Jack Voelkel suggested this Scripture as appropriate for her heart. “I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:10,11). (An urbana.org column by Jack Voelkel, Helen Roseveare: Courageous Woman Doctor in the Congo).
Helen was born into ‘a comfortable British family’ in England, in 1925. She described her childhood manner as ‘endlessly active’ restive with animal spirits, always in mischief, with an urge to excel, to be noticed, to be the centre of the group, (with) an inner need to be admired.’ ((Give Me This Mountain, Dr Helen Roseveare, Christian Focus Publications, Geanies House, Fears, Ross-shire, Scotland…p12) Those traits were noticeable in some form, right throughout her life.
It was at a Sunday School class Helen first considered missions and life on the foreign field. Her father regarded education highly, consequently Helen attended a prestigious all girls school from the age of 12 and then she went on to Cambridge and studied to become a doctor. It was here the call to missions was confirmed and she responded with her typical passion and zeal.
Helen attended a missions meeting and deeply moved, she responded, “I’ll go anywhere God wants me to, whatever the cost.” Then in her usual demonstrative way Helen talked to God.
‘Afterwards, I went up into the mountains and had it out with God,’ she observed. ‘O.K. God, today I meant it. Go ahead and make me more like Jesus, whatever the cost. But please (knowing myself fairly well), when I feel I can’t stand any more and cry out, ‘Stop!’ will you ignore my ‘stop’ and remember that today, I said, ‘Go ahead’?” (R: Cost – Henry Martyn: How God called a Brainy Student – June 14)
Several times the Lord faithfully reminded Helen of that colorful exchange.
Her first day at Cambridge proved to be inspired. She entered her dormitory a stranger feeling alone. Then she spied a note on her mirror. “If you don’t know anyone, and have nowhere to go after supper, come and have coffee in my room, No 12, at 8p.m., (signed) Dorothy.
This thoughtful gesture led to the meeting that started the amazing story of her missionary life. Dorothy invited her guest to participate in the Cambridge Inter-Collegiate Christian Union (CICCU). Soon she was attending the daily prayer meeting, the Bible studies and the evangelistic activities. She explored the New Testament diligently. She also cemented strong and valued friendship with her fellow believers.
In all of this, Helen still felt something missing in her own Christian experience. Intellectually she began to get a grasp of what Christianity was all about, but that knowledge only emphasized her own sense of superficiality. Then came a student retreat and here, Helen’s heart opened to the deeper things of the Lord. She experienced a deep personal forgiveness and felt the fullness of His love and her heart opened like a flower.
On the final night, Helen Roseveare shared her testimony of that life-changing experience and Dr Graham Scroggie, a veteran Bible teacher wrote in her new Bible – Philippians 3:10 “That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death.”
In a personal exchange Dr Scroggie said to her: “Tonight you’ve entered into the first part of the verse, “That I may know Him.” This is only the beginning, and there’s a long journey ahead. My prayer for you is that you will go on through the verse to know “the power of His resurrection” and also, God willing, one day perhaps, “the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death”
She had no idea on that night of joy, how literally these words would be lived out in her experience.
“It took six and a half years to get my medical degree, six months in missionary training centre, six months in Belgium studying French and tropical medicine – and at last, the five week boat trip journey to East Africa and across half of the great continent to the border of Congo,” Helen wrote in her best-selling book “He Gave Us a Valley.” (He Gave Us a Valley, Helen Roseveare, Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester, England)
Helen was assigned to the north-eastern part of Congo (later called Zaire), where she was the only doctor for two and a half million people.
One day while driving to a meeting, her supervisor spoke to her of the Lord’s dealings, of the possibilities of success as a missionary. If you think you have come to the mission field because you are a little better than others, or as the cream of your church, or because of your medical degree, or for the service you can render the African church, or even for the souls you may see saved, you will fail. Remember, the Lord has only one purpose ultimately for each one of us, to make us more like Jesus. He is interested in your relationships with Himself. Let Him take you and mould you as He will; all the rest will take its rightful place (Give Me This Mountain, p. 75).
Her work began in a temporary mud-and-thatch hospital. She learned to fire her own bricks and labored to build the buildings they needed. Although she struggled, she learned the Swahili language.
Within eleven years, a 14 acre plot of land had been turned into a 100 bed hospital and maternity complex with all the necessary buildings and services. Many tens of thousands of sick were treated, scores would have died without the help of that hospital.
Helen Roseveare was raped 29 October, 1964. She has described the ordeal, her fears, terror and concerns. She remembers the humiliation and the ‘fierce physical pain.’
‘They were brutal and drunken. They cursed and swore, they struck and kicked, they used the butt-end of rifles and rubber truncheons. We were roughly taken, thrown in prisons, humiliated, threatened,” she wrote. (Give Me This Mountain, Dr Helen Roseveare).
That traumatic experience challenged Roseveare for some time. She came back to it with a vivid memory: ‘The Lord reminded me sharply of that traumatic night of 29 October, 1964, and how I had gone home on furlough in 1965 and testified all over the United Kingdom to His sufficiency. It had been true. On that dreadful night, beaten and bruised, terrified and tormented, unutterably alone, I had felt at last God had failed me. Surely He could have stepped in earlier, surely things need not have gone that far. I had reached what seemed to be the ultimate depth of despairing nothingness. Yet even as my heart cried out against God for His failure an my mental anguish taunted me to doubt His very existence, another reasoning had made itself felt.
‘You asked Me, when you were first converted, for the privilege of being a missionary. This is it. Don’t you want it?”
She recalled the Lord saying, ‘These are not your sufferings. They’re Mine. All I ask of you is the loan of your body.”
“Again the overwhelming sense of privilege, that Almighty God would stoop to ask of me, a mere nobody in a forest clearing in the jungles of Africa, something He needed.”
She shared a very personal God-Helen exchange. “….this was the privilege He offered, the privilege of being a missionary, His ambassador, identified with Him among those whom He wanted to serve. You went home and told everyone that I was sufficient at that moment, in those circumstances. Isn’t this true now, in today’s circumstances?’ ‘I tried to say: “But of course, Lord, You know it’s true.’ ‘No,’ He quietly rebuked me, ‘No. You no longer want Jesus only, but Jesus plus … plus respect, popularity, public opinion, success and pride. You wanted to go out with all the trumpets blaring, from a farewell-do that you organized for yourself with photographs and tape-recordings to show and play at home, just to reveal what you had achieved. You wanted to feel needed and respected. You wanted the other missionaries to be worried about how they’ll ever carry on after you’ve gone. You’d like letters when you go home to tell how much they realize they owe to you, how much they miss you. All this and more. Jesus plus ….No, you can’t have it. Either it must be ‘Jesus only’ or you’ll find you have no Jesus. You’ll substitute Helen Roseveare.’’ (Extract from He Gave Us a Valley, Helen Roseveare)
Each year a hundred patients underwent surgery; a hundred young men and women were trained as hospital orderlies and assistant midwives; and all the patients heard the Gospel through the ministry of the hospital chaplains.
In addition, she established 48 rural health clinics in the immediate vicinity of the hospital. But during these years, stresses and strains continued for her.
The mission assigned Dr. John Harris to the hospital, and he was put in charge. She had enjoyed her independence, had developed her own priorities, and chafed under this change. She became irritable and resentful. She was exhausted from overwork. She had conflicts with her African colleagues. Her time with the Lord had suffered greatly, and she had less and less interest in prayer and Bible study. The sensitive national pastor saw the symptoms and invited her to spend a week in prayer and fasting at his home.
After several days, the Lord broke through. She later wrote: I joined the Pastor and his wife round the fire….As they earnestly prayed, slowly the Spirit of God reached through into my heart and broke down the barriers of pride, the frigid restraint, and revealed so much of self.
He helped me to unburden my heart, to reveal all the rottenness and sense of failure, the fears and criticisms, the pride and selfishness. Then, so gently and quietly, Pastor Ndugu…led me to look away from myself to the Christ of Calvary. He dealt with the need of restitution on certain points, the need of apologizing and asking forgiveness on certain others, and a great calm came (Give Me This Mountain, p. 104).
I read an interview with Helen Roseveare by Tonya Stoneman. This is an excerpt. It relates to that dark time when rebel soldiers abused her.
“Roseveare and her fellow missionaries endured faithfully that long and dreadful weekend. The following Tuesday the rebels returned for her. She was taken away by herself in the middle of the night. As dawn broke, they came to a village. The rebel soldiers had gathered nearly 800 local men into the village square. They had been told they would attend a people’s court in which Roseveare would be tried for the things that had occurred the previous week. At the given signal they were instructed to shout, “She’s a liar! She’s a liar!” They would then be asked, “What will we do with her?” The mandated response was, “Modecco! Modecco!” which meant “Crucify her! Crucify her!” The defendant knew she would die, although she did not know how.
The trial scene began.
“They wanted me to go through in detail in front of these 800 men what had happened the previous Thursday,” Roseveare says, an audible quiver in her voice. “I wasn’t going to speak up in front of all those men. They struck me over the face with the butt end of a gun; I couldn’t stand the pain so I spoke up.”
The moment of judgment came. Roseveare couldn’t see her jury; her eyes had nearly closed with the swellings of the beatings. But she could hear. “I heard a sound I had never heard before and will probably never hear again. I heard 800 strong farming men break down and cry. They were weeping.”
Now, instead of seeing her as the hated white foreigner, they saw her as their doctor.
“They have a word in Kibudu, which means “blood of our blood, bone of our bone,” she says. “They rushed forward and said, “She’s ours. She’s ours.” They took me into their arms and pushed the rebel soldiers out of the way.
“In that moment the black/white division disappeared,” she professes triumphantly. I can honestly say, right through till today, in that area there has never been a black/white division again. We’re all one in Christ Jesus.”
These next remarks were attributed to Helen Roseveare and were recalled in the foreword of ‘Give Me This Mountain.’
“I believe that, at its simplest, a missionary is one sent by God to live a Christian life, usually amongst people other than his own. It is living which counts. This may include formal preaching, but it will certainly include personal relationships, and these often have to be worked out under most trying conditions.”
In that same foreword Noel Piper recalled the words of martyred missionary Jim Elliot who said of missionaries, ‘They are a bunch of nobodies trying to exalt Somebody.’
Dr Helen Roseveare did just that, with faith, fear and humility. She ended her book “Give Me This Mountain” with a profound bible passage.
“Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:13-14)