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Dr. Marion Powell: the Presbyterian missionary to whom many owe their lives.

When Dr. Marion Powell died suddenly before Christmas last year, she left behind a legacy of women and children, in Japan as well as in Canada, who owe their lives to her skill and compassion as well as to her determination to take risks if she could save lives or improve the quality of life.

In 1952, Marion and her husband, Rev. Donald Powell, were sent to Japan as missionaries by The Presbyterian Church in Canada (PCC), appointed to work with the Korean Christian Church in Japan (KCCJ). Marion's passion was medicine. By 1955, she had found her niche as the obstetrician and gynaecologist on the staff of the newly opened Yodogawa Christian Hospital in Osaka.

In 1957, a young woman with a history of miscarriages came to Marion in distress about her latest pregnancy. Marion decided to take the medical risk that would allow her patient to become the mother of a healthy baby. Complete blood exchange transfusions of newborn babies with Rh-negative blood incompatibility were already being done in North America. Even though this procedure had been performed in Japan by a university medical professor, the knowledge had not yet been made known to Japanese doctors. Yodogawa Christian Hospital had already performed its first blood exchange transfusion on a missionary couple's baby in December 1957. On February 17, 1958, Marion, along with Dr. Ovid Bush, performed the second blood exchange transfusion in Yodogawa Hospital on a Japanese baby. The gift of life was worth the risk.

In the spirit of Christ's healing mission, the hospital advertised the treatment to save babies' lives. The Japanese even televised the event. According to Marion's proud husband, his wife was now a TV star. In appreciation, the Japanese government awarded Marion one of its most prestigious medals.

The first son of Rev. Kim Gun-shik of Tokyo Korean Christian Church in Japan and his wife was born with this same incompatibility of the Rh-negative blood group, or erythroblastosis fetalis. The frantic parents searched as far away as Europe for healing for their son. Nevertheless, he passed away at the age of 15. But, happily, with doctors in Japan now learning to do complete blood exchange transfusions, the Kims were able to have three more children who survived and are now healthy young adults. For them, the skill and compassion Marion brought to Japan resulted in three miracles of life.

Marion had wanted to be a medical doctor from the age of five. Her concern for women's and children's health developed early, from the time she was aware of women in her family who had either lost babies or their own lives. Coupled with this vocation was an awakening to the need for Christian missionaries overseas, once the Second World War had ended and people could travel freely again. Marion heard the call to take her Christian concerns, as expressed in her medicine, to wherever she and Don were sent.

They landed in Japan on August 20, 1952. During the Second World War, the Korean minority in Japan had suffered death and injury in the bombing. And churches had been destroyed. Don and the Korean ministers were kept busy rebuilding churches, opeaning new ones and spreading the gospel. As a minister's wife, Marion accompanied Don to dedications of new churches and to special services.

However, as a medical doctor, one of her first acts in October 1952 was to pass the English-language examinations that allowed her to be licensed to practise medicine in Japan. The Japanese had always thought their own professional people were capable of exercising their professions without competition from foreign professionals. Accordingly, shortly after Marion's licensure, the Japanese tightened up the regulations -- all examinations had to be taken in Japanese. Since Don and Marion had been appointed to work with the Koreans in Japan, Marion wanted to bring her medical skills to sick Koreans. Too often, Koreans suffered discrimination when they approached Japanese clinics and hospitals.

In the meantime, while the Powells were settling in Osaka, Dr. Frank Brown Jr. of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) was pursuing his vision of a Christian hospital in a setting where medical services were badly needed. His Christian hospital was to offer "whole person healing" to the spirit as well as to the body. He zeroed in on Awaji, a depressed area of Osaka, that was still being rebuilt after extensive bombing during the war. According to Japanese standards, medical facilities there were totally inadequate. Rev. Toshio Kondo, a Japanese minister with business experience, was involved in planning before the land was bought. He would become the hospital's first business manager.

When the first out-patient clinic opened in January 1955, Marion was part of a team along with two American doctors. Other American missionaries served from the beginning in various areas of the hospital. The search began for Christian Japanese to fill the positions needed to run a Christian hospital.

On May 8, 1958, the newly built Yodogawa Christian Hospital was dedicated. On that day, 75 out-patients were treated. There were 60 beds to serve a district of 170,000. Forty years later, the hospital has grown to 607 beds with many specialized departments. From its humble beginning in 1955, the hospital has grown to be an accredited clinical-training hospital and a home-care nursing station.

Though staffed by doctors, nurses and medical social workers, Yodogawa Christian Hospital also employed a missionary chaplain to attend to the spiritual needs of Christian and non-Christian patients. The chaplain's assistant, a Japanese Bible-woman, circulated in the waiting room, talking to patients about the healing of the Christian faith. She told stories of Jesus to the children. Sometimes, she sat at the bedside of a dying patient, giving comfort and hope to both patient and relatives.

As part of the mission of "whole person healing," hospital workers would learn what problems the patients brought with them. A Korean father, a widower, was failing and growing thinner over a period of months. The staff discovered he was giving his food to his two young daughters who were destitute and living alone in a windowless room. When the father eventually died, the local Korean minister took the girls into his home until they were placed in a Christian orphanage. Sometimes, "whole person healing" became "whole family healing."

Marion told of an obstetrical patient who was the wife of a local Japanese minister. She had not wanted her baby because she was afraid there would not be enough money to feed and care for it. Encouraged by the Christian atmosphere of love and concern for her problems, the young woman gave birth to a healthy baby boy. When the new mother held her tiny son in her arms, she knew only love and joy, forgetting the fear and apprehension she had brought with her into the hospital.

Koreans were drawn to Yodogawa Christian Hospital. Unlike Japanese hospitals of the day that were cold to their needs, Yodogawa Christian Hospital provided a warm Christian welcome for everyone. Marion kept local Korean ministers informed about Korean patients in the hospital. Thus, they were able to bring Christian encouragement in their own language -- a comfort to anyone who is sick or ill at ease.

The polio vaccine developed in the early 1950s was not readily available in Japan. In 1954, Marion attended a conference about polio in Singapore. When she returned to Japan, she arranged for the children of Korean ministers to be immunized, freeing at least some children in Japan from the fear of paralysis or worse.

During the time the Powells were in Japan, Rev. Margaret MacNaughton, girls work secretary of The Presbyterian Church Canada, wrote to Marion to suggest an exchange of gifts between girls of the PCC and the Korean Christian Church in Japan. With her usual enthusiasm, Marion plunged in. The girls' focus was to be on sharing themselves; cost was to be as little as possible. Canadian girls sent stories and letters to their Korean counterparts, along with Canadian maple leaves. In return, Korean girls sent back stories and songs to share with their new friends. A bridge of understanding had been built across the Pacific.

Married to a minister, Marion found time and energy to be a gracious and cheerful hostess. Whether entertaining a group of Korean young people who had been singing Christmas carols, or Korean ministers and their wives, or welcoming an endless stream of visitors, Marion's boundless enthusiasm made their home a happy place for all.

Marion, the doctor and hostess, was also a mother who was concerned about how to bring up her children in a foreign country, in a Japanese culture and in a Korean church. An English-language school was too far away to attend. Marion met the challenge by becoming their teacher with the help of correspondence lessons from the Ontario Department of Education.

Communication with supporters back home was important. Marion wrote articles and stories for the Presbyterian Record and Glad Tidings, telling about their work and the country.

When the Powell family returned to Canada in 1958-59 for a furlough, Marion gave talks about Japan wherever she was invited. She also found part-time work with the York Township Department of Health.

When the family returned to Osaka, Marion resumed her work at Yodogawa Christian Hospital, as well as all her other activities.

In 1960, Don fell seriously ill. It was his turn to be admitted to Yodogawa Christian Hospital as a patient, where he remained for seven weeks. The diagnosis was severe hepatitis. Marion's colleagues at the hospital used all their skills to save Don's life. But when the hospital reached the end of its ability to treat Don, the family was forced to return to North America suddenly and regretfully. Prolonged hospitalization and ongoing medical care in Detroit and Toronto saved Don's life. But with the diagnosis of chronic hepatitis, the door to work in Japan was closed.

Gradually, Don was able to resume part-time work in Toronto. But what of Marion? It is said, when God closes a door, God opens a window. For Marion, the open window led to compassionate and creative work with teenagers and women. Her interest in teenage problems was kindled during her work with the York Township Department of Health. Back in Canada to stay, her interest became a vocation. Her work was outstanding enough to earn her the Order of Canada and many other awards, along with the name Mother of Birth Control. She was a pioneer in her mission to make life better for women of all ages, and to make every child a wanted child.

In May 1990, Yodogawa Christian Hospital invited Marion, along with Don and other missionaries who had worked there, to attend the 35th anniversary celebrations of its founding. Yodogawa Christian Hospital had grown from a small clinic in a humble area of post-war Osaka to a prominent institution of high medical technology in an industrial megalopolis. Japanese medicine is now second to none in the world. Over the years, it has reached such a state of excellence that Don and others like him could now be treated in Japan. Yodogawa Christian Hospital has made its contribution with pioneering work in care for mothers and babies with blood incompatibilities. It has also pioneered with its volunteer program, medical social work, a dwarf clinic, pollution studies, a successful operation for the separation of Siamese twins (19th in the world) and many other areas, including the first hospice for terminally ill patients in western Japan.

There are people of many nationalities and many Christian denominations who work in the hospital and are members of the board and council. The national background is irrelevant now to the common interest of serving together. The hospital no longer needs missionaries from North America to provide leadership. Nor does it need financial support from abroad. It is now staffed and funded locally. As of February 1998, there are about a thousand people on staff, with an average of 1,750 out-patients each day. New buildings are being erected to provide care in needed areas, the latest being a 100-bed facility for elder health care. The staff are now called to aid other Asian countries such as Bangladesh. The basis for all this care is the ongoing Christian commitment and witness provided as part of the concept of "whole person healing."

When Marion Powell joined the staff of Yodogawa Christian Hospital, she offered her own vision of Christian mission in Japan, a vision she carried back to her work in Canada. While Marion and Don were in Japan in 1990, they took a train trip around the country to visit the churches of the Korean Christian Church in Japan. As Yodogawa Christian Hospital had grown, never losing sight of its original purpose, so the KCCJ amazed them with its growth and change. Many new churches had been built. Everything seemed more modern than in 1960 when they left so suddenly. But there is still more work for future generations of the KCCJ in spreading Christ's gospel of love and reconciliation.

In November 1997, Don suffered a sudden, massive heart attack and died instantly. Bereft of her husband's support, patience and gift of quiet listening, Marion suddenly died of a massive heart attack six weeks later. Their legacies remain, however, in all whose lives they touched in Japan and in Canada.

Jean (Brown) Sonnenfeld was a missionary of The Presbyterian Church in Canada to the Korean Christian Church in Japan while the Powells were in Japan.
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Author:Sonnenfeld, Jean
Publication:Presbyterian Record
Date:Jun 1, 1998
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