A true story by Helen Roseveare, retold by Regina Cram
In her autobiography Give Us This Mountain, Dr. Helen Roseveare told of her life as a medical missionary in the central African country of Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
One night during her long years of service, Dr. Roseveare and her staff fought to save the life of a young mother as she gave birth. Despite their efforts the mother died, leaving behind a premature infant and an inconsolable 2-year old.
Dr. Roseveare knew it would be difficult to keep the baby alive. They had no incubator and no electricity to run an incubator even if they had one. Despite the fact that they were on the equator, nights were often cold and winds could be brutal.
The biggest challenge would be to keep the baby warm.
A midwife-in-training hurried to gather their paltry medical supplies. Another staff member ran to stoke up the fire and fill a hot water bottle, which would serve as a makeshift incubator. She returned with the distressing news that as she’d filled the bottle, it had burst. Rubber does not hold up well in the tropics.
It was their last hot water bottle.
“All right,” Dr. Roseveare instructed, “put the baby as near the fire as you safely can, and sleep between the baby and the door to keep her from drafts. Your job is to keep the baby warm.” She did not need to add that even with these measures, the infant was likely to die.
The following day the doctor joined the orphanage children for midday prayer. She told the children about the tiny baby, explaining the difficulty keeping the baby warm without a hot water bottle. She said that the baby might die, and added that the 2-year old sister was crying for her mother.
Together they bowed their heads in prayer. A 10-year-old girl named Ruth prayed bluntly, “Please, God, send us a water bottle. It will be no good tomorrow, God; the baby will be dead by then so please send it this afternoon.” The doctor gasped at the child’s boldness and the absurdity of her request. “. . . and while you’re at it,” Ruth continued, “would you please send a dolly for the little girl so she’ll know you really love her?”
Dr. Roseveare didn’t know what to say. She certainly believed that God can do miracles; she just didn’t think he would. The only way Ruth’s prayer could be answered was if a package had been sent months earlier. But the doctor had been in Africa for years and had not received a single package. Besides, even if someone did ship supplies, who would send a hot water bottle to the equator?
It was mid-afternoon when a staff member ran to find the doctor with the news that a package had arrived. Dr. Roseveare hurried to her home where she found a large 22-pound box on the steps. This was so exciting that she sent for the orphanage children. Together they painstakingly removed the string and paper, taking care to not tear them.
All eyes were on the box as Dr. Roseveare pulled out brightly colored knitted jerseys for the children and knitted bandages for the leprosy patients. There were raisins and sultanas. Then she felt something she could scarcely believe.
She pulled it out and cried, “A brand new, rubber hot water bottle!”
Ruth rushed forward, exclaiming, “If God sent the hot water bottle, he must have sent the dolly, too!” They rummaged to the bottom of the box where Ruth pulled out a small, beautifully dressed dolly. She had never doubted God.
Ruth looked up at Dr. Roseveare and asked, “Can I go with you to give this dolly to that little girl so she’ll know how much Jesus loves her?”
The box had been sent five months earlier by the doctor’s former Sunday school class. The teacher had listened to God’s quiet call to send a hot water bottle, even to the tropics. A girl in the class had included a small doll for an African child – five months earlier, in answer to a prayer that had not yet been prayed.
“And it shall come to pass that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear” (Isaiah 65:24).
Regina Cram lives in Glastonbury and is a freelance writer. She is the author of Do Bad Guys Wear Socks? Living the Gospel in Everyday Life.