Saturday, October 28, 2017

The Privilege of Suffering and Believing

I have been so challenged and helped by a little book that Dr Helen Roseveare wrote before she died last year.  The manuscript was discovered after her death and has now been published. The title is "Count it all Joy" and is published by Christian Focus Publications. In it Helen recalls her 20 years of service as a missionary doctor working in the Congo. After 10 very difficult years there she was caught up in the Simba rebellion of the 1960's and was imprisoned with others for several months. She was brutally treated, beaten until they broke her teeth, and raped. Finally she was rescued by an international force re-asserting the government's rule. After time to recover at home in the UK, though, she went back to the place of her intense suffering and served a further decade there.

In this final manuscript Dr Roseveare prescribes for us some tough medicine to swallow. At the time of her dreadful suffering, during which she fully expected to die, she felt that God spoke to her - whether audibly or through her inner thoughts is not made clear. She felt that the Lord who had suffered so much for her on the cross, asked her if she would be willing for Him to trust her to go through these terrible experiences even if He never explained why.  She writes:"Somehow in the darkness of that appalling night, I managed to say to my dear Lord, 'I don't understand what you may be doing, or who can be helped through this ordeal... but yes, if you ask this of me, thank you for trusting me with this experience, even if you never tell me why'. Wow, what a prayer - and what a lady.

I don't make any pretense of having been through anything like as serious as what Dr Helen went through, or like any of my missionary friends and colleagues who were attacked and brutally killed, but I have known what it is to be "long-suffering" as you may be aware. I look back over 2 decades of the most dreadful pain and the nearness of death, not in the Congo but in over a hundred admissions to hospital seriously ill with one of the most painful diseases known to man. I believe that I have survived to this day for a reason. In her funeral address, the speaker (Louis Sutton, the International Director of her mission agency WEC) pointed out that Helen's favourite word was 'privilege'. She counted it a privilege to be a committed Christian, to serve others in the name of Christ, to be a missionary doctor, writer and speaker. But above all, she looked at her sufferings as a privilege.

If you are a reader I recommend any of Helen's books, but none more so than her last testimony. "Then, when we trust Jesus in our suffering, it will be a powerful sign that Christ is worthy of our absolute trust. And we can count it as a privilege." (Louis Sutton). Please help me rise to that place, Lord, even though you may never tell me why.