BIC Church mourns death of first medical missionary

—Dr. Alvan E. Thuma, the first medical doctor to serve under the auspices of Brethren in Christ World Missions, died peacefully at the age of 78 on August 12, at Messiah Village (Mechanicsburg, Pa.), where he had been a resident for 10 years.

Born December 19, 1921, in Miami County, Ohio, Dr. Thuma was the son of the late Benjamin “Frank” and Fanny (Etter) Thuma. After completing medical school, he and his wife, Ardys, sailed for Africa in April 1951 with their two young sons. He worked as a doctor in the women and children’s ward at Mtshabezi Mission Hospital in present-day Zimbabwe for a little over three years. In 1954, the family moved to Choma, Zambia, where Dr. Thuma was instrumental in transforming the small clinic at the Macha Mission into what is today the Macha Mission Hospital. During his years at the hospital, the number of government-approved beds increased to 208 and the number of specialized wards rose to five.

In addition to his service with BIC World Missions, Dr. Thuma worked for the Zambian government, serving in Livingstone, Mazabuka, Choma, and then Lusaka, where, as medical superintendent, he oversaw the 1,000-plus beds of the University Teaching Hospital at the University of Zambia come into being. Upon returning to the United States in the 1970s, he joined a family practice in Arcanum, Ohio, where he continued until his retirement.

In 2003, Dr. Thuma was awarded a Distinguished Service Order (DSO) medal by the Zambian government for his years of dedication and service.

“Dr. Thuma’s two decades of work and accomplishments in Africa earned him the respect of all who knew him,” says Chris Sharp, executive director of BIC World Missions. “May the Lord raise up more servants who are as dedicated to medical missions as Dr. Thuma.”

Dr. Thuma is survived by Ardys E. (Engle), his loving wife of 63 years; their four children, Merl, Philip, Wanda Thuma-McDermond, and Barbara; his sister, Esther Teunon; 10 grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.

A viewing and memorial service were held on August 19, at Messiah Village BIC, with a burial following in the Grantham (Pa.) Memorial Park. On Monday, August 24, a memorial service was also held in Dr. Thuma’s honor at the Macha Hospital.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be given to benefit Macha Hospital and MIAM (Malaria Institute at Macha). Gifts can be sent to MMRI (Macha Malaria Research Institute) at PO Box 388, Dillsburg, Pa., 17019, USA. Please indicate “A. Thuma Memorial” in the memo line of the check.

For more about the continuing work in Macha: