“The new addition was named The Maravilla Surgical Wing, in honor of Dr. Antonio Maravilla. He was a godly man who was appointed by the Board of Trustees in 1966 to be the first Filipino Medical Director of Bethel Baptist Hospital. But to our great sorrow, the Lord called him to Heaven in 1972 with complications of cancer.” These were the words penned by Dr. Lincoln D. Nelson in his message for the Luke Chronicles, a book published in 2003, celebrating 50 years of Bethel Baptist Hospital’s service to the people of Bukidnon. This year, Bethel Baptist Hospital celebrated its 60th year in the Lord’s service, and because I am the daughter of Dr. Maravilla, we were invited to attend the celebrations. It was here that RD was introduced to his grand dad’s legacy in this hospital.
A Hospital And A Surgeon
Bethel Baptist Hospital was founded in 1952 by Dr. Lincoln D. Nelson who had earlier visited, and fell in love with, the Philippines in 1949. He was then serving as a medical officer for the U.S. Navy at the Naval Hospital in Sangley Point, Cavite. After his stint with the Navy, Dr. Linc (as he is fondly called) returned to the Philippines in 1952 and established the Bethel Baptist Hospital (on the Philippines’ southernmost island) and served here until 1987. Their mission was to meet the physical as well as spiritual needs of the people of Bukidnon through quality medical services, and to preach the Good News to patients who came through her doors. Dr. Linc and his wife, Lenore, eventually helped to open other mission hospitals in Leyte, Aklan and Palawan. After retiring in 1987, Dr. Linc continued to travel to other countries doing surgery and preaching the Gospel as he went. In 2012, Dr. Link went home to be with the Lord after several years battling the devastating effects of meningeal encephalitis, which he contracted in 2006.
For ten years, Dr. Link worked alone, enduring long hours of out-patient consultations and surgery without any help. During a conference in Baguio, Dr. Linc gave a testimony about the work at BBH and their need for a Filipino doctor. RD’s grand dad heard the testimony, and felt God’s call for him to help with the work at Bethel. Soon after, he accepted the call of the hospital, and joined the BBH work force in 1963. Three years later, the hospital board appointed Dr. Tony (as he was called) as the first Filipino medical director of Bethel Baptist Hospital. While there, he fell in love with and married, RD’s Lola who worked there as a nurse. Now that Bethel had a second doctor, Dr. Nelson was able to go on furlough (in the States) and get much needed rest from his work. He was also setting in motion, plans to turn the hospital over to an all-Filipino staff.
While, Dr. Linc was on furlough, the hospital was left in the able hands of RD’s Lolo, where he would see as much as two hundred patients a day. However, in 1968, Dr. Tony began to experience symptoms of amoebic dysentery. Dr. Linc gave him medicines for amoeba. When Dr. Linc returned from furlough, he found that the symptoms were still there. He examined Dr. Tony again and, through a sigmoidoscope, found a mass in his lower colon. It was cancer. He underwent several surgeries at St. Luke’s Hospital and in the United States but each time, the cancer recurred. The hospital staff prayed hard for healing for Dr. Tony, but the Lord chose to call him home in July of 1972, exactly four years after the symptoms had first occurred. I was only three years old at that time.
RD has only heard about his grand dad in bits and pieces from me and his Lola. But this anniversary featured a special exhibit where he took a tour of the Maravilla Surgical Wing, and saw pictures of his Lolo which allowed him to learn extensively about him. This brought about a curiosity in who his Lolo was, and he was able to ask questions and have them answered by me and my mom. It was through this exhibit I was able to tell RD about how much his grand dad was loved by those who he had ministered to as a physician and as a spiritual counsellor. I have grown up knowing how soft-spoken, gentle and kind he was from people who had met and known him. I am told that his colleagues had never seen him lose his temper, and that he cared so much for the patients that he would miss lunch just so he would not keep anyone waiting. He would preach before the patients who were gathered to see him, and then start consultations afterwards. That was always the order of the day, a “tradition” which started with Dr. Nelson, and has remained so until today. He was also called the singing doctor because he had a good singing voice and was requested to sing for special numbers, at weddings and in the church choir.
RD’s Lolo and Dr. Nelson became very close both as co-workers and friends. They would both play a round of tennis after a day’s work at the hospital. At Dr. Linc’s memorial service, RD’s Lola was one of many who testified about their experiences with Dr. Linc. In her testimony, she said, “When my husband finally went home to be with the Lord, Dr. and Mrs. Nelson travelled all the way from Malaybalay to my husband’s hometown in Suay, Himamaylan in Negros Occidental to attend the wake. He was the one who gave the eulogy and message during the funeral service in that little church in the barrio. I, then, remember the times when we would see each other during their visits here to Malaybalay after he had retired; he would always get teary-eyed and his voice would waver whenever he talked about my husband. I can only imagine the reunion they must be having right now in heaven. I am pretty sure they are both playing tennis there.” In his book “With Scalpel and the Sword”, Dr. Linc writes, “The loss of Dr. Tony was a blow to his wife and to all of us who had worked with him at Bethel Baptist Hospital. Our confidence that Dr. Tony was God’s answer for that planned turn-over of the hospital to national leadership collapsed. The time table for establishing an autonomous medical facility was postponed for want of someone with his quality of leadership.”
RD may never fully grasp what a big part his Lolo has played in the history of Bethel Baptist Hospital, but I’m sure he will when he gets older. It was enough for him to know that he would have the opportunity to meet his Lolo in heaven. He was perfectly content with that thought.*
Note: Dr. Nelson is the author of two books: “With Christ in the Family”, a book dealing with the Christian family and the innumerable problems that attack the home, and the “With Scalpel and the Sword” which recounts the history of Bethel Baptist Hospital and his experiences while working there. In 2012, Dr. Lincoln D. Nelson was posthumously inducted into the Medical Missions Hall of Fame Foundation.
* Dr. Link’s account of Dr. Tony Maravilla may be found in Chapter 16 entitled “Doctor Tony” of his book “With Scalpel and the Sword.”