Who would have known, in 1948, that a few men scrounging for hospital furniture and equipment in Toronto on behalf of their friends in Africa and South America were laying foundations for Christian Canadian benevolence that would last 75 years?
Mr. Watkin Roberts, Dr. Isaac Erb, Dr. Nelles Silverthorne, and Dr. William Flatt were core members of that foundation. According to Dr. Erb “Recognizing the difficulties under which medical missionaries are frequently obliged to carry on, and in an endeavour to bring some relief and assistance, a small group of men met in Toronto to form what has since become known as the Evangelical Medical Missionaries’ Aid Society or EMMAS.” 1
When commercial passenger flights transformed world travel in the mid-20th century, EMMAS began to see more and more doctors and dentists volunteering to serve overseas. These early forays pioneered by Dr. Silverthorne in 1958 have evolved into the teams that would give clinical services and provide medical education that characterise much of what we do today.
Many years ago, a small band of Hebrew exiles begun rebuilding the temple that had been built by King Solomon after its destruction and their exile 70 years prior. It was a long-term project with humble beginnings. They were opposed by neighbouring communities. Their work seemed to them insignificant in comparison to what Solomon had built. It was easy to give up in the short-term and they did, until God reminded them that they and their project were part of His eternal project for humankind.
They completed that building project about 400BC: “So the elders of the Jews continued to build and prosper under the preaching of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah, a descendant of Iddo. They finished building the temple according to the command of the God of Israel and the decrees of Cyrus, Darius and Artaxerxes, kings of Persia. The temple was completed on the third day of the month Adar, in the sixth year of the reign of King Darius.”2
What kept them going was the awareness of their leaders that they were doing God’s project.
It has been the same for us, the leaders of EMMAS then, and EMAS Canada today, see our task as serving God’s highest purpose: proclaiming His love to all the world through healing and teaching.
EMAS has had its share of seemingly insurmountable obstacles, Dr. Robert Stephens writes of the problem of storage of hospital supplies and equipment 70 years ago and how God provided initially through the office of a founder member in downtown Toronto, and later space at Toronto Bible College (precursor of Tyndale University) before a distribution centre was found in Mississauga.
Some of our earliest investments in Africa have been destroyed through civil strife, however that hospital and community where EMAS pioneers served in 1949 and 1972 are today the focal point of our training of future healthcare leadership for Francophone Africa.
From our small beginnings of material support to Dr. R Stephens and sponsoring Dr. Nancy Wood to an elective period in the D R Congo, God is establishing an eternal presence in a part of the world that has known little peace.
God’s unrelenting pursuit of His project to restore for Himself humankind is something He does by His Spirit, ever since the days of Zerubbabel, Zechariah, and Haggai and before, down to the Roberts, Silverthornes, Erbs, and Flatts, people are His agents.