Missionary Monday: Helen Roseveare

I first learned of Helen Roseveare by reading Noel Piper’s book, Faithful Women and Their Extraordinary God. Much of Mrs. Piper’s research comes from personal correspondence with Dr. Roseveare. She also consulted Dr. Roseveare’s books, which recently have been made available from WTSBooks.

She was born in 1925 in Haileybury, England. In her autobiography, Give Me This Mountain, Dr. Roseveare recounts creating her own “Missionary Prayer Book” in which she pasted pictures of children in India. She writes, “It was then that the quiet resolve was made. When I grow up, I will go to tell other boys and girls about the Lord Jesus — a child’s determination that never faded.” She was eight years old.

Like many young people today, God grew Roseveare’s faith during her years in college. She attended Bible studies with other young women and “began to read the scriptures avidly” (Piper, p. 144). I love this quote taken from Give Me This Mountain:

Even now I can remember the first time I sang, “More about Jesus would I know…” My whole being was deeply stirred. We were sitting round the fire in Sylvia’s room for a Bible study one evening late in October. I don’t remember the study — the words of the hymn kept repeating in my mind. When the others dispersed, I stayed sitting on the rug, gazing into the fire, with a great longing stirring in my innermost soul. “More about Jesus would I know…” It was as though a window opened and slowly, amazedly, in stunned awe, I glimpsed through — a twig sputtered on the fire, and it was lost. Again, urgently, holding on to the moment, willing the very presence of Jesus to become real to my soul, the glory seemed to shine, a light of great brightness. I hardly dared to breathe; it felt as though life was suspended, caught up, breathless. My heart filled with joy and wonder — and it passed.

Piper also shares excerpts from Roseveare’s writings that indicate how deeply Roseveare longed to know Christ more and more, how she struggled with sin, and how she longed to be more holy.

Roseveare studied and trained to be a medical doctor. Following her graduation, she began preparations to serve as a missionary to Belgian Congo (presently known as the Democratic Republic of Congo). Though she was overjoyed to finally be a missionary, to be in Africa, Roseveare had much to learn. For example, it was impossible to replicate in Africa the medical standards of Britain. She learned how to make bricks and build buildings (in ten years, she established 48 clinics, a training center for paramedics, and a 100-bed hospital), auto-mechanics, French, Swahili, and other languages, and she wrote medical textbooks. She also had a lot of teaching and training of young nurses to oversee. None of this was easy for Roseveare.

I have to share this lesson regarding prayer that Roseveare learned. Piper quotes from Roseveare’s book Living Faith,

Please God…send us a hot water bottle. It’ll be not good tomorrow, God, as the baby’ll be dead, so please send it this afternoon…And while You are about it, would You please send a dolly for the little girl, so she’ll know You really love her?…

Could I honestly say, “Amen?” I just did not believe that God could do this…The only way God could answer this particular prayer would be by sending me a parcel from the homeland. I had been in Africa almost four years at that time, and I had never, never received a parcel from home…

By the time I reached home…there, on the veranda, was a large twenty-two pound parcel…bearing U.K. stamps…I sent for the orphanage children…Some thirty to forty pairs of eyes were focused on the large cardboard box.

[After pulling out several items], as I put my hand in again, I felt the….could it really be? I grasped it and pulled it out — yes, a brand new rubber, hot water bottle! I cried…

Ruth…rushed forward, crying out, “If God has sent the bottle, He must have sent the dolly too!” Rummaging down to the bottom of the box, she pulled out the small, beautifully dressed dolly. Her eyes shown! She had never doubted…

That parcel had been on its way for five whole months…in answer to the believing prayer of a ten-year-old, to bring it “that afternoon.”

Reading Roseveare’s story shattered many of my ignorant ideas of what it must be like to be a missionary. Living in a different country did not totally change who she was. She struggled with sin; her temper is specifically mentioned in Piper’s book. She was the recipient of at least one biblical reproof from her pastor. Many times because she was the doctor, Roseveare didn’t get to share the gospel as much as she probably dreamed she would as a missionary. For a combination of reasons, she felt like a spiritual failure. Serving as a missionary was not one long spiritual mountaintop experience in which the presence of God is palpable every moment of every day. She also suffered frequent illness and fatigue.

But she never quit. She had a passion to share the gospel with the people of Africa. Even in her “retirement,” she is busy telling anyone she meets how they can know the mercy and forgiveness of God.

Noel Piper shares important lessons she learned from Roseveare’s example. You can read the chapter on Helen Rosevear in its entirety at the Desiring God website. There are two important lessons I am taking with me today. First, I need to remind myself every day to die to self. Roseveare’s friends reminded her to live the “crossed-out I” life. Galatians 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” My mission field is my home. My children need to see more of Jesus and less of me.

Second, on those days that I feel especially in need of a break from my family responsibilities, I must remember that a break for a break’s sake is not sufficient. I must take a break with the intention of seeking Jesus, seeking refreshment from/in Him.

Mrs. Piper closes this chapter with the beautiful hymn, Christ, Only Christ. I want to share the first stanza.

Not I, but Christ, be honored, loved, exalted,
Not I, but Christ, be seen be known, be heard,
Not I, but Christ, in every look and action,
Not I, but Christ, in every thought and word.

Dr. Roseveare spoke at the 2007 Desiring God National Conference. You can view her speech at Desiring God.

Next week, Lord willing I will share an interview with my sweet friend, Heather, who recently returned from her first experience as an international missionary.

6 Comments on “Missionary Monday: Helen Roseveare

  1. Great post Leslie! I remember hearing Helen Roseveare speak when I was about 19. I was so impacted by her passion, honesty and humility. Working in mission, I also find her writings challenging and I appreciate her openness – her honest outlook on life as a missionary is comforting to me (whilst challenging too). Looking forward to your Missionary Mondays!


  2. Thank you so much for posting this. I deeply love to read biographies of women who serve(d)Christ.I am going to try and get ahold of this right now.


  3. WOW. I am always so amazed by missionaries. I like to read missionary books too, especially as a family, so my kids get a heart for missions too!


  4. Oh Leslie…my heart is stirred! Thank you, dear sister!!! Noel’s book is one of my favorites – I LOVED reading about all the faithful women she shared about and our extraordianary God!!!! I particularly remember Helen’s story! I remember feeling a ‘connection’ w/ her b/c of her struggles! I look forward to the many more you will share in the series!!! I’m kind of thinking about tagging on behind you and sharing about some of our friends (to stir my heart more!!)….how would you feel about that??


  5. What a sweet story! What is even sweeter is that God is so real and powerful and that He calls us to call on Him…and He hears…and He answers!!Thanks, Leslie.


  6. So inspiring to hear about great Christian women who have gone before us. Something to aim for, to be sure!


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