“To be a living sacrifice will involve all my time. God wants me to live every minute for Him in accordance with His will and purpose, sixty minutes of every hour, twenty-four hours of every day, being available to Him. No time can be considered as my own, or as “off-duty” or “free.” I cannot barter with God about how much time I can give to serve Him. Whatever I am doing, be it a routine salaried job, or housework at home, be it holiday time and free, or after-work Christian youth activities, all should be undertaken for Him, to reveal His indwelling presence to those around me. The example of my life must be as telling as my preaching if He is to be honored.” Helen Roseveare
Helen Roseveare (1925 – ) knew from early childhood that she wanted to be a missionary. She made the decision at a Sunday School class on her eighth birthday. Her teacher had put together a project for the students involving pictures of Indian children. As Helen looked at the pictures and learned that most children in India had never heard about God she felt sorry for them. Helen could not imagine what it would be like not to know God.
Helen went to a prestigious church-run boarding school at age 12. When Helen was 18 years old, she attended Cambridge to study medicine and become a doctor. It was here that Her determination to become a medical missionary was cemented.
Helen felt lonely when she first arrived at Cambridge, but her life was changed when she met a fellow student named Dorothy. Coming into her room one day Helen saw a note tucked into 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 8 pm. Dorothy.”
And so Helen began to go to prayer meetings with Dorothy that were being led by the Cambridge Inter-Collegiate Christian Union. She began to pray and study the Bible daily with the other Christian women. Though Helen was very zealous in her attendance, she began to feel that she was missing something that the other girls had.
Helen attended a retreat and she realized how superficial her religious life was. She opened her heart to God and experienced His forgiveness. She felt the fullness of God’s love toward her. On her last night at the retreat Helen gave her testimony. She received a Bible from the Bible teacher, Dr. Graham Scroggie, who had inscribed in it a verse that for Helen would literally become true in her life.
“That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death” (Philippians 3:10).
Helen spent six and a half years getting her medical degree. Then she spent six months in missionary training and six months in Belgium studying French and tropical medicine. She was going to a place in Eastern Africa that was known as Congo in that time. In 1953, Helen sailed for the Congo with the Worldwide Evangelization Crusade whose motto was, “If Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for him.” Little could Helen know that she would be called on to make a horrendous sacrifice for Christ.
Helen was the only doctor for two and a half million people. Her initial hospital was made of mud and thatch. Helen learned to make bricks and build walls. She would not ask others to do something that she would not do herself. She learned the Swahili language to enable her to accomplish more.
Helen worked very hard. In a letter to a friend she described a typical day, “My day begins at 5.10 am, as I’ve to be at the Bible school for morning prayers by 6.30 am. After that there’s breakfast and family prayers, and by then it’s 9 am and time to open the dispensary. That sounds very grand but it’s actually just a bare room with a cement floor and a tin roof. The shelves are just boards balanced on tea chests. … Patients arrive in their dozens, and they have such a variety of problems. … I don’t have a helper yet, but I hope to have one soon.”
A few years later a 14-acre plot of land had been converted into a 100-bed hospital and maternity complex. Now tens of thousands of patients could be treated. A medical school had also been started and Helen was very busy teaching the nursing students. The Africans would have their own trained medical personnel to help with the tremendous work.
In the early 1960’s the Congo underwent a revolution. The former colony received its independence and renamed itself Zaire. The transition was a very hard time. Many missionaries went home rather than face the danger from roving bands of rebels. News of murders in other villages was occurring daily.
Helen decided to stay. This meant that she now was only one of two doctors in a very large area. Her African friends were very grateful to her but she was taking a grave risk.
From time to time she would recall the night many years ago that Dr. Scroggie gave her the words of wisdom which were now carrying her through this dangerous time, “Knowing Jesus is just the beginning, and there’s a long journey ahead. My prayer for you is that you will go on through the years to know his power. And it is perhaps in God’s plan for you to suffer for your Saviour as he suffered for you.”
Helen did suffer for her Savior. On the night of October 29, 1964, rebel soldiers took her away and abused her horribly. She was humiliated and suffered fierce physical pain. She later testified, “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.” Helen felt that God had failed her. Why didn’t He step in earlier? Why did things have to go so far? She began to be tempted to doubt God’s existence.
Even as Helen was questioning God, she remembered when she gave her life to Christ. God reminded her, “You asked Me, when you were first converted, for the privilege of being a missionary. This is it. Don’t you want it? These are not your sufferings. They’re Mine. All I ask of you is the loan of your body.”
Finally after five long months of cruel treatment Helen and the others were released. She went back to Britain to recuperate. On this furlough Helen testified all over the United Kingdom about the sufficiency of God. She felt privileged to be an ambassador of Christ, a missionary, and one who identified with His sufferings.
No one would have blamed Helen if she decided not to go back to Congo (Zaire). But she wanted to return and finish the work she had started. The African people still desperately needed doctors. And so Helen returned in March 1966.
Besides work at the hospital and the nursing school, Helen helped to establish 48 rural health clinics in the vicinity. Patients were hearing the Gospel from Helen and the missionary chaplains.
Eventually Helen became exhausted form overwork and not enough rest. She returned to Britain in 1973. She began speaking at conferences all around the world.
In 1989 Helen returned to visit her people in Africa. A film was made about her life of service at this time. It is called, Mama Luka Comes Home. “Luka” was the name given to Helen by the Congolese because it is the feminine form of Luke, the gospel writer who was a physician.
Helen has also written – Give Me This Mountain (1966), He gave us a Valley (1977) and Digging Ditches (2005) besides numerous articles. She has been a speaker at Urbana at least three times.
As of this writing I believe that she is still living in Northern Ireland.
“It would seem that God had merely asked me to give Him my mind, my training, the ability that He has given me; to serve Him unquestioningly; and to leave with Him the consequences…. How wonderful God is, and how foolish we are to argue with Him and not to trust Him wholly in every situation as we seek to serve Him!”
From, Living Sacrifice: Willing to Be Whittled as an Arrow, Helen Roseveare