On Casting Your Bread
On Casting Your Bread
Last August I was washing up the dishes at home near Melbourne when I did a double-take. The Foreign Correspondent story on TV was something about the separation of conjoint (Siamese) twins in a village hospital in India. An international team had been assembled by an Australian doctor from Sydney and the operation was taking place in an unheard of hospital in central India. The dishes were so dirty and I was not paying much attention. . . .
And then suddenly I heard a name, Gordon Thomas, and I pricked up my ears and looked again. Why, yes, that was him, the little boy who together with his sister I'd admitted to our school some 40 years before. I shouted out to my wife, Margaret, and we sat glued to the set for the rest of the programme. But I must start at the beginning.
While hailing from Melbourne, I taught in rural Victoria and spent four years as an IVF (AFES) Travelling Secretary working amongst teachers across Australia. Sydney was my base and it was here that I met Margaret and married her in April 1964. The very day of our wedding, I received a cable from India offering me the position of Principal at a famous Anglo-Indian School 300 Km northeast of New Delhi in the Himalayas.
Many such schools had initially been established as orphanages for the poor and often neglected children of mixed race who were disowned by both communities. These schools had special protection under the Indian constitution and when the numbers of Anglo-Indians dwindled due to migration to the west, some schools saw a new mission to other disadvantaged communities - in my time there, Tibetan refugees and the Indian Christian community. Most students came from the majority Hindu community.
Anglo Indian schools had long outgrown the ‘poor brother' image. Many quickly became bastions of prestige and excellence. I think in my 12 years there, with a strong Christian Board, Wynberg-Allen maintained a deep commitment to the poor. And so, John Thomas, the founder-Head of a little Bible School in Calcutta approached me about the possible admission of his children, Gordon & Grace. They were duly admitted as boarders on generous scholarships.
Gordon went on to study medicine at Vellore Christian Medical College and then served the poor in several village hospital situations across the country for some 20 years. Later he was appointed as a paediatric surgeon to Westmead Hospital in Sydney and it was when based here that an old friend from India pleaded for his help with the conjoint twins. Although one of the twins died, the other is doing well and Gordon and his team were the toast of the town (India). The separation of conjoint twins in a village hospital was a medical first for India and a noteworthy achievement anywhere!
I was in teacher training when the Principal of Melbourne Teachers' College, speaking at the farewell assembly of my College, quoted the text, Cast your bread upon the waters, and it will return to you after many days (Eccl 11:1). I'm sure that many of you can say ‘Amen' to that!
C. Malcolm Macmillan
Footnotes: Gordon Thomas and his family now live in Baulkham Hills, Sydney and worship at the local Anglican church.
The Macmillans and their four children returned to Australia in 1976 after almost 12 years in India. Malcolm is a member of the Whittlesea Uniting Church.