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Friday, August 15, 2008

The Truth About The Hot Water Bottle And The Premature Baby

I've decided I'm starting a campaign for truth. Christians don't like to think of themselves as gossips, but we do like passing on testimonies. There's nothing wrong with that provided we get the details right. The problem is that we sometimes manage to create a web of Chinese whispers of truly Olympian proportions.

The Story Of The Hot Water Bottle
I don't know if you've come across this piece of wonderful testimony which is doing the rounds at the moment. It's an account of how God's answer to a child's audacious prayer to send a hot water bottle to Africa resulted in the saving of a premature baby's life. It truly is the story of a wonderful miracle and it should be told.

And it was told - in the book, Living Faith by Dr Helen Roseveare of WEC, a medical missionary in Congo/Zaire, and first published in 1980. In my copy the story, which occurred about 50 years ago, appears on pages 52-54 and is related just as it unfolded before Dr Roseveare's eyes.

The various versions I've read recently are clearly taken from that book as they are almost verbatim copies. Yet none of them attributes the story to it's original source, a remarkable Christian woman, who suffered brutally at the hands of rebels during the uprising in that country, being beaten and raped for her commitment to the Lord and to the local people she was serving as a doctor, people who loved her and were willing to lay down their lives to try to protect her.

Why Does The Truth Matter?
The story has most recently been reported to me as being from South Africa which is blatantly incorrect as the content clearly states the events took place in equatorial Africa. In fact, it was in a small village in the rain forest where Dr Roseveare had been instrumental in setting up a medical facility to meet the needs of thousands of people across hundreds of miles.

Is it glorifying to God when we take testimonies out of context? Is it glorifying to God when we make factual mistakes in what we tell? Is it glorifying to God when we give the impression that something which happened half a century ago is a recent event?

If a seeker, impressed, perhaps even challenged to faith, decided to try to validate this report they would struggle. The events are not recent as implied by some of the versions I've seen, so will not be reported in the Christian press. They did not happen in South Africa so it's no good trying to contact organisations working in that country. Our researcher would have to conclude this was the Christian version of an urban myth.

The Importance Of Context
But it is true, and all the more dramatic when read in the context of Dr Roseveare's life and work in Congo/Zaire. The story currently passed round might give the impression she was a woman of little faith yet she recounts numerous miraculous answers to prayer and miracles throughout her missionary career and beyond.

It also disturbs me that words which clearly indicate the doctor concerned was a woman have been removed from the text of the "hot water bottle story". Helen Roseveare gave up the very genuine opportunity of marriage to serve God as a single woman and a pioneer missionary in conditions most of us would consider impossible.

We are being shortchanged by this little piece of testimony as it stands. The failure to attribute the account correctly not only infringes British copyright law, it means that we are deprived of the opportunity to discover more of this remarkable woman's life, to read her books and to be challenged to live a more dedicated and consecrated life.

The book in which this testimony occurs also includes what is possibly an even more remarkable account of how the Lord led her on a 400 mile round trip to another country to share the gospel with an illiterate herdsman who emerged from the trees as she took a coffee break. He simply asked if she was, "a sent one, by the Great God, to tell me of the thing called Jesus." All he knew of the gospel was that the word Jesus was "sweet in my heart." She was able to lead him to the Lord.

Prayer College Assignment
Do some research, track down some information about Helen Roseveare, try to get hold of one her several autobiographical books. Living Faith, where the "hot water bottle story" is told, is available from our bookstore. Reading these remarkable accounts will challenge you in how you pray.

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