The Tindall Notes

Medical missionary work seems to be half-dead.

Or at least, it doesn’t seem to be as alive as it should be—the real right hand of the gospel, drawing people to Christ. And while there are some valiant efforts, they appear few and far between. Our apparent shortcomings are often attributed to several issues: formidable structure in the healthcare system; shortage of mission-minded medical professionals; minimal health interest among ministers; muddy ideas about logistics; concerns about financial viability; and the list goes on and on and on. There seems to be no consensus of the problem—and no clear solutions.

But one man did it. One man was able to turn cities upside down through medical missionary evangelism.

Converted atheist John Tindall enrolled in 1908 at the College of Medical Evangelists in Loma Linda, California. There, learning the health message and beginning to advocate it, he was recommended to pioneer the medical missionary work from Ellen White’s 1910 vision. John Tindall set out for his first campaign in San Bernardino, California—a city previously evangelized with an exclusively-religious Adventist message several times with little success. With a team comprised of himself, an evangelist, and two nurses (one his wife), Tindall conducted a 6-week campaign that ended with 16 baptisms—a feat totally unheard of, completing eleven more in the next dozen years with surprising success. How can we model after his methods?

Make friends in high places

Instead of initiating contact with the general public, first reach out to city leaders, businessmen, and local organizations. Describe each detail of the work, then ask for financial and material support, explaining that all the services offered to the community will be free of charge. Often they will be willing to support with monetary and material donations. Emphasize publicity, openness, and honest advertising. Print clear invitations to post in public areas and hand smaller ones door-to-door.

Host a spread of events

During the six weeks, lecture on a spiritual topic each Sunday, with dieticians presenting on nutrition and cooks demonstrating food preparation on Tuesdays, and physicians teaching on common lifestyle-affected diseases and treatments on Thursdays. Lectures should include information on general anatomy and physiology in relation to health.

Offer five-star quality

Seek the highest quality to promote as much interest as possible. Secure the use of a space for the meetings (usually a tent or—in Tindall’s best preference—the city’s biggest hall), as well as treatment rooms, consultation offices, transportation vehicles as needed, and suitable decor. High standards will aid in making the work self-supporting. Services offered should also be of the highest quality: Work in conjunction with pre-existing institutions to bring professional doctors, nurses, dieticians, and cooks into the campaign. Tindall’s campaigns worked collaboratively with experts from the College of Medical Evangelists and the Health Extension Institute of the Saint Helena Sanitarium.

Build community

The team should, when outside of meetings, spend the day in visitations. Tindall related, “At the very beginning of the campaign it is publicly announced at each lecture that the physicians and nurses will be glad to extend their services by way of consultation, treatments, or any possible help to those who desire it, and that all of these services are entirely free of charge.” Provide interest cards, which can include “options for free Bible literature, home Bible studies, cooking classes, physician visits, nurse visits, nurse interviews, and personal interviews with the evangelist.”

Keep the team connected

Each worker should know exactly what they’re meant to accomplish. Gather all workers on Monday mornings for prayer, encouragement, and careful instruction. Everyone should be able to ask any question, share reports of interests, and spend time in special prayer; and no one should leave the meeting until they fully understand their duties for the week.

Get the laity involved

Before the meetings start, meet with the local church members to encourage and prepare them for the work ahead. This will preemptively work against unthorough conversion, backsliding, or hypocrisy. Train local church members how to give Bible studies and simple treatments. During the campaign, involve them in the meetings. This way, local members can become invested in the work and experience the joy of reaching souls. Most importantly, they will become long-term friends with those who show interest or are baptized during the campaign.

Lift Him up

As physicians and nurses visit the people and gain their confidence, they should have in their minds to “begin evangelistic work with them almost at once”, grasping every opportunity to point the minds of their patients toward the Heavenly Physician. The end goal of the campaign is to draw the hearts of people to Jesus—for them to make an entire surrender to Him.

Bridge from health to spiritual interest

As spiritual interest increases, gradually replace the health lectures with presentations on each particular doctrinal point. Invite people to Sabbath services as soon as they express some interest in present truths. As soon as a group surrenders their hearts to God, form a baptismal group.

The aim of the campaign, the salvation of souls, must be kept at the forefront of the workers’ minds, as well as at the forefront of the minds of the people—to such an extent that the whole city is invited to the baptismal ceremonies. Besides this, Tindall personally dedicated much of his time to the new believers, spending every night with at least a few of the new converts.

Wrap the egg before you drop it

Ensure that all those who would be baptized are fully converted in heart and fully knowledgeable of the doctrines and duties of being a church member.

Teach every new convert very directly about the sacredness of every part of health reform, Sabbath keeping, tithe paying, and witnessing to neighbors. Tindall stated, “I didn’t want to bring people into the church standing on one leg—just believing in the Seventh-day Sabbath—and not believing in the Spirit of Prophecy which promotes a healthy, happy lifestyle.” In addition, candidates should only be baptized when fruits of conversion are manifest—there necessarily has to be a visible change in their life.

Integrate the new members into the church

Long-time members mentor new members to spiritual maturity. Train the local church members to counsel the new converts before and after their baptisms. “Months later, ‘every new convert’ had been ‘thoroughly instructed in every doctrine [and] reform in physical, mental, and spiritual habits.”

After new converts join the church, immediately encourage them to share what they have just learned and experienced of God’s truth, love, joy, and freedom. Have the church organize classes to solidify new converts in their new beliefs, and train them how to give Bible studies and administer simple treatments. In addition, make colporteur training available to all who are interested. Ensure that all classes and training opportunities are available to long-time church members as well—it will become a means of strengthening faith and knowledge of truth in the entire congregation. 

The pay off

Diminished prejudice towards Adventism. Increased tithe. Self-sustained work. These were a few of the tangible benefits of Tindall’s medical missionary work, according to God’s blueprint. 

Because of the wide audience, transparency, and science-based foundation of the campaigns, people recognized Tindall nearly everywhere in the cities he worked and thanked him for what he’d done. The campaigns received thousands of dollars in donations from people who had been converted or helped to overcome negative health habits through Tindall’s team’s ministry. Rather than being a financial drain, the Lord’s work prospered even beyond the needs required.

At the height of these campaigns, John Tindall averaged 120 baptisms. His largest baptismal count was 203. But this pales when compared to the retention rate of his campaigns: Years later, 75–90% of the newly-baptized members were still in the church, something almost unheard of in our church today. At the core of Tindall’s heart was this principle: “God would be better pleased to have six thoroughly converted to the truth than to have sixty make a profession and yet not be truly converted.”

Tindall’s team could not find a single group who didn’t appreciate evidence-based information on diet, health, and efficiency. Even those who weren’t baptized after the appeals experienced health benefits due to the efforts of the medical team. After observing the full scope of this medical missionary work, an editor of a tri-state paper wrote, “We have heard of Adventists, but we have never seen Adventists like these. This is the most beautiful representation of the life of Jesus in His loving ministry that we have ever seen.”

What made John Tindall’s message so unique and impactful? In 1910, Ellen White saw in vision how the medical missionary work should be carried out, and Tindall simply did his best to follow the blueprint described—his success was evident.

Ellen White wrote, “In new fields no work is so successful as medical missionary work. . . . [It] brings to humanity the gospel of release from suffering. . . . It is the gospel practiced, the compassion of Christ revealed. . . . The world is open for it. God grant that the importance of medical missionary work shall be understood.”

While some precise details of Tindall’s campaign may require tweaking to meet the idiosyncrasies of 21st century cities, the principles remain steadfast. With the same mindset, doing our best and resting in God for His Spirit to work the results, we can experience the same level of success—it is promised. God will not neglect to work through the channels He Himself has ordained. Our medical missionary work will no longer be half-dead—it will be fully alive. 

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *