1. Grypma, Sonya

Article Content

In 2012 I visited the Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, the Holocaust Museum. I was in Israel as part of a group of businessmen, government officials, and university administrators to learn about Israeli healthcare innovations. Although we started the trip as strangers, our mutual experience of the museum brought a deep sense of shared humanity. We self-identified as Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and Christian with family ties to Holland, Poland, the Ukraine, Brazil, Israel, and Afghanistan. Our guide, who I'll call "Miri," led us sensitively through a tour that exposed the depths of human cruelty. We listened carefully, willing ourselves to bear witness to the atrocities of that period. The question punctuating every story was, why did so many stand by silently, allowing this to happen?

Figure. No caption a... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. No caption available.

Near the end of the tour, Miri led us outside to one of many memorial stones engraved with names of those who hid Jews. She had been notified that my grandparents were among the thousands honored at Yad Vashem as Righteous among the Nations: Hendrik and Elisabeth Visser had hidden a young Jewish woman in their home during the war. Miri invited me, now shaking with emotion, to share my family story.


It is difficult to describe how this experience transformed our group. We asked ourselves, what would we have done had we been living in those times? My grandparents viewed harboring a fugitive in 1942 German-occupied Holland as a moral obligation, informed by their Christian faith. I realized anew that caring for strangers is a moral obligation nurses live out every day, whether we realize it or not.


Contemporary nursing, as I've noted before, can be traced to the early church when Jesus' instructions to care for the sick and poor were taken up by his followers as a moral imperative-a living expression of their faith. What follows is an excerpt from an online JCN article that bears repeating (Grypma, 2009, S2-S3):


Although care of members of one's family or community have been part of human experience across time and place, it was Jesus who catalyzed the radical notion of caring for strangers. Not only did Jesus heal the sick; he charged his followers to do the same (Matthew 10:8). Moreover, Jesus taught that to feed, clothe, visit, and look after the needy was profoundly valuable and should be carried out as if to Christ himself (Matthew 25:35-37). Paul affirmed that illness care was one of the church's main responsibilities. He urged Christians to go to the community of believers with their illnesses (James 5:14).The role of diakonos was established as an organized way for Christians to serve others. In Romans 16:1-2, Paul identifies Phoebe, a diakonos of the church at Cenchrea, as someone who was a great help to many, including him. The deacons and deaconesses of the early church were forerunners to a complex, faith-based, organized, practical response to the suffering that accompanies illness and injury-that is, to what we know as nursing. Over time, care of sick, wounded, and poor strangers became a hallmark of Christianity. By the 16th century, religious orders were leading the way as providers of care for the sick. Pioneering work was done by groups such as Vincent de Paul's Catholic Daughters of Charity in France (founded in 1617), Marguerite D'Youville's Sisters of Charity (Grey Nuns) in Montreal (founded in 1737), Elizabeth Seton's Daughters of Charity in America (founded in 1807), and Theodur Fliedner's Lutheran deaconess movement at Kaiserwerth, Germany (founded in 1838) (Nelson, 2001; Paul, 2005). Nursing was inseparable from Christian faith; one was incomplete without the other.


What is the meaning of this for nurses in the 21st century? A question we must collectively ask ourselves today is, who are the most vulnerable among us that Christian nurses of this generation are uniquely called to care for?


Nelson, S. (2001). Say little, do much: Nursing, nuns and hospitals in the nineteenth century. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania. [Context Link]


Paul, P. (2005). Religious orders of Canada: A presence on all western frontiers. In C. Bates, D. Dodd, & N. Rousseau (Eds.). On all frontiers: Four centuries of Canadian nursing. Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press; Canadian Museum of Civilization. [Context Link]


Grypma, S. (2009). Essential nursing values: Re-envisioning for the 21st century. Supplemental Digital Content in "Nursing in need of transformation: What are we searching for?" Journal of Christian Nursing, 26(3), 166-173. [Context Link]