Leader’s Edge copyright © Missio Nexus. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from Missio Nexus.

Used by permission from Missio Nexus, PO Box 398, Wheaton, IL 60187. Email: Website:

Leader’s Edge: Missionary Biographies

Medico – The Life and Legacy of Dr. Raphael Thomas, Medical Missionary to the Philippines *

By Jim Ruff   

West Bow Press, 2023 

410 Pages 

Find it on Amazon*

*As an Amazon Associate Missio Nexus earns from qualifying purchases.

Who is this person?

This minutely researched record of a prominent 19th century Baptist preacher’s son, Raphael Thomas, tells of “Raph’s” early call at age twelve to serve as a medical missionary while at Moody’s Northfield, Massachusetts school. He responded to the appeal for volunteers to fulfill the Great Commission. After graduating Harvard cum laude, Newton Seminary, and medical school in Boston, he sailed to The Philippine Islands in 1904 where he served until 1935. He and his colleagues helped establish the Baptist church in the former Spanish colony. 

What stood out to you about this person’s story?

The reader’s attention is drawn to the precocious spiritual development of young Raphael, who at the age of eleven “had fairly well defined and clear views” regarding what the Christian life required. 

Another notable trait in Thomas’s life, single-mindedness, motivated him as he relentlessly pursued the education and training necessary to fulfill his calling as a “Mediko.”  

He discovered a gift for public speaking at Harvard while on the debate team and became a vocal leader in the Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions. This ability to speak forcefully served him well but also resulted in some who did not appreciate his unwillingness to see opposing opinions. 

Once on mission, he proved to be hard working, highly-skilled, possessor of a good sense of humor and productive, in addition to being an ardent evangelist to those treated in the road clinics and hospitals. Yet, those deeply-held “convictions” led to confrontation more than once. 

A very evident conviction was his firm evangelical theological foundation, especially in light of the fact that he was sent out by a Northern Baptist mission board, which eventually saw their missionary staff riven by the “fundamentalist/liberal” debate and the debilitating effects of “modernism.” Raph eventually became a founding member of a new Baptist mission which adhered to the fundamentals of the faith. 

Never considering himself a “finished product,” Raphael Thomas, a lifelong learner, invested months of his periodic furloughs taking courses in tropical medicine in London, Berlin, and Vienna. His amazing breadth of ministry as a doctor, church planter and pastor, mentor, and spiritual father to young Filipino high school students, sometimes resulted in his spreading himself thinly over the fields of need. This drive to do more had to dilute his overall effectiveness as well as straining work relationships and his own health. 

What were their significant contributions?

In addition to Dr. Thomas’ obvious contribution as a skilled physician and surgeon, he and his colleagues at the Union Hospital in Ilollo Province, opened a school where hundreds of Filipino nurses were trained, thus raising the abysmal health-care standards in Philippine hospitals. Dr. Thomas’s ministry went beyond medicine, as he helped plant churches, preach and disciple new believers, and found a Bible school. His investment of time and finances for work among young high school students resulted in a generation of committed Christian leaders for the church. 

What does this person’s life teach us?

Raphael shows us that even a youth can hear from God early in life and pointedly prepare for a life of service. When after just a few years of marriage he lost his first wife to tropical illness, he made the decision to follow the call, later rewarded by another marriage. Like Paul, who aptly wrote that “we possess this treasure in earthen vessels”, perhaps bettered rendered “clay pots,” Raphael Thomas shows the reader that even with gifting and training, we’re human, subject to personal foibles and ministry failure as well as amazing achievements in our calling.