Helen Roseveare: The Permanence and Privilege of Serving Christ

Editor’s note: All this month at Revive Our Hearts, we’re celebrating women whose ordinary obedience and everyday faithfulness changed their world for Christ. In fact, our newest book, (Un)remarkable: Ten More Ordinary Women Who Impacted Their World for Christ, was created to do just that. This week on the blog, we’re sharing three chapters from this new digital resource. And that’s not the only thing that’s new . . . each of this week’s blog posts feature audio by the authors! To listen, click the “play” button above! 

Above the old leather chair where I sit to soak in God’s Word most mornings, some of the most powerful words I’ve ever read hang in a stained oak frame:

I have looked back and tried to “count the cost,” but I find it all swallowed up in the privilege. The cost suddenly seems very small and transient in the greatness and permanence of the privilege.

That beautiful print was a gift shipped to me for Christmas one year by Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, the founder and lead teacher of Revive Our Hearts. Nancy and I share many things, among them a deep admiration for the woman who wrote those words: Helen Roseveare. Though she was made up of flesh and bones just like I am—like you are—she was also made of something more remarkable, a spiritual fortitude that allowed her to serve Jesus with grace and grit in a land of spiritual darkness. 

Anywhere At Any Cost

Rarely do the flutters in a child’s heart evolve into actual lifelong devotion. But from an early age, Helen Roseveare was a master at embracing the unexpected. Born in 1925 in Hertfordshire, England, she first heard about missions as a child in Sunday school.1 She later described the moment as part of her childhood Sunday memories:

[After church,] home we would go to a family dinner, so often the only day Dad was with us, and after that off to Sunday school, held locally at the teacher’s home. I vividly remember that wonderful day (my eighth birthday), when she talked to us of India, and we cut out pictures of Indian children and stuck them in our “Missionary Prayer Book.” 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.2

Though her mind was made up and her heart was set, Helen wasn’t ready to head to the mission field at age eight. As a young adult she enrolled in Newham College at Cambridge University to study medicine. The Lord continued to woo her toward His service, and during a missionary gathering she publicly declared, “I’ll go anywhere God wants me to, whatever the cost.”

A few years later, the simple exercise of adjusting the calendar would put Helen’s resolve to the test. Helen later wrote,

Daily I asked the Lord for clear guidance, for a definite word from Himself. One Tuesday in April 1951, I tore off the block calendar in the dining-hall and was puzzled by the text there: “Repair the house of the Lord” (2 Chron. 24:4; 34:8). Why had this been chosen? I pushed the slip of paper in my pocket and forgot it.4 

On Thursday of that week, Helen received a letter from an old friend. Enclosed was the same tear-off calendar slip, along with a note that the friend felt prompted to send it to Helen. Then on Friday, during chapel, a speaker shared the same verse and explained that it had stirred her to pray for Congo, home to countless impoverished people in need of medical care and gospel hope. It occurred to Helen that

surely this lack was a “breach” in the wall of the church of God in Congo, and He needed us to be burdened to “repair the house of the Lord.” 

But though her heart yearned to serve Jesus and to put into practice her new skills as a doctor, Helen’s reflex was to resist this specific calling. 

I could not get away from it. Three times in one week the Lord had spoken. But I did not want to hear. Not Congo, Lord! Anywhere but there.5

Despite her resistance, the seeds of faith and obedience planted early in Helen’s life bore fruit in her resolve. In March of 1952, at the age of 28, Helen arrived in the French territory of Congo ready to serve. 

It Is Living Which Counts

With her trademark tenacity, Helen got busy loving and serving the people of Congo. She founded a training school for nurses, from which she commissioned others to provide medical care as a means to share the gospel. 

The nationals taught her how to fire bricks, a skill she used to help build a hospital from the ground up. Her efforts earned her the name Mama Luka, after Luke, the disciple and physician who penned the New Testament book that bears his name. 

Mama Luka worked with local Africans to transform an abandoned medical ward into a thriving hospital with one hundred beds. New mothers, lepers, and children were all cared for within the walls of the updated facility which also became a training school for paramedics and medical caregivers from neighboring clinics. Apart from the medical center and clinics Helen helped establish, there was no other medical care available for 150 miles in any direction, so Helen’s medical work was vital. And yet she remained convinced that her highest calling was simply to live for Jesus among the people of Congo.

I believe that, at its simplest, a missionary is one sent by God to live a Christian life, usually amongst people other than his own. It is living which counts.6

The War Without. The War Within. 

In 1960 Congo gained independence from France. A few years later the new republic erupted in civil war. The medical facilities that Helen had established were destroyed, and Helen was among a small group of missionaries put under house arrest by rebel forces. When she tried to escape, she was violently beaten. 

Then, on October 29, 1964, Helen Roseveare was raped by some of the very men she had come to the Congo to reach with the gospel. The experience left her deeply shaken:

I could not just cancel out, as though it had never been, the memory of that awful night of 29 October 1964. I had to learn to live with memory in an understood perspective: I had to learn to accept it as part of the whole before I could possibly face going back to the same place, the same work, the same companions. So I deliberately relived it . . . the shattering hammering at the double doors of my bungalow home in Nebobongo in the early hours of the morning; the rough, hoarse voice demanding entry in the name of the rebel army; the fear, oh that dreadful physical torture of fear. . . God had seemed very far away and I had felt very, very small and alone. 7

In time, however, God graciously helped Helen see His goodness even in the face of such dark evil. 

Through the brutal heartbreaking experience of rape, God met with me—with outstretched arms of love. It was an unbelievable experience. . . . He was so utterly there, he was so totally understanding, his comfort was so complete. And suddenly I knew—I really knew—that his love was unutterably sufficient. He did love me! He did understand!8

Despite her heartache, Helen continued to serve the people of Congo (later Zaire) for many years. She established a new medical center, which, like the other centers she had helped build, became a training and sending center for those who would deliver quality medical care in Christ’s name. 

On December 7, 2016, Helen went home to be with Jesus, from whose lips she undoubtedly heard, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:23). 

Before going home to glory, Helen reflected on what she often called the “privilege” of suffering for Christ. In fact, the privilege of serving and suffering for Christ became the song of her life, one note of which is the quote that hangs on my wall to remind me of the unmatched gift of knowing Christ. Consider the weight and wonder of the full quote, originally spoken to a crowd of ministers and missionaries at the Urbana Missionary Conference in 1976:

One word became unbelievably clear, and that word was privilege. He didn’t take away pain or cruelty or humiliation. No! It was all there, but now it was altogether different. It was with Him, for Him, in Him. He was actually offering me the inestimable privilege of sharing in some little way the edge of the fellowship of his suffering. In the weeks of imprisonment that followed and in the subsequent years of continued service, looking back, [I have] tried to “count the cost,” but I find it all swallowed up in privilege. The cost suddenly seems very small and transient in the greatness and permanence of the privilege.

As she reflected on her life, Helen wrote a simple and profound list to summarize what she had learned through her suffering:

  1. Participation in His suffering is necessary to each one if we are to fulfill His will in this world;
  2. The preeminence of His Son is essential that we may know in very truth His all-sufficiency at all times;
  3. Praise through His sacrifice is possible even in the midst of danger and horror, as we rejoice in His working out His purposes.10

May Helen’s words grab you by the heart as you face your own challenges today, and may her life steel your resolve to serve Him, knowing that the cost will be eternally swallowed up in the privilege of knowing Christ.

You may not serve as a missionary. You may never be called to suffer intense persecution for the cause of Christ. Your name may never be known outside the walls of your church or your home. But you can do something remarkable for the cause of Christ. When you give a gift toward our fiscal year-end goal of $828,000, we’ll send you the first volume of (Un)Remarkable: Ten Ordinary Women Who Impacted Their World for Christ as well as an advance digital copy of the all new second volume,(Un)Remarkable: Ten More Ordinary Women Who Impacted Their World for Christ


Mike Dente, “Women Called by God: Helen Roseveare,” Calvary Chapel (website), accessed March 3, 2023, https://calvarychapel.com/posts/women-called-by-god-helen-roseveare. 

Helen Roseveare, Give Me This Mountain (Fearn, Scotland: Christian Focus, 2006),13.

Justin Taylor, “A Woman of Whom the World Was Not Worthy: Helen Roseveare (1925-2016),” The Gospel Coalition (website), accessed March 3, 2023, www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justin-taylor/a-woman-of-whom-the-world-was-not-worthy-helen-roseveare-1925–2016. 

Roseveare, Give Me This Mountain, 67.

Roseveare, Give Me This Mountain, 66–67.

Roseveare, Give Me This Mountain, 85–86.

Helen Roseveare, He Gave Us a Valley (Fearn, Scotland: Christian Focus, 2006), 34.

Helen Roseveare, “The Cost of Declaring His Glory,” address given at Urbana ‘76: Declare His Glory among the Nations, Urbana, Illinois, December 1976, mp3 audio, 12:37, https://s3.amazonaws.com/urbana.org/general_session_audio/urbana-76-helen.roseveare-cost.of.declaring.his.glory.mp3.

Roseveare, “The Cost of Declaring His Glory,” 22:09.

10 Roseveare, Give Me This Mountain, 158.

About the Author

Erin Davis

Erin Davis

Erin Davis is married to her high school sweetheart, Jason, and together they parent four energetic boys on their small farm in the midwest. She is the author of more than a dozen books and Bible studies, the content manager … read more …

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