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Dr. NELSON BELL – A man after God’s own heart

Lemuel Nelson Bell was born in Virginia, USA, in 1894. He intended to study law. He had always been interested in foreign missions, but had thought that one must be ordained to serve overseas. When a friend asked, “Have you ever thought of being a medical missionary,” Bell knew immediately that this was what God wanted him to do, so he switched his major from pre-law to pre-medicine. He was a star baseball player in high school, college, and during medical studies at Medical College of Virginia. Bell turned down an opportunity to play in the major leagues in order to serve God as a medical missionary with the American Southern Presbyterian Mission. (What do we give up in order to serve God?)


In 1916, Dr. Nelson Bell and his wife Virginia, left the familiarity of their home and family in the US and sailed to China. When the Bells arrived, they were met with a frigid land and people. The fields were dank and gray, and the superstitious Chinese eyed them with distrust. Dr. Bell recognized the great need of the medical concerns of the Chinese who came to the hospital. He knew their souls were of greater significance. He believed that the mission hospital existed primarily for the preaching of the Gospel.

Dr. Bell believed that spiritual gifts were more important than any other talent. Under glass on his desk, he placed a note where he had listed the fruits of the Spirit: “Love, Joy, Peace, Longsuffering, Gentleness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Meekness, and Self-Control” and daily tried to exude these gifts among those he served. Another missionary said of Dr. Bell, “I never knew a man whose life so beautifully manifested those characteristics.” (Do we manifest these characteristics in our life?)


Being a gifted and hard-working linguist, Bell became proficient in speaking Mandarin, to the point where he could actually tell jokes in Chinese. His ready humor endeared him to the people, who loved his joyful spirit. He soon became known for his remarkable ability to diagnose and treat illness and to perform restorative surgeries on those who had no hope. Even more notable was his kindness and attentive care for each patient, in return for which he was soon given the nickname Aihua - “Lover of the Chinese people.” Bell opened clinics in countryside in order to serve more people with both medicine and Gospel. His colleague wrote, “Nelson is a born preacher; he loves to tell the Gospel.” Friends attributed his effectiveness as a preacher, and his joyous, self-giving life, as the overflow of a daily quiet time with God. (Do we have a daily quiet time with God?)


Bell continued to improve his abilities as a physician by reading and by visits to leading hospitals. He always sought the highest standards of medical excellence. Nevertheless, he made his priorities as a missionary quite clear. “The primary object of our work is to win souls to Jesus Christ. You do not necessarily have to preach, but you must have the love for souls and desire to win them to be a successfully missionary.” In addition to work in the hospital and rural clinics, Nelson Bell visited the local prison to provide aid to the inmates. His kindness and sympathy won their hearts, leading to a great openness to the Gospel.


After his daughter Ruth married Billy Graham, Dr. Bell became a valued friend and mentor to Billy. The real reason for Nelson Bell’s remarkable success as a missionary was expressed by a Chinese nurse whom knew him well: “The thing above all others that he put into the hospital was love.” More effective even than his skill as a surgeon or writer was his moral resemblance to Jesus Christ.


May God help us to become more like Christ.

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