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Helen Roseveare (1925–2016)

February 2017 | by Tim Anderson

On Tuesday, 13 December 2016, the funeral of Dr Helen Roseveare took place at St Elizabeth’s Church in Dundonald, Belfast.

Helen had a keen sense of her failings and need of the Lord’s forgiveness, but it was her keener sense of being loved by Jesus that was central to her faith and accounted for her wholehearted service.

When she began the nursing school in Nebobongo, in the northeast of what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), she chose the motto ‘totally for Jesus’. That motto shaped the whole of her Christian life, from her conversion in 1945 till her passing to glory on 7 December.

Love for Christ

In the prologue to her book Living faith, she wrote: ‘I knew from the moment that I was saved I would have to give to the Lord Jesus 100 per cent loyal service. I was conquered by the gospel. I loved my new Master with a deep inner passion of loving, and that love had to be expressed in active service’.

This was demonstrated in so many ways: for example, her work with WEC International; her support of Girl Crusaders’ Union (GCU); her worldwide ministry; and in her local church in Belfast.

Helen Roseveare was born on 21 September 1925 in Hertfordshire. After school she went to Newnham College, Cambridge, where she read medicine and came to faith in the Lord through the ministry of CICCU.

After graduating, she studied for six months at the WEC college at Crystal Palace. From there she went to Belgium to study French and tropical medicine, in preparation for her appointment as a medical missionary in the Congo.

In March 1953, she travelled to north eastern Congo, where she spent the next two years setting up a training school for nurses and nurse-evangelists. This was a highly strategic work, not just in terms of clinics, but also for the spread of the gospel.

Her work in Nebobongo began in 1955. Working with others, she turned around an abandoned medical centre into a hospital with 100 beds, a training school for paramedics, and 48 rural clinics. She returned exhausted to Britain in 1958. However, she went back to the Congo in 1960 and remained as a medical missionary until 1973, when she came back for good.

Brutal treatment

It was during this latter period, including four years of civil war (1960-64), that Helen, with nine other missionaries, was put under house arrest by rebel forces.

On 29 October 1964 she was beaten and raped. Her faith in the Lord was truly tested, and yet her testimony was, ‘God met me with outstretched arms of love. It was an unbelievable experience. He was so utterly there, so totally understanding, his comfort was so complete; and suddenly I knew — I really knew — that his love was unutterably sufficient’.

Helen left Africa in 1973 to nurse her mother and join the home end of WEC. Eventually, with the help of her good friend Dr Patricia Morton, in particular, she settled into her new home, near Belfast.

New doors of gospel opportunity were quickly opening up. Her books were being read the world over and this led to many speaking opportunities for the next four decades. Many men and women, as a result of her challenging and faithful ministry, are currently serving in full-time Christian work in the DRC and elsewhere.

Her support of the GCU for many years, which involved her being a camp leader well into her 80s, had a similar impact on many young women. Also, her solid commitment to her local church in Belfast remains an example and inspiration to many who belong to that fellowship. But she would be embarrassed by these accolades and would simply point a finger upwards — it’s all because of Him!

The words spoken at the end of Helen’s funeral were: ‘Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory’ (Revelation 19:6-7).

Tim Anderson

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