred on the soccer team, took a leading part in a group of evangelical Christian students, and won Phi Beta Kappa honors. Medical school at Columbia continued the same pattern of academic achievement, growth in the Christian life and some fun times mixed in. The description of the weird and wonderful world of the hospital intern and the surgical resident is embellished with vivid accounts of some individual cases and adventures in research. Service as a medical officer in the U. S. Army in WWII included a moving assignment caring for the victims of the Mauthausen concentration camp, and finally, after release from the Army, a story-book wedding to his childhood sweetheart. All of this was only preliminary to the real story, which began when Dr. Fletcher, his wife Huldah and their two-year old son Bobbie sailed off to India for what proved to be a twenty-seven-year period of service as a missionary surgeon. The India of those days, as experienced at the sixty-year-old Christian Hospital in Miraj, Maharashtra, is described with color and sensitivity, as are the stories of the patients, some of them tragic and some triumphant. Working with outstanding colleagues, both missionaries and Indian nationals, Dr. Fletcher had a part, over the next quarter-century, in bringing this fine, old hospital into the modern era. This included planning and building new facilities; upgrading the staff, especially by the addition of well-qualified Indian specialists; developing new specialties, such as hemodialysis and kidney transplantation and thoracic and cardiac surgery, including open-heart surgery; and finally the starting of a new medical school, the Miraj Medical College, in collaboration with the government of Maharashtra State, which eventually included the postgraduate training of qualified specialists. None of this came easily. There were periods of doubt and discouragement. But through it all Dr. Fletcher emphasizes his powerful sense of the guiding and enabling hand of God, which made it all possible. With the blessing of God, there was also the satisfaction, in an area where Christians are a small and underprivileged minority, of being able to select qualified Christian students for admission to the medical school, some of whom would pursue further post-graduate training and become professors and heads of departments or even serve as Director of the Medical Center. The strengthening of the Christian life and witness of the hospital and the strengthening of the local Christian church were also vital concerns throughout. But those twenty-seven years in India were only the beginning! After passing on the leadership of the hospital in Miraj to a qualified Indian team, and spending two years as an associate professor of surgery at the University of Washington in Seattle, the Fletchers were off again, this time to the fabulous mountain kingdom of Nepal. In Kathmandu Archie served as a surgeon and medical superintendent of the mission hospital known as “Shanta Bhawan” (Palace of Peace), and they shared in the lively fellowship of missionaries from a half-dozen different countries, and were challenged by the vibrant national church. The Fletchers were no sooner back from Nepal than the mission had another assignment for them, this time to Cameroun, West Africa — a different culture, a different language, but the same needs for surgery, teaching, administration and service in the spirit of Christ. As always, Huldah was a vital part of the team. Of course, all of the boys were back in the States, through college and even a couple through medical school by this time. Retirement brought a change in location, but little change of pace, as efforts on behalf of the mission in Miraj continued. The sad death of beloved wife, Huldah, brought the end of an era, but once more God had the answer — a wonderful second marriage!
Archibald G. Fletcher, M.D.Dr. Archibald Fletcher was born in 1917 in Taegu, Korea, where his parents served as Presbyterian missionaries for forty years. His father, a physician and surgeon, headed the Presbyterian Hospital in Taegu up to the time of World War II.After high school in Korea, he had his B.A. from Princeton, his M.D. from Columbia and his residency in surgery from the University of Pennsylvania. After two years of military service in 1944-46, his residency was completed in 1949.Dr. Fletcher and Miss Huldah Blair were married in 1946. Huldah’s parents were also missionaries in Korea. She had graduated in nursing from Presbyterian Hospital in 1942 and had served for 3 years as a missionary nurse in Costa Rica before marriage. Archie and Huldah had five sons, all of whom grew up and finished high school in India. Two of them are doctors. John, who completed his residency in surgery at the Oregon Health Sciences University, and his wife Gwenda, have served for ten years as career medical missionaries under the Presbyterian Church (USA) at Good Shepherd Hospital, Tshikaji, Zaire.Dr. and Mrs. Fletcher went to India under the former Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church (USA) in 1950 and served at the Wanless Hospital, Miraj Medical Center, in southwestern India from then until 1977. During this time the hospital grew from 300 to 450 beds, an extensive building program was carried out, the hospital was affiliated with the new Government Medical College in Miraj for both undergraduate and postgraduate medical education, and outstanding Indian Christian leadership was developed.After returning from India in 1977, the Fletchers lived for two years in Seattle, where Dr. Fletcher was Associate Professor of Surgery at the University of Washington. From 1979-88 they were once more overseas, serving first in Nepal under the Presbyterian Church and the United Mission to Nepal at the Shanta Bhawan Hospital in Kathmandu, and then in Cameroun, West Africa, at Central Hospital in Enongal. The Fletchers retired in 1988 to their home in Seattle and subsequently moved in 1992 to Westminster Gardens, the beautiful Presbyterian retirement community in Duarte in Southern California. Here Dr. Fletcher continued his efforts in support of the Wanless Hospital in India, working to raise funds and making volunteer mission trips to Miraj. Here also, in this supportive setting, Huldah passed away in November, 1999, due to complications of Alzheimer’s disease.A beautiful new chapter began for Archie on June 16, 2001 when he and Valeria Riggs, a fellow-member of Arcadia Presbyterian Church near Duarte, were married in Leavenworth, Washington, in the presence of most of the members of their two families. They have moved into one of the lovely new homes in Westminster Gardens and have already made a trip to India to give Val the opportunity to visit the Wanless Hospital, Miraj and also to see something of the rest of that beautiful and tragic country.
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