A Legacy of Courage
As John Raymond Christopher took down the neatly lettered sign in front of his Evanston office and turned the key in the lock for the last time, he concluded not only a rural practice, but a significant chapter in his life. As he steered his family along the desolate wind-swept roads toward their native Salt Lake City, he probably had little idea of the trials that awaited him there.
As always, Ray was at peace in the bosom of his family. He was a tender father, a favored uncle. He cherished the association with those who understood him and his chosen trade. Perhaps it is well that he spent those difficult final years surrounded by his loved ones, for they gave him much of the strength he needed to carry on.
Established again in the valleys nestled between Utah's majestic Wasatch and her copper-studded Oquirrhs, Dr. Christopher hung out his shingle and set about the task of healing those who sorrowed. If his was a privileged profession, there was no privilege attached, and the cold nights he spent alone in jail cells were little reward for his unselfish gift of time and talent. Because despite the naturopath's earlier promise, Ray was not licensed in the state of Utah, even though he had fulfilled the requirement of first being licensed in Wyoming.
Years before when he had struggled to establish a practice, he had nearly starved for lack of patients. This time it was different. Again he struggled to establish a practice, and far too few patients sought his help. But this time people didn't cast herbs aside as being worthless. This time people believed herbs to be harmful, and they vowed to prosecute any who prescribed their use. Legal harassments began. The few faithful patients who still made their way to Dr. Christopher were themselves suspect.
One day, a young man and his sister called Dr. Christopher to their home. Lying in bed was their mother, deep pain was etched across her ashen brow. Ray could almost taste death as he stood above her.
The children explained that she was riddled with cancer and had been given only hours to live. "But she wanted to die at home," they explained, "and we love her so. We wanted her here, too. Now we are afraid. Can you do anything to ease her pain until she passes?"
Ray had been warned against visiting the woman, warned that there would be legal ramifications if he attempted to treat her. But seeing her wrenching pain, he could not turn his back on her. His mighty compassion rose to the surface and spilled over to the brave victim who waited for death to carry her from pain and disease.
He leaned close to her and took her hand. "I don't know how long you'll be with us," he began, choosing his words with the utmost care. "But if you will follow this program for a few days, you will be free of pain. And I believe you will enjoy ease until your time comes." She nodded, the effort of a weak smile spreading across her drawn lips. He left the family with dietary instructions and a handful of herbal formulas. As he bid them farewell on their covered porch, he noticed neighbors peering out from behind heavy lace curtains in the house across the street.
He visited her several times after that, curious to note her condition. She was able to get out of bed. She was able to take short walks among the gardens she had so faithfully tended. A painless smile graced her lips, and she was able to share the association of her beloved children.
One morning a few months later, she gathered her children around her and bid them goodbye, telling each how much she loved them, then she closed her eyes and died peacefully, without pain. When they phoned Ray with the news of their mother's passing, her children expressed their gratitude to him for her final few months of joy and companionship.
It was a bitter victory for Ray. A few days later the police came to his house, handcuffed him, arrested him for murder, and transported him to jail. The neighbors across the street, the ones who had peered out from behind the heavy lace curtains and had done nothing to help their friend, had noted Ray's license plates and filed charges against him when she died.
It was lunacy at its height! Here was a woman, sentenced to death by the ravages of cancer and the proclamations of the orthodox physicians who had treated her. Yet Ray, who possibly prolonged her life by a few weeks, and who definitely gave it quality, was the one who paid the price. It was so, in the words of the prosecuting attorney, because he was an "unorthodox physician." Unbelievably, Ray's attorney shook his head. He wasn't sure Ray could avoid a prison term.
It was the beloved children who first summoned Ray to their mother's bedside that offered his greatest defense. After answering the attorney's interrogation, the angry young man insisted on giving his own statement. When the judge consented, all eyes were on the witness stand.
"My sister and I called this man to our home with our mothers approval," he began, obviously nervous at his duty. "She had been sent home from the hospital to die, and she was in excruciating pain. Her doctors told us she would only live a few hours. We didn't ask Dr. Christopher to heal her, we asked him to help relieve her pain until she died. The pain was so fierce that we suffered with her, and we feared we were not equal to the task."
A hush fell over the courtroom as the impassioned young man continued his testimony.
"We did what Dr. Christopher told us to do," he explained. "Within forty-eight hours, my mother was free of pain. Instead of dying that day, or even the next day, she lived for several months. Most important, she lived for several months without pain. She got out of bed. She walked around. She was happy, and so were we. He changed her life, and all our lives."
With a sharp rap of the gavel against the fine-grained wood of the stand, the judge announced, "Case dismissed." Ray always believed that the Lord was in court with him that day -- and that the Lord's blessings kept him from behind prison bars.
Unfortunately, there were many more times when the cold steel of handcuffs slapped around Ray's wrists, and many times when his family had to post bail to free him from unfair imprisonment. It is a tribute to his wife that her support never waned. Through arrests and trials and imprisonments, her belief in him remained firm. Toward the end, they had a private joke between them. As he'd leave the house each morning to attend to the sick, he'd call back over his shoulder. "I'll phone you when I get to jail tonight!" he'd promise, and they'd both smile as they waved goodbye. Sadly, his prediction too often proved right.
The persecutions became almost unbearable at the end, but in his characteristic style, Ray never showed bitterness or retaliation. National Health Federation official Clinton Miller recalled at Ray's funeral one of the trials in which he was accused. According to Miller, Ray was "sitting there with no anguish in his face -- no concern, no bitterness, just beauty."
The legal battles continued, and at last the war was won. Some would say that the persecutors won the fight, as legislation directed specifically against Dr. Christopher was introduced to the Utah Legislature and was passed into law. After decades of practicing his healing art, he was forbidden. His hands were tied. To go against the mandates of law would mean an indefinite prison term.
But did the persecutors really win? Those who knew Dr. Christopher best know they did not. He was the real victor. Why?
Because when he could no longer treat the patients he so loved, he did the only other thing he knew to help-- he began teaching. At his peak, he lectured in more than 120 cities a year. His lecture halls were filled to capacity. Eager students stood in the aisles and lined the walls, straining for the chance to learn from the master herbalist. In 1979, he began publication of a newsletter. Headquartered from his office in Springville, Utah, it went to an international audience, spelling out the art of using herbs for healing. Until the accident that caused his death, he continued to teach in his School of Natural Healing. Once the law "stopped" him, he reached tens of thousands more people than he ever could in his humble practice.
And John Raymond Christopher won the battle, too, because of the person he was. He never took credit for a miracle. There were plenty of healings, and some of them defied science. There were many that were, indeed, miracles. But Ray never took the credit, and he told any who would listen that he never cured anyone (not even himself).
He instead gave credit to the efforts of his patients, to the herbs that came forth from the rich soil, and to the Lord. Throughout his practice and his writings, he always used the plural "we," remembering the Lord in all he did.
He won, too, because the work did not stop with him. Those who visited his infirmary at Fort Lewis and who filled his waiting room in Evanston and who met him at the roadside on his house calls went on to help others. Scores of his patients became herbalists. Many of his students practice today. Even the rancher in Woodruff who refused to feed his prize cattle white flour bought a fruit farm, learned reflexology, and works as a full-time herbalist.
He won because he practiced without guile, with selfless concern for his patients. He never hoarded secrets or held back information for monetary gain; he freely shared any information he thought could help someone else. He took people into their yards and taught them to use the common "weeds" that grew in abundance, when he easily could have bottled them himself and exacted a handsome profit. The more than fifty formulas he created were not to make money, but to impart blessings to others.
And he won because through everything he endured -- crippling arthritis, the death of his devoted mother, separations from his family, and cruel persecutions--he maintained the wonderful sense of humor that endeared him to so many. Most who have heard him lecture remember one of his favorite stories, because he repeated it often.
An elderly man was hospitalized, and doctor's orders called for an enema. The nurse administered the enema, but was called away on an emergency before she could record the enema on his chart.
A second nurse entered the room and administered a second enema, despite the old man's protests. She, too, was suddenly called from the room before she could record it on his chart.
Amazingly, a third nurse did the same.
When the exasperated man heard a knock on his door, he called out, "Who goes there? Friend or enema?"
Wherever he went in those final years, the eyes of the world followed. In 1975, a Canadian news editor wrote that "when he said he took a drink of cayenne pepper each morning, I nearly dropped my pen. Admittedly, I am not too familiar with cayenne...how could anyone consider taking a tablespoonful in a glass of water and dashing it back? Well, the good doctor wasn't kidding." She summed up with a description of Dr. Christopher mixing three tablespoons of cayenne in a tumbler of water. According to the editor, he "downed the whole thing and came up smacking his lips."
San Francisco Recorder editor Paul Speegle, commenting on one of Ray's arrests and the accompanying $50,000 bond, asked, "Where hardened criminals, guilty of crimes of violence and threats to society, are given low bail, some members of the legal profession are requesting that an investigation be made to determine what prompted such an excessive bail in this case.
Could this be a ploy to take the heat off the doctors in the current malpractice mess by making it unpleasant for acupuncturists, herbal, and natural healers? Just asking!"
And, though he is gone, his words live on. He was prolific in his final years, adding eight works to his original booklet on the Word of Wisdom. Those interested in the art he practiced can read his words in Dr. Christopher's Three-Day Cleansing Program and Mucusless Diet, Rejuvenation Through Elimination, The Cold Sheet Treatment and Aids for the Common Cold, The Incurables, The School of Natural Healing, Herbal Home Health Care, Capsicum, and Regenerative Diet. At the time of his death, he had begun work on several other volumes. His family is working to finish them in his memory.
The "Doc," as he was affectionately called, touched all of us. He healed many of us. His legacy is his students, his formulas, and the love he left behind. With uncommon valor and unequalled compassion, he gave himself to all of us...and we, with him, are the winners.
Published and distributed by:
Christopher Publications, Inc.
P.O. Box 412 Springville, Utah 84663
(801) 489-4254 (800) 372-8255
Copyrightę 1993 Christopher Publications
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"Natural Healing with Herbs for a Healthier You"