I Am Rebuked by Her Life: Medical Missionary Helen Roseveare and the Privilege to Suffer for Christ

Will we allow the suffering of Helen Roseveare, medical missionary, to speak into our lives today? (image courtesy of pixabay.com)

Will we allow the suffering of Helen Roseveare, medical missionary, to speak into our lives today? (image courtesy of pixabay.com)

The quotations from Helen Roseveare are from Justin Taylor’s site from “The Gospel Coalition” here.

YOU WILL SUFFER MUCH FOR CHRIST

There are a few verses that I’ve had a difficult time understanding since I’ve become a Christian. Those verses have typically involved the word or the concept of “suffering.” I know that this lack of understanding is most likely related to my being raised in America and being mostly experientially-unfamiliar with the type of persecution-driven suffering that exists in other countries. Here’s one such verse:

“40 and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.” – Acts 5:40-42

The apostles, after being beaten, left “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor” for the name of Christ. If it were me being beaten, I could hear my murmuring and complaining heart expressing, “I don’t DESERVE this! WHY is this happening to me! I SHOULDN’T have to go through this!”  Was this the reaction of the apostles? No! They were “rejoicing” after being beaten! And not only did they rejoice after being beaten, but then they went against the admonition of the authorities and kept teaching and preaching (verse 42)! I dare say that we greatly lack this sort of perspective and resilience in America in the face of such a trial for Christ. We complain if the electricity is off for more than 1 minute or if we have to walk 15 feet to take the garbage out.  Our resilience and gratitude seem to be lacking so much in America, yet we read about the apostles’ joy in the midst of suffering, and it makes me wonder what it is that we are missing in the Christian life in America?

Another verse that has puzzled me is Acts 9:16.  Ananias was told by the Lord to go meet with Saul (Paul) & to restore his sight. The Lord also made one other comment to Ananias:

“For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” Acts 9:16

Why would the Lord want to take one of His beloved servants through suffering? (You can see the list of Paul’s sufferings at 2 Corinthians 11:23-28). Notice not only that Paul would suffer for Christ, but the qualifying phrase by the Lord: “how much.”  Paul would not just suffer a little, but a lot for Christ! “Why must this be?” we may ask. And how is it that they are able to “bounce back” after going through such persecution? Let’s look now at a modern-day example of someone who has suffered much for Christ, but was able to find the strength and grace of God to remain resilient and faithful in the midst of such horrid circumstances.

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“I’LL GO ANYWHERE”

Enter now the medical missionary to the Congo, Helen Roseveare.  She lived from 1926-2016 & did medical missions in parts of Africa. She also suffered much for Jesus.  I want to look at her statements and suffering for Christ and extract lessons that can be learned from this servant of God. One such statement that Helen makes is this:

“I’ll go anywhere God wants me to, whatever the cost.”

First, if we say this in America, what do we mean when we say “I’ll go anywhere God wants me to, whatever the cost”? Do we mean, “God, if you’ll give me a better job with more money, then I’ll move to that city/country/county, etc.? Do we mean, “God, if you’ll give me a nice house and neighborhood to live in, then I’ll go to that place!”  Do we mean, “God, if there are good schools for my children, then I’ll go there!”  Do we really believe that we’ll go “anywhere” God would have us to go, even if where He would lead us would take us to places that contradict all material and financial comforts listed in the statements above? I do not even think that Helen was able to fully grasp what she meant when she told God, “I’ll go anywhere You want me to, whatever the cost,” as we’ll see later.

While we could focus on the remarkable amount of accomplishments she did in the Congo, I want to focus in on her suffering and on her incredible faith and resilience in the midst of such extreme suffering. Finally, I’ll want to apply her statements as a firm rebuke to my own life, and to many of our lives in comfortable places in the world.

SUFFERING TORMENT FOR CHRIST

In 1964 civil war in the Congo broke out and all of her medical facilities were destroyed. She, along with 10 other Protestant missionaries, were put under house arrest and were eventually imprisoned.  She then details a time when she tried to escape:

“They found me, dragged me to my feet, struck me over head and shoulders, flung me on the ground, kicked me, dragged me to my feet only to strike me again—the sickening searing pain of a broken tooth, a mouth full of sticky blood, my glasses gone. Beyond sense, numb with horror and unknown fear, driven, dragged, pushed back to my own house—yelled at, insulted, cursed.”

In October of 1964, she was raped:

“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.”

What have you or I done when we’ve encountered such pain or struggle? We often times do doubt God in the midst of such pain. I think that it is quite natural for us to say, “God has failed me” and to say that “surely God could have stepped in to stop this.”

In the midst of this darkness, she sensed the Lord saying to 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.”

We may complain about how difficult it is to be a Christian today or we may complain how difficult ministry, really in any setting, can be today. Whenever we run into difficulties let us not forget that we are filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ (Colossians 1:24) and that this suffering is what it means to be one of God’s servants.  Until we come to the place of the apostles in Acts 5 above of seeing our suffering as a badge of “worthiness” to suffer dishonor for Christ, we will always resent our suffering and question our calling to serve Him. 2 Timothy 3:12 says, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted…”  We are not above our Master, the holiest man to ever live.  If Jesus Christ the righteous, suffered, then we should not think it strange that we are suffering as well. If Jesus Christ the righteous, suffered, then we should not think it strange that we are suffering as well Click To Tweet

THE COST SWALLOWED UP IN PRIVILEGE

Helen said that she eventually received an

“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.”

Helen’s reflections on the word “privilege” is quite profound:

One word became unbelievably clear, and that word was privilege. He didn’t take away pain or cruelty or humiliation. No! It was all there, but now it was altogether different. It was with him, for him, in him. He was actually offering me the inestimable privileged of sharing in some little way the edge of the fellowship of his suffering.

In the weeks of imprisonment that followed and in the subsequent years of continued service, looking back, one has tried to “count the cost,” but I find it all swallowed up in privilege. The cost suddenly seems very small and transient in the greatness and permanence of the privilege.

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Let’s reflect for a moment on the “cost” that Helen paid for being a missionary to the Congo. She was imprisoned, dragged, struck over the head, experienced a broken tooth, she was yelled at and cursed at, she was kicked, struck by the end of a rifle, she was threatened and humiliated, she was bruised, beaten and raped. What is the “cost” that you or I have even come close to pay while serving Christ? Yet, what was Helen’s reaction to such a great cost? Her final reaction was summed up in the word “privilege.” She said that all the cost was “swallowed up in privilege” and that the cost was “very small and transient in the greatness and permanence of the privilege.”

How is it that many of us in the Western church, who do not even experience 1/25th of what Helen experiences in the Congo, have such a difficult time counting even an extra hour at church as a “great cost,” and yet she, who has been through sheer torment, literally, is able to count it all as “privilege”?  All I can do is look at my own life and stand rebuked by her example. When I look at Helen Roseveare’s life, I am ashamed that I have to ask God for grace and strength for such minuscule discomforts compared to her extreme persecution.

All I can do is look at my own life and stand rebuked by her example Click To Tweet

IT’S YOUR TURN!

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