Medical Mission
to Tanzania

31 January - 8 March 1980

journal notes, letters to Jeannie, and photos

first week -- getting there
second week -- getting adjusted
third week -- getting settled
fourth week -- getting accustomed
fifth week -- getting comfortable
sixth week -- returning home


For years Dan Davidson and I planned a trip to Africa as a tropical medicine rotation during our senior year in medical school at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. While at Harding University, Dan had spent time in Africa working with Dr. Farrar at the Nigerian Christian Hospital, so we expected to go to Nigeria. When the time came in 1980, Dr. Farrar was working at the Chimala Mission Hospital in Tanzania, so we opted to go there instead.

I had never been out of the country before. The only time I had been on a plane was in 1977 when I attended the U.S. Navy's 6-week officer indoctrination school at Newport, Rhode Island. Traveling to Africa was quite an adventure for a country boy from Arkansas. Dan Davidson and I departed Little Rock, Arkansas, in the morning of 31 January 1980 while it was snowing. After flying for 2½ days, we reached the green land of tropical Tanzania.

Tanzania is a country of East Africa, south of the equator. At that time the population was about 17 million. The land area is the size of Texas plus New Mexico. The capital city of Tanzania is Dar es Salaam, meaning "harbor of peace," on the coast of the Indian Ocean. Driving is on the left-hand side of the road. The country had a very poor economy. The socialist government at the time was practically bankrupt. Things in short supply were very expensive. Eggs were $2.50 a dozen. Butter was $6.00 a pound. Gasoline was about $4.00 per gallon. It was illegal to drive on Sunday after 2 p.m. without a special permit. Even then, one couldn't buy gas on Sunday. This somewhat hampered church work. The official language in Tanzania is Swahili, but many tribal languages were also spoken.

The American staff at the time at the Chimala Mission Hospital was limited to Wayne Smalling, the administrator, who was in the States while we were at Chimala, and Dr. Henry Farrar, a general surgeon from Searcy, Arkansas. The African staff included Shadrach, the assistant administrator and secretary; Mr. Senga, a medical assistant who wasn't trained to do surgery; many nurses and aids; the laundry and kitchen staff; a lab tech; an x-ray tech; and a pharmacist.

At the hospital there was a male ward, a measles ward, a maternity ward, a female ward, and a children's ward. There were no private or even semi-private rooms. The hospital served about 300 inpatients each month. With only about 60 beds, sometimes some patients would have to sleep on the floor when there were more than 60 inpatients. The next nearest hospital was 50 miles away at Mbeya. Within a 50-mile radius of Chimala there lived about 100,000 people. About 3,000 patients were treated in the outpatient clinic at the hospital each month.

A typical morning for Dan and me began with attending the devotional in the hospital chapel/waiting room. We would then make rounds, splitting up the patients between us. Then we would meet with Dr. Farrar to discuss any problems we encountered. We would usually go to the operating room afterward. After finishing surgery, Dan and I would each see about 10-25 outpatients. We saw everything we see in the States, plus tropical diseases. After lunch we would see more clinic patients. In the evening after the electricity came on, we made rounds a second time.

We had running water which was piped into the houses and hospital from the Chimala River. It was too dirty to drink, but we could wash with it and drink it after it was boiled and filtered. The water was pumped by a hydraulic ram, which works without electricity. We did have electricity from a generator which ran only from 9 a.m. to 12 noon and from 6:30 p.m. to 10. The nearest telephone was 50 miles away.


The first known attempt of the Church of Christ to enter Tanganyika was in 1948 when Eldred Echols went to Dar es Salaam to obtain permission to enter and preach. Permission was not granted. Tanganyika citizens could not sell land to a foreigner. The Church of Christ found a couple of farms which had been owned by Germans since before World War I. Some American congregations bought these so our missionaries could enter the country. One farm was at Chosi at about 3,500 feet elevation, which they continued to farm. The other land was at Ailsa, which had been a pig farm, located on the plateau south of Chimala at about 6,000 feet elevation. Here the Tanganyika Bible School was started. (It was abandoned about 1971. We were not able to find out exactly what happened.)

In the 1950's it became more and more difficult for American missionaries to enter Tanganyika. But young men were continuing to be trained to become preachers. Tanganyika acquired independence from Great Britain in 1961 and soon informed the Church of Christ that unless some type of benevolent work or social service was started that we would have to leave the country. (In 1964 Tanganyika and Zanzibar united to form Tanzania.)

In 1962 the Park Row Church of Christ in Arlington, Texas, decided to purchase a rural hotel with 490 acres at Chimala on the Great North Road. It was only a dirt road then, and the railroad had not been built. Here the Chimala Mission Hospital was built. The outpatient clinic was opened in April 1964. The hospital was completed in late 1965.

Between 1963 and 1971 the Church of Christ grew from a handful to about 5,000 members. About 120 churches were established as a direct result of the work in the Chimala area.

At the Chimala church building there was once a daily school. A large Church of Christ school was also located at Ruaha, about 15 miles east of Chimala. There were several smaller schools in outlying villages run by churches of Christ. Before 1980 the government had taken control of all schools. Still a preacher could teach a Bible class at a public school where there was a student of his religion.

About 1974 the government began Ujamaa, which was an order to all citizens to move closer to the main roads. It caused many of the villages to turn into ghost towns. Unfortunately, it destroyed the congregations which were located in the bush country. In 1980 there were less than a dozen congregations in the entire country. This was certainly a discouragement to our missionaries in Tanzania.

The hospital grounds are truly beautiful. The climate and the mission facilities are ideal for the missionary. The hospital was maintained by Wayne Smalling, who was the administrator, and his wife Flo, who worked as head nurse. Only about 20% of the hospital staff were members of the Church of Christ in 1980. Most were Lutheran. Without the hospital, there could be no white Christian missionaries in Tanzania. However, the hospital was without a Christian doctor from the summer of 1972 until Dr. Farrar arrived in the summer of 1979.

Jesus said,
     "For I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me drink,
I was a stranger and you clothed me,
I was sick and you visited me ..."

     (Matthew 25:35-36)

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Copyright © 2001, Michael S. Cole, M.D.

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