I read Daylight Must Come, by Alan Burgess (1975) for two reasons – because I liked another book by Burgess (The Small Woman) and because Daylight Must Come tells the story of Helen Roseveare, who served as a medical missionary in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Belgian Congo and Zaire), where I had the privilege of living.
Not only was I curious about her experiences, but I also wanted to know where and with whom she worked. Fortunately, Dr. Roseveare kept a diary, wrote letters, and took the author to the Belgian Congo to see firsthand the people she loved.
Early in the book, Helen, who was raised in England, searched for a purpose for her life. When she went to Cambridge for medical school, she was astonished to find that some of her classmates “seemed to have found belief” (page 82.) Attending their meetings, singing their songs of praise, and discussing the Bible intrigued her. But her inability to understand God, no matter how much time she spent searching, made her throw herself on her bed one night, weeping with frustration. When she looked up, she read a verse on the wall she’d seen every day but never before noticed: Be still and know that I am God.
Suddenly she understood the essentially simple, elementary, contradictory conclusion that it was not possible to understand. Not intellectually. Not as you would work out an equation. Not as a matter of logic.” (Page 84)
The revelation satisfied Helen, who viewed it as her first meeting with God and the basis for her ongoing relationship with Him. From there, she immersed herself in the Bible as her primary source of information about God, herself, and the world. God became her constant companion.
Her Move to Africa
Dr. Helen Roseveare sailed from England to Mombasa, Kenya, in 1953 and took the train and steamer ships to the interior to Ibambi, Congo, a remote village in dense jungle where roads were nonexistent and snakes, leopards, and crocodiles were common. She lived with veteran missionaries for three years, during which she first confronted diseases such as elephantiasis, hookworm, malaria, blackwater fever, and leprosy. Much of the book kept me on the edge of my seat, and I read to my husband an astounding anecdote about a black mamba that emerged from her bathtub!
Her Darkest Hour
When the Simba Rebellion ignited Congo in 1964, Dr. Roseveare remained with her people and was captured with a convent of Catholic nuns and a handful of Protestant missionary women. They were marched through the jungle at gunpoint, severely beaten, held captive for months, and raped. (I had never before read a Christian woman’s account of her rape.) Despite feeling humiliated and degraded, Helen sensed God’s presence. She identified with the suffering of Jesus on the cross and believed God could use even this horrendous experience to minister to others.
At their darkest hour, when the women thought they’d never be rescued, Helen spoke to them of the God they served, that he knew what they were going through and had not deserted them.
In their presence, she prayed to God, saying,
Will you reach out to them with the same love that kept us sane through all the wickedness and evil? Give us your peace in our hearts. Keep us sane and fill us with hope. Make these here believe this, Lord.” (page 193)
When she’d finished praying, the women were tearful yet relaxed.
At last, their rescuers came and helped them leave the country.
Most amazing to me was that Dr. Roseveare returned to Congo within a year. She flew in a small plane over her old tin-roofed house among the trees in the middle of the jungle, far from any sort of city or highway, wondering what would await her.
“As the young American pilot from the Missionary Aviation Fellowship switched off the engine, she knew she was home. She unfastened her seat belt as he opened the door, and there waiting were all her friends. At once the atmosphere was different. The sun was hotter, the shade deeper, the colours brighter, the earth baked as hard as ancient terracotta, the welcome torrential as a flood, drowning her in a sea of laughter, kisses and hugs.” (page 277)
When we were in Africa we always said the colors were brighter. Maybe because we were so close to the equator? Like Dr. Roseveare, we felt isolated. When our family flew from the bustling city of Nairobi, where we studied Swahili, to the remote little village of Rwanguba, I had no idea how small my daily world would become. Rwanguba had one main road that snaked around several hills upon which Rwanguba Hospital, the Bible Institute, schools, and dwellings stood out against a backdrop of volcanoes and the vivid green of banana trees. Yet, whenever we left for rest and recharging, we were eager to return.
How Daylight Must Come Touched Me
The book far surpassed my expectations. First off, I recognized mission stations such as Bunia and Nyankunde because our family flew with MAF into those places. Lee and I fulfilled the government’s Public Health requirement at the Nyankunde Hospital, where we met Dr. Ruth Dix, who’d worked with Dr. Roseveare. When I read the name of Dr. Harris, I wondered if he might have been the Dr. Harris I’d sat with on a plane from Nairobi, where he’d talked of nothing but leprosy, going so far as to suggest that I be tested because of my numb toe from which an ingrown toenail had been excised! (A few pages later in the book, I found out he was indeed the one.)
Second, I felt like I’d made a trip back in time to a place I knew. The verdant setting, the warmth of the people, the daily life were all familiar, but the country’s violent, bloody, and traumatic history brought fresh understanding and fresh grief.
Third, and most important, I was struck Dr. Roseveare’s selflessness and commitment to the Lord and to her patients. Daylight Must Come showed me what’s possible when someone is truly available and willing to serve the Lord. I wish I’d read this book before I became a missionary.
Who Would Like Daylight Must Come
You don’t have to be a missionary or a pastor or a Christian to relate to this book, for it’s a story of survival as much as anything else. If you’re bothered by occasional descriptions of violence, however, it may not be for you.
“A deeply moving story of human courage and superhuman grace.”
– The Archbishop of Canterbury
May God bless Dr. Roseveare!
Posted on January 5, 2016