Born in 1870 in Tieggerwilde, South Russia, Katharina Schellenberg emigrated to America with her family when she was eight. Her father, Elder Abraham Schellenberg, was a Mennonite Brethren preacher important in building up the church in Kansas. Katharina’s mother died when she was fourteen, and Katharina then cared for her three brothers and three sisters. When she was nineteen Katharina committed her life to Christ and joined the Mennonite Brethren Church in Buhler, Kansas. Her father kept in contact with the Brethren in Russia as well as elsewhere in the world, and Katharina imbibed an interest in missions from an early age. As a young adult she worked in an orphanage and two hospitals before volunteering as a missionary. Advised to obtain further medical training beyond her nursing studies, Katharina took a four–year course in homeopathic medicine.
In 1907, Katharina left for India, very sure that this was the field God would have her work in. She was the only American medical doctor in the India Brethren mission until her death in 1945, and she only took two furloughs during those thirty–eight years. Katharina worked in several different locations. In each she had to demonstrate to the Indians that the medicines could be trusted. She especially treated Muslim women who could not be seen by a male doctor. After ten years in the field, Katharina wrote her father, ‘the problems are so severe that one can hardly stand it, and one does not know where it will end. But God sees and knows all, and He can change things!’
In 1928, Katharina opened a hospital at Shamshabad which treated an average of 8,000 patients a year. With the many prevalent diseases, Katharina educated the people on the importance of hygiene, clean water, and proper sewage disposal. Concerned for the spiritual needs of her patients and staff, each morning there was a devotional time for everyone in the hospital. Sunday afternoons Katharina would play her autoharp and sing with the patients.
Though she never married, Katharina did take in homeless children and cared for them. For relaxation she had a fruit and flower garden, did some farming, and raised chickens, turkeys, and milk cows. She said these were like a holiday and she didn’t need a vacation in the hills.
Katharina was greatly mourned at her death on 1 January, 1945. She is buried in the St George Cemetery at Hyderabad, India. The memorial stone reads,
She lived for Christ.
She served others.
She sacrificed herself.
Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul.
~3 John 2~
This extract is from Her–Story: 366 Devotions from 21 Centuries of the Christian Church