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.
In 1963 The family was appointed to a place called Silti and Gurage people, who were mainly Moslem. They packed the land rover once again and after 7 flat tyres and getting stuck in a river made their way from Addis Ababa to Silti. The family settled into their small house at the mission station.
Dick would travel the area talking about Jesus. The Moslem men all chewed chat a narcotic lead that befuddled their brains. The used chat for recreation because the Quran forbids them to drink alcohol. It was very difficult to talk to them about Jesus. Some were aggressive and spat at Dick whenever the name of Jesus was mentioned.
I worked with a local nurse Mavis, she was fantastic. I was able to help her in her clinic. She had some very difficult cases, one stands out in my memory, it was just before my own baby was born. A Moslem woman had been in labour for over a week. The baby had died some time during the labour. The old women of the village could not help her. In the end, so desperate had they become, that the men asked Mavis if she would go to the house and help. When Mavis saw the lady she knew that she could not help her unless she was brought to the mission clinic. The old women refused to let her go. So Mavis and Dick spoke to the husband and the older men and told them plainly that she was about to die and they could nothing for her unless she was brought to the clinic. Eventually they were able to persuade the men.
Dick backed the Land Rover up the door of the hut and amid angry shouts and curses from the old women, Mavis and Dick put the lady in the back along with her husband and then they drove to the clinic. The woman was in a terrible state. They laid her out on the operating table. Without intervention to get the dead baby out I could see that she would certainly die. The stench from the dead child was terrible. We had to pray deodorant, a strong brand called Good Air, all around her. It was revolting. Eventually Mavis and I were able to remove the dead baby with forceps. Amazingly enough the woman slowly recovered. She lived and returned to the village.
Again our Land Rover proved a real blessing. With it Dick was able to drive Mavis to take some women to Addis Ababa to the Fistula Clinic where Dr Hamlin has been able to help so many of these poor suffering women. This was one way of making friends, gaining the confidence and trust of these very proud, stubborn and hard to reach Moslem people. A lot of the problems were caused by very cruel practices such as female circumcision which is done to girls at a young age which often causes them to have gynaecological complications. This is made worse because the girls were also given in marriage at an early age, some no more than twelve or thirteen years, all of which led to an inability to deliver their babies, many of them dying in labour, others ending up with a fistula. A fistula is a hole in the bladder over which the poor girls lose all control. The leaking urine causes such a bad smell that they are often put out of their own homes. Their husbands abandon them. Moslems are permitted more than one wife, so the loss of one girl or another for them makes little difference. The girls become outcasts. They do not live long. It is so terribly sad.
Another horrible custom took place when a baby was born. Old women or a witch doctor would cut out the baby’s uvula or parts of their throat. This practise supposedly prevents the evil eye from killing the baby. However, it infects the child with tetanus or other bacteria because the knives an unsterilized and are often rusty. Amongst Moslem people such as the Gurage the teachings of the Quran are a thin veneer over age old pagan customs. There is an awful darkness that grips these lands where the name of Jesus is not spoken except to curse.
The time came when John had to be taken to the mission school in Addis Ababa. It is called Bingham Academy. Because Peter (the new baby) was due in a very short time I was not able go with John. Dick and Mavis took him out. Unfortunately when they arrived Dick came down with cerebral malaria and was taken to hospital in a state of delirium. Unfortunately John saw all this. The other school boys somehow heard what happened to Dick and told John his dad was dead. This was very upsetting. John was all alone in a strange place, miles and miles away from his family. It was not a very good start for a little boy who was only six years old. Silly school rules meant that parents were not allowed to visit their children for a least six weeks. That was hard for child and parents. Meanwhile on 20th October 1963 we added Peter to the family.
At the end of 1963 we came back to Australia on furlough again. We stopped in Addid Ababa to pick up John for the return trip. It was a shock when the school nurse, Isobel Fist, let me know that she was bringing John to see me. She told me that he was very sick! What was I to do? Dick was weeks away at Waka. The best medical care was at a Seventh Day Adventist Hospital which then, had the only good doctors and care in Addis Ababa, but it was against our mission rules for our missionaries to go there. But, I was desperate, so I pleaded for special permission. It was given and Isobel and I took John straight to the hospital. When the doctor at the hospital took John’s clothes off he was horrified to see that John’s back and legs were covered with wide bruises and cuts from a severe beating. He looked at me and said, “Mrs McLellan, whatever has been going on here!” I was so upset and embarrassed that I could hardly speak. He thought I had done this! I just had no idea! Then Isobel spoke up and said that one of his teachers had given him a spanking. The doctor said, “Boy she must have been in earnest!” He diagnosed John with a ruptured appendix and removed it. But, then they found the real problem was that he was very sick with bacillary dysentery. I was later told that, while he had been sick, one teacher held him down whilst the other one put the strap to him. I couldn’t believe anyone would do that to a six year old child. He was so sick. He nearly died. How could I ever put him back in school again?
By 1965 we were back in Ethiopia again and worked in an area called Bolosso. The Lord continued to bless the work as lots of people heard the Good News. Many new churches were started and many came to study in the Bible School. We were kept so busy.
Another time Dick drove Melele and me to the centre of the Wolaitta district, a beautiful place called Adimancho, where we held three day women’s convention. It was wonderful to see and hear 800 women coming in together singing with their voices echoing around the mountain. Dick took along a projector and film strips and on each night of the convention held a huge open air meeting. I sewed two large sheets together for a screen. Dick and the elders hung this screen between some trees. Over six thousand men, women and children came from all over. Some walking. Some riding donkeys. There was an air of excitement all around. Whilst they were waiting to see the film strips the elders had all the people sit down and they started singing. They loved to sing in the Wolaitta way.
Unknown to us a bandit who was greatly feared by everyone had been travelling in the dusk with his gang through the coffee trees. He was on his way to burn down the house of a Christian who had refused to pay him extortion money. The bandit could hear the crowds of people singing, so he and his men crept in close under the cover of darkness to see what was happening. He arrived in time to see the projector turn on and pictures flash up on the cloth.
He pulled down his Shama over his face and sat down, completely unnoticed, at the edge of the crowd. So did his men. Dick was speaking in Amharic. He began by telling some well known African animal stories by Dr Paul White, but then after awhile, started with the story of Creation and man’s fall into sin, all of which were translated into the Wolaitta language. He told of Noah and his family building an ark and the wicked people of his day refusing to repent and perishing n the flood. He spoke of the promise of a Saviour.
This very wicked man and his gang were enthralled by the story! His name was Tumoli. it was a name so feared in the Wolaitta that mothers would often frighten their naughty children with the saying, “Tumoli will get you!” Now Tumoli had been sitting in the shadows with his gang. His heart was smitten by the message and he thought of his sins life and the Holy God who would judge him. Tumoli had done so much evil: extortion, murder, arson, cattle theft.
At the last evening of the Women’s Convention out of the darkness stepped Tumoli and some of his men. There was a gasp. He was so hated and feared. And before all these people, many had been victims, Tumoli raised his left hand to renounce Satan and with his right hand he accepted Jesus as his Saviour. How the people clapped as they saw this murderer come to the Saviour. They forgave Tumoli all the wicked things he had done and accepted him as a brother. Of course there were terrible crimes that had to be answered. Tumoli went down to the Police Station and knowing that he could be hung, handed in his weapons, then himself to the two constables. Our Father was truly gracious. He was not arrested. There was no room in the police station. So he was released into the care of the church elders and as time passed Tumoli never was brought to trial. Instead, God worked in his heart and began a work of rehabilitation, from the inside out. Tumoli was utterly transformed.
As I finish this story in 2017 I am 93 years old. Looking back over all these years, I am amazed at our Heavenly Father’s faithfulness, love, trustworthiness, guidance and care of me. He put his hand on me even when I tended to stray and found things just a little too much. He never took His hand off or let me go. Whatever I did or wherever I went, He always went before and had the way prepared, even though I didn’t know it! It all started so small. A lady school teacher at Bungabar, in a one-roomed school, gave my name to the Postal Sunday School Movement and Miss Edith Davies sent me the first Joy Bell lesson book. Then, she found a ‘big sister’ for me, Aunt Evelyn Fischer, who wrote to me faithfully and taught me much about the Lord Jesus. These dear people planted a seed in my heart — a simple childish desire to know our Heavenly Father that grew. And, always I found that He had ways to direct that growth.
God has rewarded me a hundred fold with a husband who has put up with and cared for me over all these years. We have four loving children who love the Lord and are always there for us: John and wife, Jenny; Jane; Mimi and her husband, Keith; Peter and his wife Ann. And, God has blessed me with eleven special and very different grandchildren. They have all grown up in the ways of the Lord and are such an encouragement. They are all very much loved. I am so thankful for each one. I am certainly not perfect. There are things I have said that I am not proud of and I have made many mistakes and failures.
I can do all things through Christ Who gives me the strength. Philippians 413
I am just so thankful for everything!