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In the early 1800s, hospitals in England and many other countries “... were places of degradation and filth. The malodorous ‘hospital smell’ was literally nauseating to many and nurses usually drank heavily to dull their senses” (Mary Lewis Coakley, The Faith Behind the Famous: Florence Nightingale, ChristianityToday.com, Jan. 1, 1990).
But those circumstances were about to change due to the dedication of one woman.
Florence Nightingale was born into a wealthy English family, and it was expected she would spend her life in elite social circles, but she felt God was calling her to a different life—one dedicated entirely to service as a nurse.
In spite of family objections she trained as a nurse at the Institute of Protestant Deaconesses’ in Kaiserwerth, Germany, and then obtained a nursing position at a London hospital. Within a year she was promoted to superintendent, and focussed on improving nursing care and sanitary conditions to diminish the spread of infection.
In March 1854 the Britain Empire entered the Crimean war on behalf of the Turks, sending thousands of troops to the Crimean Peninsula. Within months nearly 8,000 British soldiers were admitted to military hospitals in Constantinople, where they were subjected to appallingly deficient medical care.
At the request of the Secretary of War, Florence and 38 female nurses were sent to the area to assist in rectifying a situation where five out of every six patients were dying from infectious diseases such as typhus and cholera. The hospital wards were immediately scrubbed and standards of patient care established, including bathing, clean dressings and adequate food, resulting in patient mortality significantly declining.
Florence returned to Britain a national heroine, and founded the “Nightingale Training School for Nurses” with money donated by grateful British soldiers and private citizens. In 1859 she published two books, which when translated into other languages, resulted in foreign nations contacting her for advice on upgrading hospital, nursing and sanitation issues.
Florence Nightingale was a dedicated follower of Jesus Christ, and did her best to reflect His example of service and sacrifice maintaining she was “... led by God… to do His service...God has done all and I nothing...” and once told an assembly of nurses, “Christ is the author of our profession” (Mary Elizabeth O’Brien, “A Sacred Covenant: The Spiritual Ministry of Nursing,” 2008, P. 4).
Jesus Christ, by His words and actions is the greatest servant the world has ever known, and His approach to serving others is summarized by these words to His disciples: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
We can also apply ourselves to heartfelt, practical service in many ways that may initially seem inconsequential, such as volunteering to assist a neighbor, or providing a meal for a widow. Even sending a card, an e-mail or making a phone call to someone who is ill or lonesome can be a significant act of service.
Jesus described those who assisted people in need as if they were directly assisting Him. “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me” (Matthew 25:40). The apostle James stated, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22) and Florence Nightingale declared, “I believe in doing religion, not talking it.”