Dr. Tom Lambie, one of the great missionaries to Africa, concluded that the height of a civilization can be measured by the amount of contamination in its drinking water. Think of the modern pollution of our water supplies! I would say to you in the name of Jesus Christ that the degree of the infidelity of an individual Christian or a Christian group to the Word of God in doctrine and life is shown by the amount of contamination in the water which flows forth.
The most famous loose cannon on the deck of the American Mission ship in Africa [around the turn of the century] was Thomas A. Lambie, M.D. Born in 1885, Lambie earned his medical degree from the University of Pittsburgh in 1907. Later that year, he was at Doleib Hill among the Shullas, and then he and the Reverend Elbert McCreery opened the mission at Nasir among the Nuers. The first Nuer Christian was named Pok Jok. In 1918, on the wave of a devastating influenza epidemic, the governor of Wollego province asked Dr. Lambie to come over to Ethiopia.
Accompanied by Dr. and Mrs. Giffen, Lambie, with his wife, Charlotte, and their children, Betty (age eight) and Wallace (age nine), traveled seventeen days from Nasir to Gambela on an empty Nile steamer that would be loaded with Ethiopian coffee for the return journey. From Gambela to Dembi Dollo, Lambie traveled by horse. Because of the tsetse fly, a horse never survived more than one trip, although a mule or a donkey might make that journey nine or ten times before it died. When Lambie entered Ethiopia, there was only one foreign Christian missionary–the Rev. Dr. Karl Cedarquist, a Swede, who operated a school in Addis Ababa. At Dembi Dollo, Lambie worked with Gidada Solon. On one of his trips to America, Lambie spoke to a Junior Missionary League meeting attended by a young Lyda Boyd [Don McClure’s future wife].
While in the Dembi Dollo area, Dr. Lambie removed a small beetle that had crawled into Governor Ras Nado’s ear and was causing great pain. Ras Nado’s followers identified this insect as a wood-boring beetle and were convinced, in spite of Lambie’s assurances to the contrary, that it would have drilled right through the governor’s head and killed him. Ras Nado’s gratitude for saving his life resulted in a letter of commendation for Dr. Lambie and an introduction to the prince regent, Ras Tafari Makonnen (later Haile Selassie I).
After meeting Ras Tafari Makonnen and with the money he had raised in America, Lambie built George Memorial Hospital in Addis Ababa (see Lambie, A Doctor’s Great Commission, pp. 150-61), receiving Ethiopian citizenship in 1934 so that he could hold title to the property. Early in the Italian war Lambie became the executive secretary of the Ethiopian Red Cross. During this time he met a young aviator, Count Carl Gustav von Rosen, who, like Don McClure, was killed at Gode (13 July 1977) by Somali raiders.
Born near Stockholm (19 August 1909), von Rosen received his pilot’s license in 1929. In 1939 he attended a lecture by Gunnar Agge, a missionary doctor in Ethiopia, who attempted to mobilize Swedish public opinion against the Italian invasion of that African nation. In response, von Rosen placed himself and his plane, a Heinkel, at the disposal of the Red Cross in Ethiopia. After World War II von Rosen was asked to build the Ethiopian air force and served as principal instructor with the rank of colonel from 1945 to 1956. In 1974 he returned to Ethiopia to aid in airlifting relief supplies to famine and drought victims in villages inaccessible to surface transport. Survived by his wife and six children, two of whom were born in Ethiopia, Count Carl Gustav von Rosen asked in his will that his body be buried in Ethiopia–request that was honored by that grateful nation. For more information, see Ralph Herrmann’s Carl Gustave von Rosen (Stockholm, 1975).
According to John H. Spencer in Ethiopia at Bay: A Personal Account of the Haile Selassie Years(Algonac, Michigan, 1984), p. 85, in order to continue his missionary work, Lambie willingly submitted to the Italian conquest of Ethiopia and made widely publicized retractions of his earlier reports of Italian attacks on Red Cross ambulances and the Italian use of poison gas. Yet, see Lambie’s account of the Italian bombing of the defenseless Doro Mission station in A Doctor Carries On, pp. 58-72. In any case, Lambie, who had transferred from the American Mission to the Sudan Interior Mission, lost the confidence of Haile Selassie and consequently his Ethiopian citizenship. He became stateless until a special act of the 76th Congress (11 July 1940) restored his American citzenship.
In Khartoum, April 1941, the McClures were with the Ried Shieldses, but visited the Lambies alone, since the Lambies and the Shieldses (Shield’s book is mentioned in note 7) were not on speaking terms. Of that situation Lyda wrote,
After the death of his first wife (buried in the British cemetery in Port Said), Lambie founded and served as director of the Berachah Tuberculosis Sanatorium in Bethlehem (Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan). While there, Dr. Lambie was invited to bring the message at the sunrise service under the brow of Calvary’s hill. A few days before Easter he went with friends to make preparations for this service, and as he was stating the substance of the address he planned to give, his voice faltered and he died. Thomas A. Lambie, M.D., died on 14 April 1954 and is buried in Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh. Lambie tells his own story in A Doctor Without a Country (New York, 1939); A Doctor Carries On (New York, 1942); Boot and Saddle in Africa (New York, 1943); and A Doctor’s Great Commission (Wheaton, Illinois, 1954).Charles Partee
1. According to Rev. Keith H. Coleman, Lambie was not buried in Pittsburgh but in Bethlehem on the Baraka Bible Presbyterian Church property. Rev. Coleman is the Executive director of the IBPFM (1000 Germantown Pike B6 / Plymouth Meeting, PA 19462 USA / Phone: 610.279.0952). Email messages to M. Sigg dated 5/2/2012 and 7/31/2012. In a message dated 7/31/2012, Rev. Coleman wrote: “I have visited the grave site of Dr. Lambie myself and have a photograph of it. Also, here is the email of Pastor George Awad (firstname.lastname@example.org), who ministers at the Baraka Bible Presbyterian Church in Bethlehem. He can confirm that Dr. Lambie is buried at the end of their property. Last of all, our own missions publication, Biblical Missions, states in the July-August 1954 issue, in an article entitled ‘Dr. Lambie Called Home’ (p.6), ‘After a brief service in our chapel at Bethlehem, Dr. Lambie was laid to rest in the churchyard on the hillside facing west, under the shade of two olive trees.'”
Thomas A. Lambie, A Doctor Without a Country (New York, 1939).
This article is reproduced, with permission, from The Story of Don McClure: Adventure in Africa, copyright © 2000 by Charles Partee, Lanham, Maryland. All rights reserved.
Dr. Thomas Alexander Lambie (1885- 14 April 1954) was a missionary medical doctor noteworthy for becoming an Ethiopian citizen, being responsible for several early medical efforts in Ethiopia (including the founding of two hospitals). He also worked as a medical doctor in Sudan, Nigeria and Palestine, where he died.
Dr. Lambie was born in Pittsburgh, United States. He worked as a missionary with his family in Sudan among the Nuer and Anuak people, and then sailed up the Baro River into Ethiopia in 1918, becoming the first American missionaries in Ethiopia. He began work in Sayo, Welega, and Gore in Illubabor Province.
Dr. Lambie removed a small beetle that had crawled into Governor Ras Tessema Nadew‘s ear that was causing great pain. Ras Nadew’s gratitude led him to write a letter of commendation and an introduction to the prince regent, Ras Tafari (later EmperorHaile Selassie). When the Lambie family traveled to Addis Ababa, Ras Tafari requested that Dr. Lambie build a hospital there, offering him a tract 12 acres in size at Gullele outside the city. Upon his return to the United States, Dr. Lambie approached his board for help with this endeavor; although they recognized the need for a hospital the board was unable to provide him with the necessary funds, which led Lambie to embark on a fund-raising tour of his country. It was while visiting a small town in Ohio that he encountered W.S. George,a successful businessman who provided him with US$ 70,000 to found the hospital. Construction on the hospital began in 1922, which became the biggest building in Ethiopia at the time.
In 1928, having initially launched the Abyssinian Frontiers Mission in 1927, then merged it with SIM (at that time “Sudan Interior Mission“) in Ethiopia, Dr. Lambie negotiated permission to begin mission work south of Addis Ababa, as far as Sidamo. This was a delicate procedure because Ras Tafari was subject to strong pressures from some in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
In 1932, Dr. Lambie built a leprosy hospital on the edge of Addis Ababa, now part of ALERT. At the urging of Ras Kassa, Dr. Lambie investigated building a hospital in Lalibela in 1934, but the outbreak of the war prevented this. Emperor Haile Selassie I appointed Dr. Lambie secretary-general of the new Ethiopian Red Cross to oversee the efforts of Ethiopian and foreign medical teams.
After Italy occupied Addis Ababa in 1935, Lambie at first submitted to the Italian regime in order to continue his work, going as far as to retract his reports about Italian use of mustard gas in the Second Italo-Abyssinian War. Upon the restoration of Emperor Haile Selassie to the throne, Dr. Lambie left Ethiopia; because he had acquired Ethiopian citizenship in order to own the property his hospital was built on, he was forced to apply for naturalization. He later worked in Nigeria, Sudan, and in Palestine where he built the Berachah Tuberculosis Sanitarium in Bethlehem. He died at Christ’s tomb, on April 14, 1954.
- Lambie, Thomas. 1935. Abayte! or Ethiopia’s Plea for Help.
- Lambie, Thomas. 1939. Doctor Without a Country (later reprinted as A Doctor’s Great Commission). New York.
- Lambie, Thomas. 1942. A Doctor Carries On. New York.
- Lambie, Thomas. 1943. Boot and Saddle in Africa. New York.
- Lambie, Thomas. 1954. A Doctor’s Great Commission. Wheaton, Illinois.
- Coote, Robert. 1998. “Lambie, Thomas”, in Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, ed. by Gerald Anderson, p. 381-382. New York: Simon & Macmillan. 0-02-864604-5
- Richard Pankhurst, An Introduction to the Medical History of Ethiopia (Trenton: Red Sea, 1990), p. 207
- John Spencer, Ethiopia at Bay: A personal account of the Haile Selassie years (Algonac: Reference Publications, 1984), p. 85 note to p. 80
Below is one of Francis Schaeffer’s last public appearances:
1984 SOUNDWORD LABRI CONFERENCE VIDEO – Q&A With Francis & Edith Schaeffer