Obituary: Grace A. Nelson

GOLDEN VALLEY, MN (December 17, 2015) — Grace A. Nelson, a retired medical missionary to Congo, died Tuesday, December 15. She was 91.

grace photo reducedGrace was born on November 27, 1924, in Lund, Wisconsin, to Levi and Lydia (Samuelson) Nelson.

She attended the North Park Bible Institute, graduated from the Swedish Covenant Hospital School of Nursing, and earned a bachelor’s of science in nursing from Wheaton College. She also studied midwifery in Hyden, Kentucky.

Her interest in missions was confirmed years earlier when her pastor, Alfred Gilberg, took the 17-year-old to the 1942 Covenant Annual Meeting in Minneapolis to hear Congo missionary Harvey Widman.

Grace served in Congo from 1950 to 1986 as a nurse and instituted programs that attracted international attention for their excellence.

In 1972, she recognized the need to train the “older women” who served as traditional village midwives, and Karawa became the first hospital in the country to provide the instruction. Besides learning how to perform a sanitary village delivery, the midwives, who were mostly illiterate, were taught to recognize complications that required delivering a baby at the hospital. The program saved the lives of many women and their infants.

Because of its success, Grace’s program received international attention. The American College of Midwives sent observers and teachers. In 1984, John Hopkins University organized a conference on family health held at Karawa.

Grace conducted several medical studies related to midwifery. She also conducted studies in cooperation with a Belgian hospital on how to prevent cretinism in infants. Several of her findings were presented at the International Health Conference in Washington, D.C., and at least one was featured in a medical journal.

While she was there, the maternity building at the Karawa hospital was built and several additions plus an annex were constructed. During the last two years of her service, Grace supervised the maternity services and prenatal and family planning clinics, as well as the midwifery program.

And her work extended beyond medical assistance as she taught Bible to girls in Karawa and encouraged women in agricultural development.

Her medical work in Congo also helped save lives in the United States. When she left missionary service she worked in the maternity unit at Swedish Covenant Hospital in Chicago. In one incident, an ambulance brought a pregnant woman to the hospital who was screaming from extreme pain. Other medical staff were unable to determine the source of the pain, but Grace quickly diagnosed that the woman had a ruptured uterus, and she ordered doctors to operate immediately. None of the medical workers had seen a similar case, but Grace had seen many in Congo.

Grace is survived by her brother and sister-in-law, Robert and Marge Nelson; her sister, Margaret Nelson, also a Congo missionary; two nieces and a nephew; as well as many Congolese and missionaries to Congo she still considered family.

A memorial service will be conducted at 2 p.m. January 23 at Covenant Village of Golden Valley. Memorials may be sent to to Covenant World Missions, Paul Carlson Partnership, Lund Mission Covenant Church, or the Covenant Village Benevolence Fund.

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