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Endurance and Humble Service: Learning from Dr. Helen Roseveare

Updated: Mar 8

Watermark Health is a female led organization, that intersects vulnerable female refugee, immigrant, and low income populations through providing healthcare services.  In addition to our Early Prenatal Care service line that specifically serves women in the early stages of pregnancy, around 60% of our general urgent care patient population are females.

In honor of International Women’s Day, we asked our Executive Director Christy Chermak to share where she has recently drawn inspiration as a female leader.  

Reader note: this story includes a brief mention of sexual assault.  


In the summer of 2022, a friend handed me a book and said “I think you might like this. Her life might speak to some of the challenges you’re facing in yours.”  

 

Reading about missionaries that have gone before is always an encouragement to me. It helps refocus and ground my thoughts around why we’re doing what we’re doing and a reminder we’re not alone when it gets difficult. There was a generation before us that packed their coffin with them when they went to move overseas. We live in a different world now, but reading about that one helps me remember what humble, faithful, steady humans are capable of enduring as they walk with the King of the Universe.   


 That being said, I didn’t know what to expect when I started reading the biography of Dr Helen Roseveare. On the cover, she is an older lady with 1980s glasses and an unassuming haircut and dress. She looks like someone’s grandmother, offering tea and cookies during an afternoon visit. Unlike some other historical healthcare or missionary figures, this was a name I had never heard before but eighteen months and 6 books later, Dr Helen Roseveare has become a friend, mentor, encourager, and inspiration to me. Through the pages in her writings and the story of her life, I have found inspiration on how to press forward when serving others grows difficult. 


Dr Roseveare grew up in England in the 1920s and 1930s. She remembers the impacts of World War 2 on her hometown and her family, and eventually went to medical school where through various student groups she came to know the Lord and entrust her life to Jesus Christ. After school she joined a missionary sending organization and moved overseas in 1953 to (what is now known as) the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

 

In her first ten years ministering in Africa, she built multiple healthcare centers and began to develop a nationwide healthcare network of practitioners that flew to remote villages and provided hubs for healthcare. In 1964, as the nation went through a civil war, rebel forces took her and other area missionaries captive where she was beaten and raped.


Reading her story was gut-wrenching. So much sacrifice – not just living in a context she was not used to, but willingly risking illness and bodily harm as a single woman to serve others… and it resulted with her in a prisoners camp and being abused by the very people she was trying to serve.  

 

After the rebel war, she went home to England for a time of healing and respite, but then… 

 

she returned. 

 

Her life is the lesson in and of itself, returning to minister to the very people who harmed her. But her words that called this act of service a “privilege” are what left me wanting to hear more.  


In her second stretch in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, she helped the nation rebuild after the war. Her efforts provided physical resources like clothing and food, and re-established elementary schools while also growing the existing healthcare and training centers. From the beginning of her time overseas, her heart's desire was to serve the Congo by building and accrediting a school for local medical students so that health resources could come from within the nation. She eventually left her healthcare center where she had been practicing to do this with her bare hands- working with a team to cut down trees to build the buildings for the school.  

 

After many difficult years of recruiting talent, building facilities and programs, and fighting for accreditation, the school launched. But shortly therafter at the end of her collective twenty years of service to this nation and people she loved, she was falsely accused of withholding government funds and was voted out of her position at the medical school due to racial tensions.  

 

We here in Dallas live in a time and a culture where ‘success’ is marked by how big, impressive, and newsworthy our outcomes are. 


But we follow a God who says success is quiet faithfulness, service, and humility.   


Was her twenty years in the Congo worth it? Was all the sacrifice worth being hurt by, kicked out, and humiliated by the very people she went to serve?  


Dr Roseveare wrestled with God on this at the end of her two-book memoir.  

In his kindness, He brought to her mind the various individuals whose lives had been changed by Jesus during her time there.  

 

At the end of her wrestling, her answer was a definite yes. The heartache was all worth it simply because the experience gave her more of Jesus.  

 

Women and men like Dr Roseveare challenge me to wrestle with what I really believe to be true. 

 

God does not promise our life will get better or easier the more we serve him. He does not guarantee that our sacrifice will be responded to favorably. But He does promise He will be with us through any challenge we face and His presence alone makes it all a privilege.

 

As I face the inevitable challenges, losses, and discouragements that come with life on a broken earth will I count it a joy as Helen did?  

 

In the recounting of her life, it’d be easy to focus our celebration of Dr Roseveare on her tangible impact on the mission field – the hundreds of healthcare outreach centers, the thousands of local students trained, the hundreds of thousands of patients treated. She truly changed the face of healthcare in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  

 

But perhaps the part of Helen’s story that we ought to celebrate the most is her quiet commitment to enduring trials of every kind and calling them a privilege and joy because they brought her closer to her Savior.  

 

In a similar way, today I celebrate the humble, servant-hearted women I get to lead and serve alongside at Watermark Health. Over the last nine years, their desire to steward their talents for the Kingdom has been a deep encouragement to me. Not only in their roles as volunteers and staff on our team, but in their personal lives as they open up their homes and lives to foster children, ailing parents, and strangers seeking kindness.  





I know and see that as they sit across from the hurting in our city, they are not looking for notoriety or accomplishment. They are not focused on whether this act of service will be posted on social media or picked up by a news source.  

 

They are focused on serving that one image bearer in front of them and entrusting any ‘success’ to that end to their Savior.  

 

May the Helen Roseveare’s of the world be an example to us all this International Women’s Day. Her life and testimony are an inspiration that motivates me towards service, resilience, and humility.   

 

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Looking to be inspired? Check out some of Dr Roseveare’s Story and writings:  

Give me this Mountain by Dr Helen Roseveare

He Gave us a Valley by Dr Helen Roseveare

Living Sacrificially: Willing to be Whittled as an Arrow by Dr Helen Roseveare

Count it All Joy by Dr Helen Roseveare

Enough by Dr Helen Roseveare

Helen Roseveare: Mama Luka by Janet Benge, Geoff Benge 

Documentary: Mama Luka Comes Home (stream it on Amazon)


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