The Medical Mission
Albert G. Roode, MD (posthumously)
Albert G. Roode, MD

Albert Roode's direction in life was established by what he was told in Sunday School at age 13 in Donora, Penn. The story was of a Presbyterian medical missionary, Dr. Howard Buchanan, who was stationed in the South Sudan. He had accidentally infected his own eye while attempting to care for a child's serious eye infection, causing him to go blind and end his missionary career.

Barely a teenager, young Albert Roode vowed in Sunday School to become a physician and travel to the Sudan, where he would fill the vacancy left by Dr. Buchanan. What went unsaid was that no one in his family had ever been to college, much less medical school. Never mind that it was the depths of the Great Depression and that the Roode family barely had enough money to survive.

Not to be deterred, Albert took jobs as a common laborer. He then received a small scholarship followed by donations from 10 church members totaling $300, enabling him to enroll at Muskingum College in New Concord, Ohio. Accepted into Western Reserve Medical School, he received a letter requiring $100 to immediately secure his place. He was broke. Sweeping the halls of Muskingum College one night, he met the president of that institution. The man wrote a personal check on Roode's behalf for $100.

World War II delayed the dream of Dr. Roode, who served as a medical officer aboard the destroyer USS Quick. But when the war ended, he and the former Ruth Goehring and their young family set sail for Africa. As fate would again have it, the Roode family lived in the very home in Doleib Hill in the South Sudan that Dr. Buchanan had occupied 21 years earlier when he had his tragic accident.

In 1952, the Roodes moved to Pibor Post to serve the Murle people. Arriving via motorboat, they found no facilities, just brush and trees. For several months, Dr. Roode treated patients under a tree, while a single room grass hut was built that first served as the family home, and then — upon construction of a cement and stone home — as a clinic. Work then began on a permanent hospital.

Dr. Roode served the Murle people until 1964 when all Westerners were evicted by a fundamentalist government. He returned to Pennsylvania, where he worked at the Polk State School for those with mental disabilities and later in an emergency room. Despite two civil wars that engulfed his adopted homeland, Dr. Roode sent money to Murle children, paying for their education in Kenya.

Given the native name "Lukurnyang" on behalf of thousands of Murle patients he treated, Dr. Roode, passed away in 1994. He is still fondly remembered by them more than 50 years later, thus exemplifying the impact a solitary life, well-lived, can have on planet earth.

Fittingly, his sons, Peter and Philip, both became physicians. Dr. Peter Roode is now attempting to rebuild the Pibor hospital his father built, which was badly damaged in the civil wars.