History Of Velemegna
“Velemegna” Good News Society Hospital (known also as Salins Eye Hospital) is located in Bidar, a city of some 150,000 people, in the northern part of Karnataka State. The nearest major city, Hyderabad, is 150 kilometers to the southeast, while India’s largest city, Mumbai (Bombay) is 650 kms west. Bidar is a short distance from the major road connecting these two cities, and although it is small in relation to India’s one billion (1.25) population, its mix of Hindus (50% of residents), Muslims (slightly less than 50% in Bidar and 10-20% in villages) and Christian (2-4%) mirrors India’s diverse population. Bidar is an appealing place for urban retirees seeking a quieter, safe and environmentally clean lifestyle. It is home to the Guru Nanak (Sikh) temple complex, Bidar Fort (considered one of the most formidable and impressive forts in India) and a major training facility for the Indian Air Force, whose jet planes can be heard flying overhead throughout the day. Still, Bidar offers few employment opportunities for its youth.
In the late 1960s, however, Bidar was a backward, drought-ridden district, with only a government hospital and a Methodist mission hospital serving people’s medical needs. A century earlier, pioneering missionary work had brought many to Christ. Churches, hospitals and schools were built in nearby villages, but with only a few pastors to shepherd new flocks of believers, a great hunger for the Word of God remained. Over time, Christian fellowship dwindled, while bigamy, drunkenness, gambling, theft, begging, and general laziness – coupled with widespread sickness and leprosy – impoverished people financially, socially and spiritually.
Dr. A. C. (“Christy”) Salins and his bride, Dr. Sushila (“Suzy”) shared a passion to help leprosy sufferers in Nepal. Fresh out of medical school, they were considered “too young” to face such difficulties, and were encouraged, instead, to serve the Methodist Mission that had sponsored them during college. When a doctor – recently returned from Bidar – advised them “You can go anywhere in the world…but don’t go to Bidar,” that was where they went. Welcomed warmly, they were quickly swept up into the activity of the busy hospital, performing major surgery within three months of their arrival. In their spare time, they learned to speak the five languages in daily use by staff and patients.
Disheartened, over time, to learn that many of the new and beneficial medical procedures they had learned would not be implemented, the Salins stepped out in faith to start their own hospital. This new, bold undertaking seemed a call from the Lord, when they read the words of the prophet Haggai: “The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former.”
They acquired a building with many rooms. Together with baby Sybil, grandmother, two nurses and two helpers, they moved into one of them. Operation Mobilization workers later helped them transfer to a new facility. That same day, Christy amputated the arm of a boy and slept beside the frightened youth that night.
God worked in many ways, and through many people, to provide the equipment and supplies they required, plus a second-hand vehicle to take them to local villages to provide medical care and spiritual encouragement. Days were seldom uneventful. Working together, Christy and Suzy operated on a pregnant woman, hemorrhaging and left to die, thus saving her life. Ten days after the birth of their second child, Christy operated on his own wife. With the hospital in full swing, a three-year famine in Bidar meant that many poor patients left withered livestock in payment for hospital bills. In order to continue their ministry, Christy and Suzy sold personal items, including their wedding rings. After five years, their landlord asked them to leave. Again, God provided enough for them to purchase a small plot of land, then sent a former patient – in construction – to offer to build them rooms and wait for payment as long as necessary.
God had never promised them a trouble-free life – only to go with them as they ventured forth in faith to serve Him. When their new location failed to generate sufficient income, a consultant from the World Health Organization heard Christy speak and came to Velemegna for a first-hand look. He left promising support from WHO, which again kept them afloat.
When community health workers suggested that – if a small rural hospital could be built in Baridabad (20 km from Bidar), it could serve the medical needs in thirty-nine villages – the Salins purchased the land and began to cultivate additional acreage for agricultural use. This provided the poorest people with a chance to feed their families from their own labor.
In 1978, a monthly grant from the Christoffel Blinden Mission (CBM) in Germany made it possible for Velemegna to perform cataract surgery on the elderly. ‘Efficor’ of Great Britain and Germany’s New Apostolic Church provided ambulances. ICCO of the Netherlands started a dairy in Baridabad, and, with Velemegna’s supervision, a cooperative milk program to benefit twenty local farmers was begun. The following year, World Vision partnered with Velemegna to sponsor a family-to-family program providing education, medical treatment and other valuable services to three hundred poor children in eight villages.
Leprosy was the next great challenge for the Salins. Four Velemegna volunteers were sent on a 6-month training program, returning to help schools recognize this serious condition early on and provide multi-drug treatments. In 1983, an allotment from the state of Karnataka, enabled the Salins to relocate 63 “ostracized” leprosy families from the slums of Bidar to Chatnalli New Life Centre. There they were given lodging, food, clothing, medical care and spiritual nurture. In time, they were able to cultivate land for crops to feed them and provide cash income. ADRA of Canada, and SIMAVI in the Netherlands helped with this important work.
2000 saw the start of the Velemegna News Letter, Sunday School classes for orphanage children, and spiritual support for Velemegna staff and their families.
When both Christy and Suzy became ill in 2002, Velemegna was scaled down to concentrate on maternity and eye care. Their eldest child, Dr. Sybil, took over much of the work. After their “home-going,” the Salins children were able to fulfill their father’s dream by dedicating the church at Chatnalli Leprosy Centre and commissioning ten pastors – also trained in primary health care and equipped with first aid kits – to serve the Bidar and neighboring districts.
As more attention was concentrated on vision care, Dr. Sybil attended eye conferences, purchased new equipment and conducted eye camps. As she began weekly eye clinics in nearby Zaheerabad, Velemegnas’s reputation grew. But the departure of medical staff for various reasons remained an ongoing problem. Friendships blossomed between Dr. Sybil and her appreciative patients, and she was blessed by visits from overseas volunteers.
Today, nearly half a century after its founding, Velemegna continues its founders’ dream of providing health care and spiritual encouragement to some of India poorest people. It is a glowing tribute to the vision, commitment and endurance of Suzy and Christy Salins and brings glory to the God they lovingly served. They ran their race, finished their course and kept the Faith. Their torch, now carried on by their daughter, Dr. Sybil, and supported by her siblings, remains high and bright as Velemegna continues to reach out to the sick and needy, both physically and spiritually, in the name of Jesus Christ.