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Helen Roseveare

Helen Roseveare

Mary Gladstone, a former IVP staff member and a longterm supporter of UCCF, remembers her friend, Helen, who she met through the Christian Union in Cambridge.

Helen came up to Newnham College, Cambridge, in 1944 (a year after me) from Howell’s School, Denbighshire, to read medicine. She attended an introductory ‘long vac’ term and was befriended by Dot (Dorothy Dotlay), a member of CWICCU (the women’s colleges did not become full members of the university until 1950, so the Cambridge Women’s Inter-Collegiate Christian Union was organised separately from the men’s CU). Helen was an earnest church-goer, of Anglo-Catholic persuasions, and she was torn between church loyalties and the warm friendship shown by CU members. As a scientist she was keen to find out more about the truths of the Christian faith, so she began to read the Bible, guided by IVP’s Search the Scriptures.

Throughout the autumn term, when I first got to know her, she came along to the CU Bible studies, intrigued to discover more, and many of us were praying for her. During the Christmas holidays she went to a Scripture Union houseparty at Mount Hermon College. There she came to understand the true meaning of repentance and forgiveness, and entered into a new relationship with God. Dr Graham Scroggie, a great Bible teacher, was one of the speakers and he wrote out a verse in her newly-bought Bible, which was to become her aim in life: Philippians 3:10, ‘that I may know him’.

Helen never did anything half-heartedly. Her enthusiasm was remarkable, whether it was in studying the Bible or on the sports field. She and I played cricket in the Cambridge Women’s Team. Helen also played hockey, as an intrepid goalkeeper, for the University Women’s Team and also Cambridge County Ladies. There she met Olga, a communist, with whom she spent many hours persuading and discussing Christianity versus Communism. Great was her joy when Olga came to faith.

In July 1946,Helen and I went to the Keswick Convention with a group of Nottingham students and some girls who worked in the Boots factory, led by Dr Joyce Goodchild. We arrived a day early to prepare the camp site, scything the long grass and putting up the tents. It was very hot, so we put the week’s butter ration into a saucepan in the stream, only for a thief to steal it at dusk! The next day the weather changed, and after three days of rain the stream overflowed and flooded our tents. We were relieved to get permission to move into the local Drill Hall for the remainder of the week. The Convention meeting on the Friday morning was devoted to missions, with a dozen missionaries speaking about their work in various parts of the world. At the end of the meeting the challenge was given, and Helen and I stood up together to dedicate our lives to God’s service, wherever He might lead us: Helen to the Belgian Congo and myself to 35 years with IVP as a proof reader.

Helen completed her medical training at the London Hospital and went out to the Congo with WEC (Worldwide Evangelisation Crusade) in 1952. She was a true pioneer, first setting up a training school for nurses and later supervising a 100-bed hospital. In 1964 she and seven other Christian missionaries were taken by the Simba rebels into captivity, where they were brutally treated and raped. Her faith in God was sorely tried but remained steadfast as she experienced ‘the fellowship of his sufferings’ (Philippians 3:10). After eventual liberation and a period of recuperation at home, she returned to the Congo in 1966 and worked there for another seven years.

Helen retired in 1973 and settled in Northern Ireland. She was a prolific author, writing devotional, autobiographical and challenging books, and her ministry continues through these. Her love of the Bible was contagious and she led a girls’ Bible class for many years. She was also a gifted speaker at conferences and other meetings, especially for the Nurses’ Christian Fellowship and the Girl Crusaders’ Union. She spoke several times at the triennial InterVarsity Missionary Conventions in Urbana, USA, which were attended by thousands of students and graduates.

The last time I met Helen was at the Keswick Convention in 2011, when she gave the Keswick Lecture under the title ‘Is it worth living for Jesus?’. She was physically frail, but spoke with passion, giving her life testimony and answering the question with a resounding ‘Yes’.

It has been a privilege to have known her as a friend.

We thank God for Helen's life and the way that, through her work, He has made Himself known around the world. 

We work with students who we believe have the potential to change the world. For many, like Helen, their time at university is formative. To hear more news and stories about what God is doing through Christian Unions, and to pray for God's work in the student world, sign up to Impact and Focus.

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