Strength Out Of Weakness
Dr. Helen Roseveare was born in England in 1925, brought to faith in Jesus in her first year at University, qualified as a medical doctor in Cambridge in 1950, joined WEC International and sailed for Congo (today, D. R. Congo) in 1953, where she served for 20 years, establishing a medical service and training national paramedical workers. Home to the UK in 1973, Helen has worked as a deputation speaker for WEC worldwide for over 30 years now, as well as writing several books
I finished at University with a degree in medicine and went to the WEC Missionary Centre to be trained for work overseas, needing to learn to submit to authority without questioning everything, and how to work in a team and not just as an individual. Again, my strong personality appeared to several members of Mission Leadership as a handicap. Maybe this had been commented on to the Leadership out in Congo, for when I was eventually accepted into membership, and had packed and sailed for Africa and arrived at the village of Ibambi in the great rain-forest of central Africa, it was as though I had been pre-judged – as though my fellow missionaries expected me to be cock-sure, even arrogant, and self-sufficient. In fact, I was fearfully lacking in self-confidence, and deeply conscious of my inadequacy to be the doctor they had all prayed for, and who was expected to be able to do everything, from pediatrics to geriatrics, medical and surgical. I needed support and encouragement … but God knew that I needed to trust Him for that, and not just fellow missionaries.
With my team of African helpers, we needed to build a hospital. This included making bricks, burning bricks, putting bricks on bricks – and my knowledge of such affairs was nil. Learning together from an English textbook, and with the help of a local Belgian coffee planter, we threw ourselves into the task – and immediately I was known to be strong, and determined, and capable of leading the work forward. Years later, my closest Congolese girl-friend, Mama Taadi, asked by a visitor how she remembered me from those early days, her one-word answer was ‘Strong!’
Yet as I look back, my own consciousness of those days was my weakness – my fear of being a failure – and the many times of physical sickness when I could not cope alone. Was God already speaking to me back in those early days? Were my drive and my independent spirit getting in the way of the work that He, the Lord God Almighty, wanted to do in and through my African colleagues and myself?
On one occasion, I was found by my colleague, John Mangadima, on the floor of my home, unconscious, at 2pm. It was a Tuesday afternoon when I should have been in college, lecturing nurses. John made the diagnosis, started the treatment, and organized all the care I needed. When I began to recover on the Thursday afternoon, I had to say, ‘Thank you!’ to John and the team of nurses for all they had done for me – instead of them saying ‘Thank you!’ to me – which was the usual way round. Was God saying to me, yet again, ‘Allow yourself to be vulnerable, to be known to be needy: don’t always be self-sufficient and able to cope; allow your colleagues to feel that they are needed too!’?
But was I listening? I just felt that I was a nuisance to the team when I was ill. Someone, who already had a full load of their own, had to look after me: another had to add my load to theirs, until I recovered.
During my first furlough, I made up my mind that I would not go back unless I was married. It wasn’t really the loneliness; I never minded being alone. No, it was carrying the final responsibility for making important decisions. I didn’t mind hard work; I was willing to attempt things that I had never done before – be it building a hospital, or doing an emergency operation – but the deciding as to when such should be done, I shrank from this. I wanted to pass the buck to someone more capable, better trained. But God was saying over and over again, ‘Trust Me! You can always pass the buck to Me and I will carry it for you!’ Again, was I listening? Or did I not really believe God, nor believe in His ability to carry the buck for me?
Going back to Congo in 1960, at the time when the country became independent from the Belgians, I faced new and even more overwhelming situations. Most of the Belgian doctors in our north-eastern Province had left when the Congolese army mutinied after the Declaration of Independence. I was suddenly called on to handle medical emergencies far beyond my competence, and there was no-one else to turn to for help or advice.
I had stayed on at Nebobongo when most other Europeans had evacuated, because I was sure that God had brought me back to the country for ‘such a time as this’. But even that assurance was insufficient to keep me at peace when troubles erupted all around us. We were threatened by marauding bands of undisciplined soldiers. We were shouted at by local village elders, who felt we should have handed over leadership of the hospital (and doubtless of its accounts) to a Congolese man. Desperately sick and injured folk were brought in by stretcher from near and far, as there was nowhere else to take them … and I was the only doctor still functioning in the area.
The team at our hospital leaned on me for everything – was I not strong enough to carry them all? Little did they know how fear dogged my actions every day, and every night. But I sensed that I must not show my inner weakness; for their sakes I must at least appear strong.
Excerpt from Life Lessons by Glenn Myers. (Christian Focus Publishing, ©2010).