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Photo Friday: Everyone Loves Dr. Virginia (Except Maybe This Snake)

Dr. Virginia Kauffman, the first female missionary doctor to serve under the auspices of the Brethren in Christ Church, with her bounty: a black snake. (Courtesy of Evangel Press)

In 1954, Virginia Kauffman — a native of Southern California — became the first woman doctor to serve under the auspices of Brethren in Christ World Missions.

For more than twenty years, Dr. Virginia (as she was affectionately known) and a team of nurses worked tirelessly on behalf of the Zimbabwean people. For many years, she served as doctor at the Mtshabezi Mission Hospital; later, she accepted an assignment at Phumula Mission, about 100 miles to the east.

More than thirty years after Dr. Virginia returned from the mission field, writer Joan Graff Clucas set the missionary’s story to paper in We All Love Dr. Virginia, an illustrated children’s book. From that story comes today’s Photo Friday installment.

Though she served as doctor at Mtshabezi Hospital, Dr. Virginia also engaged in more conventional missionary work — including the religious instruction of young children. As Clucas shares:

Occasionally, Dr. Kauffman set up her flannelgraph board near the hospital in order to spread the Word of God. It was for one of these sessions, as she was preparing to talk to a group that included children, that she spotted a large, dark snake in a nearby tree. Fearing it would drop down and harm her people, Virginia ran into the hospital to get her gun, which she kept in a locked cupboard. Then she shot the snake in the head. She posed for a picture to the delight of all who had seen this amazing feat.

To read the rest of Dr. Virginia’s story, see Clucas, We All Love Dr. Virginia: The Story of a Brethren in Christ Missionary to Africa (Grantham, Pa.: Brethren in Christ Historical Society, 2008). Dr. Virginia also wrote a brief autobiography in My Story, My Song: Life Stories of Brethren in Christ Missionaries, ed. E. Morris Sider (Nappanee, Ind.: Evangel Press, 1989), 278-284.

4 responses to “Photo Friday: Everyone Loves Dr. Virginia (Except Maybe This Snake)

  1. This is a great picture of one of my favorite missionary “aunties” from when I was a missionary kid–never knew she had a gun though! Dr. Virginia was my doctor when I had rheumatic fever and was homebound for several months (her presence at Mtshabezi where we lived at the time was probably the reason I was allowed to come home from the hospital–they knew I would receive good care). She drew lots of blood from me to monitor the progress of my recovery!

    By the way, there is also a biography of Dr. Virginia in the book, “Celebrating Women’s Stories: Faith Through Life’s Seasons,” which as I recall captures her wonderful spirit very well.

    1. Harriet: Thanks for this reminder about Celebrating Women’s Stories, and sorry for my oversight. I’m not as familiar with that volume as I ought to be! 🙂

  2. Since I first obtained the book and saw the photo, I have considered the photo priceless! I assume she dispatched the snake with a single shot.

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