A month ago, I wrote about the mix of tears and joy, suffering and glory that Iris Ministries in the Democratic Republic of Congo is experiencing. While people are losing their children and the women are raped by soldiers; miracles are abundant and the church has a burning passion for God. This paradoxal relationship between the cross and the glory may be hard for Western people to understand, but it is very real. Today I want to introduce you to a missionary who also experienced this in the Congo – but 50 years ago. Her name is Helen Roseveare.
After studying medicine in the UK and feeling the calling to be a missionary, Helen went to what was then Belgian Congo and started to develop the pretty much non-existant health care system. She was the only doctor for two and a half million people, saving thousands of lives. In the early 60’s, civil war broke lose as the Congolese people wanted to be liberated from Belgian colonialism. The war was extremely brutal. Helen was raped, twice.
Government soldiers came to my bungalow, ransacked it, then grabbed me. I was beaten and savagely kicked, losing my back teeth through the boot of a rebel soldier. They broke my glasses, so I could not see to protect myself from the next blow. Then, one at a time, two army officers took me to my own bedroom and raped me. They dragged me out into a clearing, tied me to a tree, and stood around laughing. And while I was there, beaten and humiliated and violated and ridiculed, someone discovered in the bungalow the only existing hand-written manuscript of a book I had been writing about God’s work in the Congo over an eleven-year period. They brought it out, put it on the ground in front of me, and burned it.
It takes less than that for others to leave both the country and the faith. But Helen knew the power and love of the living God, and she knew that He had called her to Congo to be an instrument of grace and peace. In an interview with Jesus Army, she told about the revival fires that her church saw in the midst of chaos:
What can you remember of the first experiences you had of revival power?
The first day revival came to Ibambi, the actual building shook. We were sitting in the Bible School hall. It was seven o’clock on a Friday night. Jack Scholes, our field leader, had just come back from a trip in the south and he had seen revival down there. He stood up to speak about the revival and started to read from scriptures. Suddenly we heard a hurricane storm. It was frightening!
And not what you expected?
No! None of us stopped to think that this was strange because you don’t get hurricane storms in July (we have them in February or March). We heard this hurricane coming and the elders began to take the shutters down – the shutters are not very strong and fall in and can hurt people. We looked out and it was moonlight and the palm trees were standing absolutely still against the moonlit sky. It should have been pitch-black and stormy. Then the building shook and the storm lanterns down the centre of the building moved around. There was a terrific noise and a sense of external power around. We were all frightened – there must have been about five whites and 95 Africans present. You could sense fear all around.
How did you respond?
Jack stood at the front and said to us – “This is of God, just pray – don’t fear and don’t interfere.” It was as if a force came in and we were shaking. There was no way you could control it and some were thrown to the ground off the benches as if someone had hurled them down! But no one was hurt. Everyone ceased to be conscious of anyone else.
Anything else to note about the revival moving of power as God’s work continued?
Yes! There were amazing visions from people which were often based on Old Testament scriptures – even though they didn’t have the Old Testament! I remember one woman standing up with her arms upraised and her face radiant, talking about wheels within wheels and eyes within the wheels and patterns and above it all a great rainbow. It was straight out of Ezekiel. She spoke of the glory and began weeping when she said she saw the glory was in the midst of the Bible School and then it went out of the hall, across the courtyard and into the forest. She broke down, crying, “It’s because of our sin, our sin!”
God is truly most close to us when we are experiencing excruciating pain, not in a vague, diffuse way but with His actual, supernatural presence. Let Helen Rosevaere be our example as she follows Christ both up on the Mount of Transfiguration and down to Calvary. That is how you literally save the lives and souls of thousands of people.