Whittled as an Arrow – A living sacrifice for the Lord

Jul 23, 2021 | INSIGHTS, Prayer Focus for the Nations

Helen Roseveare (1925-2016): Missionary to the Belgium Congo (1953-1973)

A woman who refused to take offence at God for allowing her to suffer much and who thanked Him for counting her worthy to suffer.

You may well have come across the name Helen Roseveare at some point in your life, a woman who was deeply in love with the Lord Jesus, and full of rugged practical perseverance in the face of enormous challenges. Originally a missionary with Worldwide Evangelisation Crusade, (WEC) Helen set up a teaching base for nurses, as well as some 48 satellite bush clinics(!) and, later, a medical centre that served a wide area in what became known as Zaire, and is now the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country that has seen such immense suffering in recent years.

During the Simba uprising in 1964, rebel soldiers carried out many unspeakable acts, Helen, along with several of her co-workers, were placed under arrest for five months, during which she never knew when her last moment on earth might come. Amid savage beatings, Helen was also raped on two occasions. Through the dark abuse of these months, she sensed the Lord saying: ‘These are not your sufferings. They’re mine. All I ask of you is the loan of your body.’ She wrote later of having 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.’

Long convinced that, like St Paul, she would only know Christ’s resurrection power if she was also willing to experience the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings (Phil. 3:10) she knew now beyond a doubt that it was her willingness to suffer without either complaining or losing her faith that the Lord required of her now.

In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what He suffered. (Heb. 3:10)

Helen resolved to embrace this suffering as part of God’s mysterious plan, even though she couldn’t see why, and became aware again of God’s ‘wonderful, unchanging love, the full peace of his forgiveness.’ This experience shaped her subsequent ministry, and enabled her to declare boldly that God’s grace is all-sufficient, whatever the circumstances we find ourselves in.

Just like Gene McGuire who, despite having been imprisoned for life for a crime he did not commit, said ‘I am just a servant; I’ve no rights; I’ve no entitlements,’ so too did Helen, who wrote:

“The desire for my ‘rights’ in order to preserve my individuality (rather than allowing God the full right to take over my life and to perfect my personality) has to be stripped away. I have to learn to persevere in the race He has set before me, drawing strength only from Him, and not relying at all on what I may consider any natural abilities I may have. I have to let God take from me even that strength which I thought I had in order that He may more fully reveal His own strength: in order that He may continue in me the work of conforming me to the image of His Son.”

The testimonies of Gene and Helen should make us examine ourselves and ask some challenging questions. Helen puts it this way:

“Could I see that God wanted to transform my life from a somewhat ugly, useless branch to an arrow, a tool usable in His hands, for the furtherance of His purposes? To be thus transformed, was I willing – am I still willing – for the whittling, sandpapering, stripping, processes necessary in my Christian life? The ruthless pulling off of leaves and flowers might include doing without a television set or washing machine, remaining single in order to see a job done, re-evaluating the worthiness of the ambition to be a ‘good’ doctor (according to my terms and values).

The snapping of thorns might include drastic dealing with hidden jealousies and unknown prides, giving up prized rights in leadership and administration. The final stripping of the bark might include lessons to be learned regarding death to self: self-defence, self-pity, self-justification, self-vindication, self-sufficiency, all the mechanisms of preventing the hurt of too deep involvement. Am I prepared for the pain, which may at times seem like sacrifice, in order to be made a tool in His service? My willingness will be a measure of the sincerity of my desire to express my heartfelt gratitude to Him for his so-great salvation. Can I see such minor ‘sacrifices’ in light of the great sacrifice of Calvary, where Christ gave all for me?”

Completely for Jesus

How grateful we can be to God for faithful missionaries, who devote their practical and medical skills to the Lord. They really do need our prayers! Helen’s motto was Pour Lui, tout à fait – For Him – completely. Very many have been inspired by her love for the Lord to commit themselves more fully to Jesus.

And how far removed Helen’s attitudes are from the ‘cheap grace’ that Dietrich Bonhoeffer warned against: the ‘easy believism’ that is all too present in contemporary Christian practice, as if Christ is primarily the answer and cure for any and everything that we find difficult. It is simply not true. The privilege of walking with the Lord is not that everything in life should be easy for us, but that we share in His mission to bring many sons and daughters to His side in glory.

The path to this is demanding and difficult. Think of  Abraham setting out he knew not where, or of Moses leading a rebellious people to a land they had not seen and could not imagine. Where would we be had they renounced their vocation and integrity and settled down again, refusing to step out in faith into the unknown?

Like the shepherds in the fields of Bethlehem, we may at times feel ‘sore afraid’ of some of the things the Lord asks us to do, but let’s take to heart the message that the angels brought them: “Fear not: for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy!”

May it all be about Emmanuel, ‘God with us’ – and His purposes being worked out and extended as we obey Him.

You can find one or two further insights about Helen’s heart attitudes in this article.

*The title is taken from one of Helen’s books.

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