Ballymoney Baptist Women’s Group celebrated their church’s 25th Anniversary year by having a very special guest at their Women’s Conference on Saturday 4th June.
So many women from all over Northern Ireland registered to hear the speaker that the venue had to changed to Dalriada School to accommodate the hundreds who came. Dr Helen Roseveare is a world famous writer and speaker at conferences and conventions.
She was born in England in 1925 and is now retired and lives in Northern Ireland. She became a Christian as a medical student in Cambridge University in 1945 and served as a missionary to the Congo from 1953 to 1973. She went to the Congo through WEC International, practised medicine, trained others in medical work and shared the gospel with everyone she was in contact with. She stayed through the hostile and dangerous political instability in the early 1960s. In 1964 she was taken prisoner by rebel forces and remained a prisoner for five months, enduring beatings and rapings.
Her faith and trust in God her Saviour grew and deepened during this time. She later left the Congo and headed back to England after her release but returned in 1966 to assist in the rebuilding of the nation and the spread of the news about Jesus Christ. She helped establish a new medical school and hospital (the other hospitals that she built were destroyed) and served there until she left in 1973. Her life of service was portrayed in the 1989 film Mama Luka Comes Home.
Her moving story about how the prayer of Ruth, 10-year-old African girl, for a hot water bottle to save a premature newborn baby after its mother had died has been well known in Christian circles for years. This is the story as Helen told it on Saturday; “One night, in Central Africa, I had worked hard to help a mother in the labour ward; but in spite of all that we could do, she died leaving us with a tiny, premature baby and a crying, two-year-old daughter. We would have difficulty keeping the baby alive. We had no incubator. We had no electricity to run an incubator, and no special feeding facilities. Although we lived on the equator, nights were often chilly with treacherous drafts.
“A student-midwife went for the box we had for such babies and for the cotton wool that the baby would be wrapped in. Another went to stoke up the fire and fill a hot water bottle. She came back shortly, in distress, to tell me that in filling the bottle, it had burst. Rubber perishes easily in tropical climates. “...and it is our last hot water bottle!” she exclaimed. As in the West, it is no good crying over spilled milk; so, in Central Africa it might be considered no good crying over a burst water bottle. They do not grow on trees, and there are no drugstores down forest pathways. All right,” I said, “Put the baby as near the fire as you safely can; sleep between the baby and the door to keep it free from drafts. Your job is to keep the baby warm.
“The following noon, as I did most days, I went to have prayers with many of the orphanage children who chose to gather with me. I gave the youngsters various suggestions of things to pray about and told them about the tiny baby. I explained our problem about keeping the baby warm enough, mentioning the hot water bottle. The baby could so easily die if it got chilled. I also told them about the two-year-old sister, crying because her mother had died.
“During the prayer time, one ten-year-old girl, Ruth, prayed with the usual blunt consciousness of our African children. “Please, God,” she prayed, “send us a water bottle. It’ll be no good tomorrow, God, the baby’ll be dead; so, please send it this afternoon.” While I gasped inwardly at the audacity of the prayer, she added by way of corollary, “ ...And while You are about it, would You please send a dolly for the little girl so she’ll know You really love her?” As often with children’s prayers, I was put on the spot. Could I honestly say, “Amen?” I just did not believe that God could do this. Oh, yes, I know that He can do everything: The Bible says so, but there are limits, aren’t there? The only way God could answer this particular prayer would be by sending a parcel from the homeland. I had been in Africa for almost four years at that time, and I had never, ever received a parcel from home. Anyway, if anyone did send a parcel, who would put in a hot water bottle? I lived on the equator!
“Halfway through the afternoon, while I was teaching in the nurses’ training school, a message was sent that there was a car at my front door. By the time that I reached home, the car had gone, but there, on the veranda, was a large twenty-two pound parcel! I felt tears pricking my eyes. I could not open the parcel alone; so, I sent for the orphanage children. Together we pulled off the string, carefully undoing each knot. We folded the paper, taking care not to tear it unduly. Excitement was mounting. Some thirty or forty pairs of eyes were focused on the large cardboard box.
“From the top, I lifted out brightly coloured, knitted jerseys. Eyes sparkled as I gave them out. Then, there were the knitted bandages for the leprosy patients, and the children began to look a little bored. Next, came a box of mixed raisins and sultanas - - that would make a nice batch of buns for the weekend. As I put my hand in again, I felt the...could it really be? I grasped it, and pulled it out. Yes, “A brand-new rubber, hot water bottle!” I cried. I had not asked God to send it; I had not truly believed that He could. Ruth was in the front row of the children. She rushed forward, crying out, “If God has sent the bottle, He must have sent the dolly, too!” Rummaging down to the bottom of the box, she pulled out the small, beautifully dressed dolly. Her eyes shone: She had never doubted! Looking up at me, she asked, “Can I go over with you, Mummy, and give this dolly to that little girl, so she’ll know that Jesus really loves her?
“That parcel had been on the way for five whole months, packed up by my former Sunday School class, whose leader had heard and obeyed God’s prompting to send a hot water bottle, even to the equator. One of the girls had put in a dolly for an African child -- five months earlier in answer to the believing prayer of a ten-year-old to bring it “That afternoon!” “
Helen has only ever had to cancel one speaking engagement in 35 years and that was 3 weeks ago at the annual Baptist Women’s Night in Lisburn. So it was with great anticipation that hundreds of women gathered for Ballymoney Baptist church’s special Women’s Conference to mark their church’s 25th Anniversary in September of this year.
Helen spoke in three sessions using a simple “wheel” symbol to explain some profound truths and challenges.
Session One was called “The Hub” of the bicycle wheel and this is the part that ensures the wheel works as it should, as it is designed to work. The Hub represents Jesus Christ, at the very centre of all life and our individual lives. Helen shared how she was converted as a student and how every day since then she has sought to have Jesus at the very centre of her life. Session 2 was called “The Spokes – well oiled to the rim” and she talked about how believers are to be the right spokes in the right place at the right time. She talked of her breast cancer 30 years ago and how God used her in that situation to share with other women in the same position, to explain why she wasn’t scared of death. She was the right spoke in the right place at the right time.
The third session was called “The Rim” and was about how Christians are the “spokes” taking the “Hub” and its message of forgiveness through Jesus Christ out to the world – the rim of the wheel. In fact, when a bicycle is working properly, all that can be seen are the hub and the rim, the spokes become invisible. That’s the challenge to Christians – to serve Jesus without being visible, known, renowned or even thanked by anyone. Helen wove her life story through every session, drawing out meaning and challenge for everyone there. Other parts of the day included a Baptist Men’s choir who sang 2 pieces and a lovely lunch for everyone provided by the Ballymoney Baptist ladies.
This is the first event in the celebration for Ballymoney Baptist church this year, in their 25th year in the town. If you are interested, you can watch the conference at www.ballymoneybaptistchurch.org