f you hear the term medical missionary, you may think of a doctor traveling on foot, by boat, or by plane to remote villages—risking life and limb to bring medical care to unreached people groups. Indeed, some of the most exciting tales of God’s providence come from this type of mission work.
However, it’s not just the jungles that need missionaries—so do the cities! And medical ministry in the city may come with its own risks, such as war or political upheaval. That’s what Dr. George H. Rue discovered when he dedicated most of his life to being a medical missionary in Seoul, South Korea.
Dr. Rue and his family set foot in the city of Sunan in 1929. They were eager to make a difference in their new home, but already they faced a huge challenge—they didn’t speak Korean. Pressing on, they learned as much as they could over the next two years.
Then, Dr. Rue was called to open a new clinic in Seoul. The Seoul Sanitarium (later the Seoul Hospital) started as an eight-bed facility, but he envisioned something bigger. Providential funds from the 1935 Week of Sacrifice Offering and a Thirteenth Sabbath Offering Overflow paved the way for the construction of a small, 138-bed hospital not long after.
Sadly, Dr. Rue’s wife, Mae, passed away in 1936. More tragedy followed when World War II began; this forced the Americans, including the Rues, out of the country in 1941. Dr. Rue was allowed to return in 1946—joined by his new bride, Grace—and immediately set to restocking the depleted hospital. These tireless efforts caught the eye of then-President Rhee, who recruited Dr. Rue as his personal physician.
The respite from war was brief, and in 1950 the hospital’s work was disrupted again, this time by the Korean War. Dr. Rue was sent south to care for refugees and start two new hospitals. Heartbroken from the growing number of orphans, he and his wife felt called to start an orphanage. In 1954, President Rhee awarded Dr. Rue the Republic of Korea Medal, the highest honor a civilian could receive for service to the nation.
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Miraculously, the Seoul Hospital was still standing at the end of the war, even though many other buildings became rubble. How could this be? Dr. Rue was later told that a ranking North Korean officer had once been his patient and still respected Dr. Rue. While invading Seoul, the officer had ordered the hospital untouched.
No longer battered by war, Dr. Rue tried to get the Seoul Hospital back in shape. The division sold land, and donations poured in from church members and workers. The call for offering funds to repair and expand the hospital was well received, and many Adventists sacrificed to support the initiative financially. In 1967, part of the Thirteenth Sabbath Offering Overflow in first quarter was set aside for the hospital.
But the gospel still needed to be told, and Dr. Rue couldn’t let the need for repairs hinder this medical mission work! One terminal patient was so impressed by what she learned about the Advent message that she pleaded to be baptized before she died. What could they do but say yes? Thinking quickly, someone suggested the hospital’s physical therapy tank as a makeshift baptistry.
Field clinics were routinely sponsored across the country. In small villages, these clinics not only provided care but also broke down prejudice against Christians. Young people wanted to attend church, and the clinics helped win over their parents. More than 100 people were baptized because of these efforts.
At one clinic, 150 dental patients and more than 450 medical patients were seen! Even so, hopeful crowds had to be turned away when the supplies ran out. Sixty patients signed up for Bible studies because of this clinic alone, and most had never met an Adventist before.
After surviving two wars, Dr. Rue officially retired in 1967 but went back to Korea to serve for several months each year. Even later in life, he couldn’t deny his calling to serve God’s children in Korea.
The hospital expansion broke ground in 1969, but the finances hadn’t come together yet. Construction progressed off and on for several years. During this time, Dr. and Mrs. Rue never gave up. They were instrumental in fundraising about $70,000.
God also inspired some surprise blessings. In one instance, a British businessman experienced what doctors told him was an allergic reaction. When the problem didn’t subside, he decided to visit the Adventist hospital for help. Dr. Rue exclaimed, “Oh, my! Chicken pox at your age!” as soon as he saw the man. This quick and accurate diagnosis impressed the businessman. After hearing that the hospital was struggling to expand, he was inspired to support the cause by donating 100 tons of cement.
Dr. Rue’s dream came true when this tremendous project was finished in 1976. The expanded hospital’s key features included central air conditioning and a speaker system. There to celebrate were the Rues as well as former First Lady of South Korea Mrs. Rhee.
The Seoul Adventist Hospital has grown even more, adding services and increasing its patient capacity. It remains a beacon of health and healing in South Korea to this day, caring for thousands of patients each year.
Dr. Rue’s exemplary, steadfast mission service has had rippling effects around the world as the hospital continues to train nurses who are also called to be missionaries. This pioneer shows what can happen when you follow God wherever He leads—even if He leads you to a city.