Helen Roseveare, a medical doctor/missionary in Africa, had prayed for years for reconciliation and unity between European missionaries and their African colleagues. In October 1964, after the start of a horrific civil war, she was beaten and brutalized by guerilla soldiers.
After that savage night, she was taken with other Europeans to stand before a firing squad. Arguments broke out among the rebel factions and the group was taken back to be held under house arrest. A few days later, the Europeans were taken out, lined up, and again arguments broke out — this time because of Helen’s bruised and battered face.
One of the commanders asked her who did that to her. She replied it was one of his men. He struck her and called her a liar. She responded she wasn’t lying and could name the man. Furious, he said he would call a “people’s court.”
That same night they threw her into the back of a pickup-truck. As dawn broke, they entered a village where the rebels had rounded up men to be part of the people’s court.
Scared, alone, hardly able to see out of her badly swollen eyes, she tried to answer the rapid-fire questions from the rebels. Then came the moment when the crowd was told to condemn her as a liar.
Helen wrote, “I became conscious of a strange and growing sound – a sound I’d never heard before and probably will never hear again. Several hundred strong farming men broke down and wept. Men crying. Suddenly, instead of seeing me as the hated white foreigner, they saw me as ‘their doctor,’ one they had learned to love and respect through the past twelve years of service. They swept forward, driving the rebel soldiers out of the way, and took me in their arms and hugged me. ‘She’s ours. She’s ours,’ they kept repeating. God had answered four years of prayer in that moment! I had no idea that He might ask me to be part of the process involved in bringing about that restored unity. It was as though God whispered to me, ‘Can you accept the suffering now? My purpose is to restore the unity between the national and foreign communities, something for which you have prayed so fervently.’”[i]
Weeks later, two hundred people were attacked by rebel soldiers and herded into two single-family homes. One of the women was expecting a baby and was in great pain. Helen, being the only available doctor, was commanded by two armed soldiers to check on the woman. Arriving at the packed house, Helen noted she knew almost everyone there. She had for years been their doctor caring for their sick, bringing their babies in the world, operating as needed. Yet, overwhelmed by their situation, not one of them looked at her or gave any signs of recognition.
Helen prayed asking God why she was really there. Then clarity came. The soldiers spoke Lingala, knew a smattering of Swahili, and a few words in French, but no Greek or English. While examining the woman, Helen carried on a conversation in five languages. She wrote, “phrase by phrase, three languages dealing with a medical examination and later with prescribed treatment, and two languages telling them as simply as I could, in the limited time available, of the Saviour’s death on Calvary in their place that they might know the forgiveness of sins.”
Then without closing her eyes, she led the captives in a prayer of confession of sin, asking for forgiveness, and that their hearts would be open to receive Christ’s salvation. As she left the home, still escorted by the soldiers, everyone looked up with new hope in their eyes, grasping her hands and thanking her for coming. And she knew without a doubt, that some had responded to God’s grace.
Back at her home that night she prayed asking why the people had not responded the last twelve years to her preaching of the gospel. The Lord reminded her, “They know what you suffered that Thursday night six weeks ago. And were not some of them also there at the people’s court that Tuesday night? Didn’t they see your bruised and swollen eyes, your cut and bloody face? If you hadn’t suffered that night in late October … They would have been tempted to say in their hearts, ‘What does she know about it?’ But because they know that you suffered then, despite all that they have suffered now in these last twenty-four hours I have been able to open their hearts to respond to My love and to listen to your words.”[ii]
Helen’s suffering, her scars, her wounds, opened doors and opened hearts to Christ’s love. God took what the enemy meant for evil and used it for good.
God never wastes our time or pain. Elisabeth Elliott wrote, “If God eliminated the problem, He would have eliminated the particular kind of blessing which it bears.”
When suffering comes, when life beats bloody, we can trust that God has a bigger purpose than we can imagine. There is so much more happening than we can see and understand. There are blessings beyond the battle scars. God’s heart, God’s unfailing love, is for people to know His Son, Jesus Christ so that they will be saved.
People need to know about Christ, they need to know those who have gone through hardships and can identify with their suffering. They need to know the Savior. And your story, your scars, can point to the scars of Christ who suffered, died, and rose again proving His love for all.
“We are persecuted by others, but God has not forsaken us. We may be knocked down, but not out. We continually share in the death of Jesus in our own bodies so that the resurrection life of Jesus will be revealed through our humanity. We consider living to mean that we are constantly being handed over to death for Jesus’ sake so that the life of Jesus will be revealed through our humanity” (2 Corinthians 4:9-11, TPT).
“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace [Who imparts all blessing and favor], Who has called you to His [own] eternal glory in Christ Jesus, will Himself complete and make you what you ought to be, establish and ground you securely, and strengthen, and settle you” (1 Peter 5:10, AMPC).
Photo via Pixabay soldier-gd6345fc42_1280