Living Legends is about Vida McLellan

This series of Living Legends is about Vida McLellan, a missionary nurse who served in Ethiopia from 1955 – 1974. Vida grew up on a farm in the out-back of New South Wales. In 1955, after nurses’ training and Bible College, she travelled to Ethiopia to serve in very remote and difficult areas in southern Ethiopia. Vida, married Dick McLellan, while at language school in 1955. For sixty years Vida has served alongside Dick both in Ethiopia and after their return to Australia. The last episode told of Vida’s childhood, let’s continue..

We grew up without church or Sunday school. Our parents were not Christians and the only words about God and Jesus were swear words. Then, when I was about eleven or twelve years old, someone sent me Joy Bells. It was a publication from The Postal Sunday School Movement. We didn’t have money for postage. But, even so, the lessons kept right on coming. Then the Postal Sunday School gave me a big sister, Sister Evelyn Fischer of Grafton, who wrote regular letters to me about God, Jesus, and salvation. And so it was through the Postal Sunday School and Sister Evelyn’s letters that I came to want to follow God. But, it was not an easy road. I felt so ignorant and I knew so little. But, God is good and patient.

When I was eighteen or nineteen years old I asked Dad if could go to Gulgong and work at the hospital. He said, “No,” because there was plenty of work to do at home, but I kept at him. Eventually he said I could go, but I had to send half what I earned back home. At the hospital I was paid ten shillings weekly with food and a room to live in. l did all kinds of work, like taking food trays to patients, cleaning wards, washing pots and dishes and such like. Then the hospital cook left and as there was no one else the Matron asked me to do the cooking for the whole hospital. It was a big job, but I managed to do it for the rest of my time at the hospital. I did get an increase in pay of an extra ten shillings. I had to save up a long time to buy a dress.

Whilst attending the local church in Gulgong, Vida heard a missionary from India speak. He showed a man lying on beds of nails and other awful things. It made such an impression on me, so much so, that I felt God wanted me to be a missionary nurse. But, how could I?

I started studying correspondence and in a short time sat for the Nurses Entrance Exam, but I failed. This happened three times. It all seemed too much. An impossible dream. Then Miss Edith Davies, the founder of the Postal Sunday School heard and she asked if I would be willing to travel to Sydney and go to night school there. I said that I would go if I could get my release from the hospital. The war was on and anyone working in a hospital was under `MANPOWER’ — essential services — and it would not be possible to leave. Miss Davies said to leave it with her and her friend, Miss Clarice

We grew up without church or Sunday school. Our parents were not Christians and the only words about God and Jesus were swear words. Then, when I was about eleven or twelve years old, someone sent me Joy Bells. It was a publication from The Postal Sunday School Movement. We didn’t have money for postage. But, even so, the lessons kept right on coming. Then the Postal Sunday School gave me a big sister, Sister Evelyn Fischer of Grafton, who wrote regular letters to me about God, Jesus, and salvation. And so it was through the Postal Sunday School and Sister Evelyn’s letters that I came to want to follow God. But, it was not an easy road. I felt so ignorant and I knew so little. But, God is good and patient.

When I was eighteen or nineteen years old I asked Dad if could go to Gulgong and work at the hospital. He said, “No,” because there was plenty of work to do at home, but I kept at him. Eventually he said I could go, but I had to send half what I earned back home. At the hospital I was paid ten shillings weekly with food and a room to live in. l did all kinds of work, like taking food trays to patients, cleaning wards, washing pots and dishes and such like. Then the hospital cook left and as there was no one else the Matron asked me to do the cooking for the whole hospital. It was a big job, but I managed to do it for the rest of my time at the hospital. I did get an increase in pay of an extra ten shillings. I had to save up a long time to buy a dress.

Whilst attending the local church in Gulgong, Vida heard a missionary from India speak. He showed a man lying on beds of nails and other awful things. It made such an impression on me, so much so, that I felt God wanted me to be a missionary nurse. But, how could I?

I started studying correspondence and in a short time sat for the Nurses Entrance Exam, but I failed. This happened three times. It all seemed too much. An impossible dream. Then Miss Edith Davies, the founder of the Postal Sunday School heard and she asked if I would be willing to travel to Sydney and go to night school there. I said that I would go if I could get my release from the hospital. The war was on and anyone working in a hospital was under `MANPOWER’ — essential services — and it would not be possible to leave. Miss Davies said to leave it with her and her friend, Miss Clarice Begby. They had some special prayer times for me.

Amazing! A very short time later they rang to say that God had answered our prayers and could I come to Sydney as soon as possible. They had arranged everything, even a place where I could stay and work, as well as classes at a night school. It all happened so quickly. I was so shy and felt alone. The next big step was to inform the hospital Matron. She was not very pleased. After all she had done for me, here I was leaving the hospital and now, they needed to find someone to take my place. She didn’t believe it had been possible for me to get a release from the work at the hospital. Her anger made me feel sad. Dad was not happy with me either because there was no money to send home. This cut me off from my home. It was a very hard time for me, but I knew I had to do it.

I remember packing my suitcase, catching the overnight steam train to Sydney. I was a bit scared as I had never been to the big city before. There I sat on my suitcase at Central Railway Station waiting for Miss Begby to collect me. She was a gracious lady and took me to Miss Davies’ home for breakfast. From there I was taken to St Stephen’s Anglican Church at Willoughby, to meet the Reverend Gilbert and Mrs Hook and their two boys. This is where I was to work and stay to prepare for the Nurses Entrance Exam again. It was my job to care for the boys, cook meals and keep the rectory clean. I was given a small salary plus room and board. This was a great time of learning for me because they taught me so much. I taught Sunday School there. At night time I went to night school. I worked there for the Hooks about nine months. I then sat for the Nurses Entrance Exam again and this time I passed.

I thought if I did Midwifery before General Nursing I would be able to get out to the Mission Field more quickly. So I applied to the Royal Hospital for Women at Paddington, in Sydney, to do the eighteen month course in Midwifery. Before sitting for the exam I rang Mr Hook and said that I didn’t know anything whereas the others seemed to know everything. I was so worried. He told me to read this passage from the Bible and to pray and sit quietly until the exam started. This verse always stuck with me and it has been one of my favourites ever since: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him”.

I was amazed when the results came in and the other nurses came to me and asked, “Scottie, did you see the exam results.” I said, “No.” I had come in first place! The Lord undertook for me in the exam, and all other exams, and I received my Midwifery Certificate. After I completed Midwifery I worked doing other Midwifery nursing jobs to earn money and gain experience. I realised I didn’t know enough general nursing for the Mission Field and decided to do more training. So I applied to the Princess Margaret Hospital in Subiaco, Perth, in Western Australia to train at the Children’s Hospital for three years. I was accepted and completed that certificate. I never failed any of the exams during this training. God never let me go and always had His hand on my life. From there I did further adult training for another six months at Royal Perth Hospital to become a fully qualified Registered Nurse. Here I met more wonderful people. I once took care of a very sick little girl in hospital who was the daughter of a couple called Judy and Les Kanzler. They took me out and I visited their home.

It always amazed me how God undertook and went before me in so many different ways. Wherever I went God prepared the way and He had people in mind to help me like the head of the Postal Sunday School Mission, Miss Davies; her friend, Miss Begby and Mr and Mrs Hook. When the Hooks returned to England a lady called Aunt Taylor gave me a place to go when I had days off in Sydney. She was at the Overland Train to farewell me when I went to Perth. Aunt Taylor — her call name was Mildred — was such a dear special friend to me in so many ways. She supported us as a family in the work in Ethiopia until she went to be with the her ‘dear Lord Jesus.’ A missionary lady called Mrs Brewer, who had retired from Tanzania met me when I arrived in Perth to start my Children’s Nurses Training. I had never heard of her before. Someone had told her about me. She was like a mother to me for those three and a half years. I would also go to her home on my days off and it was her influence that encouraged me to go to Sydney Missionary and Bible College at Croydon after I finished my nurses training. She even supplied all my bed linen and other necessary items I needed to take to the Bible College in Sydney.

During this time in my life I rarely attended social events and never had a boyfriend. There were times of temptation. Once when I attended the party for end of nurse’s training champagne was passed around, but I threw mine into a flower pot when Matron wasn’t looking. Matron Jessop was a very stern lady. We all were a bit scared of her and, when the word went around that she was on her way, we all did a disappearing trick. She would say, “I know there are so many nurses in this ward and yet, when I come to do rounds, there is not one to be found.” I enjoyed nurse’s training and made some good friends.

I returned to Sydney by ship. I applied to the Sydney Missionary Bible College and was accepted. This was a whole new way of life for me, not having the background of church and Sunday School. I struggled a lot to keep up with the other students and the work. I can just imagine what Mr Kerr, the Principle must have thought. To pay for the Bible college fees I worked night duty at the South Sydney Women’s Hospital,

These two years at Bible College had more things in store for me than I could have dreamed about. Everything there was geared to good missionary training. We really learnt how to wash and to scrub walls, even if they didn’t need to be washed. And, if you left there without applying to a Mission, it certainly wasn’t the fault of the Dean of Ladies, Mrs Lawler.

I was appointed to teach Sunday School at the Deaf, Dumb and Blind School with Beatrice (Trix) Murray, later Longworth, and we became good friends. We are still friends in our old age. Trix is 90 and I am 91. Also, I was appointed to help at the Sydney City Mission at Newtown, helping in the open air work where there was singing and preaching and giving testimonies on street corners. It was quite a new experience for me. There were several of us and one them was Dick McLellan. That is how I met Dick and after some time we seemed to get to know each other.

In those days college rules were very strict. Young men and women were not to talk to each other. Men had to walk down one side of the street and women the other. At night after returning from mission ministry the men had to walk several paces behind the women because it was unsafe around Newtown and other such places at night. BUT we were NOT to walk together. Nevertheless there were other occasions when we met. Once we were sent to help with the Sydney Mission Camp at Bowral. Dick was in charge of the boys. I was the cook for the camp. Then it was back to college again, and so on. Dick and I became interested in each other.

In the next episode we follow Vida to Ethiopia where the adventure begins.