Book Review: He Gave Us a Valley

[For your discretion: This post quotes Dr. Helen Roseveare’s account of her being raped at the hands of the Congolese rebel army. The account is entirely non-graphic.]

I don’t really like Helen Roseveare the missionary. Which convinces me that I would probably like Helen Roseveare the person. He Gave Us a Valley serves as a sequel to Give Me This Mountain, both written about by her about her work as a medical missionary in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

I say I don’t really like Helen Roseveare the missionary because she doesn’t fit what I want missionaries to be. Missionaries aren’t supposed to have their first impulse be to shrink back from suffering. They’re supposed to have made that decision to suffer already. Missionaries aren’t supposed to be rebuked by the natives for having a paternalistic view of them. They’re supposed to have a well-ordered plan to turn control over to national leaders once they’re spiritually mature enough to shepherd themselves. Missionaries aren’t supposed to wrestle over returning to the field after a furlough. They’re supposed to be totally committed to the country God has called them to be.

I say I’m convinced I would like Helen Roseveare the person because her honesty and humility shatters my preconceived notions of what missionaries are “supposed” to be like. Becoming a missionary does not elevate a believer to a new level of sanctification where the struggles of faith and belief suddenly change form. Noel Piper’s endorsement of this book appears on the cover: “Her stories are about a real person with a real God.”

And so, like the previous book, this one is never short on human weakness meeting divine aid. At the end of Give Me This Mountain, Roseveare is raped by the rebel Congolese army. In the second chapter of this book Dr. Roseveare records her second period of captivity with the rebels,

We were ushered into this first room: a settee, a few chairs with o cushions, a table at the other end; windows seemed to be all round and rough guards seem to be everywhere. We sat crouched on the cement floor, our backs to the wall, watching warily like trapped animals. Three or four younger guards, slightly better dressed, swaggered towards us and we shrank back. The first grabbed at a young woman missionary and Jessie Scholes, wife of our team leader, moved quickly to intercept him. There was an ugly moment as he raised his gun to strike her angrily for her interference…and the younger woman leapt up, almost offering to go with him, rather than see Jessie struck or hurt.

‘She’s suffered before,’ my coward heart encouraged me.

They dragged another to her feet and took her away. I shrank wretchedly behind the settee and watched her go, with misery and fear in my heart.

‘What did you counsel that young nun? OK for another, eh, but not for you?’ So some voice seemed to taunt me. Still I shrank and prayed to remain hidden from their wicked seeking eyes.

‘They’re looking round for more prey. Don’t forget, everyone left in here, but for you, is so far untouched,’ and there seemed to be only one young guard at that moment.

He took me, out into the dark.

I don’t quote this passage of the book for shock value, though it is shocking. I quote it because it crystallizes the tenor of the entire book. Initial human weakness overcome by divine enabling. She did what was Christ-like, it just took a little while to get there. When I say I don’t really like Dr. Helen Roseveare the missionary, I say so because her words are far too often a convicting portrait of my own heart. It’s easy to condemn her for her hesitation. It’s sorrowing to have the Spirit turn my condemnation upon myself as I realize I hesitate in circumstances with overwhelmingly less cost.

The crown jewel of this book is the last chapter, entitled Was It Worth It? And the answer is a resounding yes. Not spurred on by impulse. No one who has read this book and seen the cost of fellowshipping with Christ in His sufferings could ever confuse her Yes with an impulsive one. But rather it’s a yes motivated by an understanding of the superiority of Christ over all circumstances. He Gave Us a Valley won’t ever be the topic of an inspirational Disney movie. But it is the tale of a woman who faithfully served the Lord, and a God who faithfully upheld His servant.

My one criticism of the book is that oftentimes the gospel plays a secondary role. While Dr. Roseveare talks much about the Lord aiding her, rebuking her, and transforming her, we meet very little of Dr. Roseveare’s God. This is a book about her work, not about her motives. Despite this, the greatness of the Lord still shines forth in glory. Read the book…you’ll be thankful you did.

Bottom Line: 4/5

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