Dennis, Madeline Kelso

1909 - 2001
Wife of Rev Louise Dennis Medical missionary. Set up maternal and child clinics

Mrs Madeline Kelso Dennis was born in Delaware state, USA. In 1930 she graduated from Asbury College, Kentucky and later married her classmate, Rev Louise Dennis. The couple shared the same vision to serve as overseas missionaries.

As both Madeline's father and grandfather were pastors, they were pleased and supportive when she wanted to be a missionary in China. However Rev Louise's parents were not in favor of their decision fearing that, as China was far from the U.S., they might not be able to meet again. Later, the parents granted consent for missionary works were one that showed God's universal love.

Rev and Mrs Dennis set out for Nan Pin, China in 1939. They left China in 1950 because of the political changes. In 1951, they were assigned to Sibu. Rev Dennis became a district superintendent while his wife was still seeking breakthrough in her profession.

In 1952, the Sarawak government responded to the call by the Methodist Church regarding the medical needs of the local communities. So in June that year, an ordinary medical clinic and a maternity and child welfare clinic were set up in Sungai Teku and in the town centre, respectively. Madeline was overseeing the maternity clinic and child welfare clinic at the ground floor of Masland Methodist Church Youth Centre in Island Road (the present day Methodist Book Room). She represented the hygiene section (overseeing prevention of diseases and hygiene) during the 1st Provisional Annual Conference. In her report, she pointed out: “Start to provide health service on the first floor of the Youth Centre in June 1952, which was one of the projects by the Methodist Church, in collaboration with the District Council, Rural District Council and the Central Government Health Department.” The centre was first called “Women and babies medical teaching centre” and later known as “Maternity and Child Welfare Clinic”. Ms Pearl Lee was assisting her. In the same period of time, three clinics were also set up at the longhouse areas and another three at the Chinese domiciled areas, providing mobile medical services. However, one year later, one clinic in the Chinese area was closed. During the first year, 772 expecting women and over 400 babies were examined or treated.

In her report at the 2nd Provisional Annual Conference on December 2-3, 1953, Madeline said that the mothers and babies seeking treatment increase by more than a fold compared to that of the previous year. They had to increase their manpower to make more rounds for home visitations. During the second half of the year, they made 200 home visits. Despite the busy schedule, they continued to visit the longhouses at Penasu, Malasan, and Sg Aup, treating women and babies. Many villagers also requested Madeline to share the gospel with them. Once, someone pointed to a picture of Jesus on the cross and said they wanted to know more about Jesus and wanted to follow Him. Madeline said that they were very busy and requested that someone be sent to the longhouses to share the Good News.

In her report, Madeline pointed out that the centre also conducted training for mid-wives. Through education and scientific methods, they taught the public about family planning. They also helped vaccinate the children against diphtheria and whooping cough and taught them about immunity. They conducted physical hygiene courses at Bukit Lan Farm.

In 1954, they engaged Mdm Lau Hung Hee and who graduated from Johor Bahru General Hospital, to work at the centre as well as two assistants, Mr Lee Chew King and Ting Teck Seng. Every month, the Sibu Lau King Howe Hospital also sent two midwifery students to the centre for training.

At the end of that year, the centre moved to the ground floor of the old police station. From January to October, 3,279 babies and 6,335 pregnant mothers came to the centre for check-ups, 4,772 persons received vaccinations and 106 women received counseling on healthy homes. They also made 1,476 home visitations.

Madeline said that the aim of this kind of service originated from how Jesus served while walking on earth and was the proof of Christ's love. It was in accordance with Matthew 25: 36-40: “I was sick, and ye visited me…Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” With this teaching of serving like the Lord, Madeline and her team served the women and children, preventing disasters or even deaths.

She also requested the government to set up mobile medical team to visit and provided medical services, twice a week, to the Iban longhouses along the Lower Rejang River. In the next four years she also served the longhouses in Upper Rejang.

In 1956, Madeline and her husband, Rev Dennis, were assigned to work in Singapore for two years. They also worked in Petaling Jaya for another two years. In 1961, they were sent to work in Sitiawan, Perak. Rev Dennis met a severe road accident and he took a long time to recuperate, but his movements and thought flow became slow. After that they returned to the U.S. In October, 1985, Rev Dennis had a fall, knocked the back of his head and passed away later.

In 1986, Madeline was 76 years old when she visited Fujian, China, and taught in the local theological school for two years. In 1988, she came to visit old friends in Sibu and taught for a year in MTS. She was 80 years old when the chief editor of Methodist Message, Hii Sieh Toh, arranged for the writer to interview her.

From the web-site of Asbury College, we learnt that she was awarded an Alumni Award in 1991. 

She passed away on December 16, 2001 in the Methodist Country House. [1]

Brief summary

Madeline was greatly touched by the diligence, perseverance and confidence of the Chinese. China was such a big place, with a huge population but with so many poor men. The few churches were scattered all around. Yet God showed how He loved China through the work of the missionaries.

In 23 years, from 1939 to 1962, the couple had gone to China, Sarawak, Singapore, and Malaya to serve the Chinese communities. Madeline brought into play her professional training by servicing in the field of nursing and providing medical services.

Although, the first training centre was set up in the venue of the Youth Centre and remained there for only four years, till today Sibu people called the Centre ‘Wudehui’ (务德会). Today when the expecting mothers go to government's polyclinic for check-up they still call maternity clinic as 'Wudehui”. “Wudehui' becomes a term of memory for all Sibu folks. It is likely that the centre was later handed over to the government.

From Madeline's report, we see that the Clinic had around six staffs at that time, handling 30-40 expecting mothers and babies each day. Twice a week they travelled by boat to provide mobile medical services and they had to make home visitation. We really have to salute these early period medical staffs in Sibu for their hard work.

Because of the hard work and input by Madeline, she injected new meaning to this service, ‘Wudehui' or the centre had benefitted all races in Sibu. "Wudehui' was actually the Methodist Youth Fellowship centre (Epworth League) catering for youth fellowship ministry as well as other activities beyond youth fellowship. From the U.S., China to Sibu, the Epworth League youth organisations had been active within and outside the church and had become a strong support for church development. Youth Centre or ‘Wudehui' and clinic are two different entities, just that Sibu people called the clinic so, both entities had served the people mentally, spiritually and physically.


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    access on 7/4/2022

© 2016 by SCAC. This article is reproduced with permission of the Board of Christian Literature, Sarawak Chinese Annual Conference, The Methodist Church in Malaysia, publisher of Missionaries to Sarawak: Footprints in the Land of Hornbills 1 & 2. Edited and compiled by Wong Meng Lei. Translated by Christina Tiong, K. T. Chew, and Chang Yi