The Running Doctor Tells Her Story
In 1996 Dr Valerie M. Inchley, known in Nepal as ‘the running doctor’, was awarded an OBE for ‘services to the British community and health care in Nepal’. Her 43-year ministry as a medical missionary and international Bible teacher is described with humour and humility in her autobiography, “On Call”.
The growth of the Nepali church is a modern mission miracle. There were approximately 1,000 Christians when Val arrived in 1970; today there are over 1,000,000. Until 1990 it was costly for a Nepali to be baptised – they could go to jail or be disinherited – but this gave the church strength and spiritual depth. Proselytism was also punishable with imprisonment, but Val realised that “converting” someone is different from ‘living a life that attracts people to Jesus, telling them about him, and offering to pray for them when they are in need’.
Aged 26, with limited language skills and no salary, she travelled to Pohkara to serve in the International Nepal Fellowship (INF) as a doctor. Her book describes the challenges she faced – cultural, religious and often language misunderstandings (such as the man who thought he must stand in a river every day to take his tablets ‘in water’!) Cases she treated include ‘catastrophic haemorrhages after childbirth; burnt and charred babies; men with bellies so swollen from bowel blockages that they looked like pregnant women’.
However, Val’s commitment to the language and people meant that she was soon reading scripture and leading prayer meetings in Nepali. She also found that ‘the possibility that there might be something better [than karma’s fatalism] made the positive teaching of Christianity particularly attractive, especially to low castes and “lepers”, many of whom gained hope and were radically transformed by Jesus.’
In the mid-70s the government decided that Pokhara did not need two hospitals, so INF began to concentrate on tuberculosis and leprosy work. Val became the Regional Leprosy Officer in Ghorahi, developing the clinic there and supervising surveys in several Mid-Western districts. Nepalis called her the ‘running doctor’ because of her unbreakable, but un-Eastern, habit of doing everything “at the double”. In one town she treated 186 patients, visited officials, lectured at the college and taught the hospital staff – all in 5 days!
In 1979 Val returned to Pokhara. The closed INF hospital had become a community health and tuberculosis centre, where she worked as Medical Coordinator until 1983. Then she served at the government hospital, helping to equip its 150-bed extension whilst working in the Obstetrics and Gynaecology department. She even escorted the Queen of Nepal around the new buildings during a royal visit.
Having heard, in 1987, that her mother had been taken to hospital, she returned to the UK. During that time, she attended a “Walk Thru the Bible” (WTB) seminar – an experience which would shape her future ministry. The following year, when she returned to Nepal, she first served as Acting Personnel Secretary, even becoming Acting Director for three weeks, and then as Health Projects Director for 7 years. With permission, she translated the WTB material into Nepali and developed it further, calling the new course “Bible Yatra”. She initially taught this within her ladies’ fellowship. Then, Nepal’s Revolution of 1990 enabled expatriates to offer greater support to the Nepali church, so she began to give seminars in several churches and Bible training centres.
In 1990 she became INF’s Medical Director, and also later the director of their Health Services Partnership. Then in late 1997 she sensed God calling her to ‘move outside the security of a mission visa’. She resigned and explored the option of staying on in Nepal with a campus visa to study Nepali, whilst further developing Bible Yatra. This proved timely; in 1998/9 the government clamped down on ‘extra-curricular’ activities and some INF expatriates were expelled.
Val completed the handbook for the Bible Yatra course, whilst obtaining a Diploma of Higher Education in Theology, and then went on to research thousands of Nepali proverbs, gaining a master’s degree in “Global Issues in Contemporary Mission”. Later, as part of the Great Poet Devkota Centenary Celebration, she was awarded for her ‘continuous dedication to promoting Nepali literature and … tireless efforts in taking Nepali language to the international arena’.
For 13 years Val survived on study, research and business visas, until she had fully handed over the Bible Yatra ministry and it was officially registered as a Nepali NGO. She and the teachers she trained had taught the course at ~1,000 seminars to over 20,000 students, including in the Nepali diaspora. Her faithful work continues to support the Nepali church and Nepalis in the diaspora today.