Monday, July 17, 2017


WWJD is a modern acronym for "What Would Jesus Do?"  A few years ago it was popular on bumper stickers, wrist bands and t-shirts.   On a recent trip to Newfoundland, I saw the evidence of that precept in action.

Sir Wilfred T. Grenfell, was born in England in 1865, son of a clergyman.   In the midst of his medical studies in 1885 and pondering what to do with his life, he stumbled into a tent meeting conducted by Dwight Lyman Moody and Ira David Sankey.  He was so moved by what he heard that he determined at once to devote his life to do "What Jesus would have done if he had been a doctor."   In consequence of that experience he joined the "Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen" and was eventually sent to Labrador as an experiment. 

Throughout the summer of 1893 he visited along the Labrador coast, where he discovered a population of about 30,000 souls without adequate food, clothing or medical treatment.  Working with the Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen, and eventually with the International Grenfell Association he laboured tirelessly to improve the lives of those people.  As he believed that most of the medical situations were a direct result of poverty, he enlarged his vision to include education, agriculture and industrial development as well as hospitals and nursing stations.  

In 1899 he acquired his first hospital ship, the Strathcona, donated by Sir Donald Smith of Canadian Pacific railway fame.  In 1901 the mission opened a year-round hospital at St. Anthony, followed by an orphanage in 1904, and a school in 1909.  
As well as tending to patients, Dr. Grenfell became increasingly involved in fund-raising. Other medical personnel were recruited to operate the facilities.

His energy and dedication attracted others to his cause, not the least of whom was his wife, Anna MacClanahan, a well-born and wealthy American.  The Grenfell Mission enjoyed the patronage of Nelson Rockefeller, King George V, Wm Lyon Mackenzie-King and Theodore Roosevelt, among others.

By the time of his retirement in 1932, the Grenfell Mission operated 6 hospitals, 7 nursing stations, 2 orphanages, 2 large schools, 14 industrial centres, and a cooperative lumber mill. An amazing testament to "what would Jesus do?"

Dr. Grenfell died in 1940.  His work was carried on by the Grenfell International Association for many years, but, eventually, funding modern medical care became too much for a private organization to manage. The hospitals, ships, medical equipment, etc. were handed over to the government of Newfoundland for the sum of $1.00. 

 The Grenfell Association remains active and awards grants to non-profit organizations for improving the health, education and social welfare of the people of coastal Labrador and Northern Newfoundland.

The next time you see the slogan "WWJD?" remember Sir Wilfred Grenfell and his legacy of service.

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