Who’s in Your Cloud of Witnesses? Lessons learned from Helen Roseveare


Have you seen the Capital One Financial ads, asking the customer, “What’s in your wallet?” It’s meant to convince potential customers that we need to have a Capital One credit card in our personal wallet.

I think a question we can ask each other is, “Who’s in your cloud of witnesses?” (Hebrews 11), or who are the faith heroes we look to as role models to follow for life and ministry?

Helen Roseveare is one of my heroes. Her wisdom has soaked over my life as I’ve read her books and listened to talks she gave during her life. I’ve kept her words in the pocket of my heart, so to speak, and the dividends have enriched my relationship with Christ and ministry.

Helen was a British missionary, doctor, and author. She worked in the Congo from 1953 to 1973, including part of the period of political instability in the early 1960’s. She practiced medicine and trained others in medical work. She remained single until she met her eternal Bridegroom face to face in 2016 at the age of ninety-one.

Here are three (of many!) ways Helen has discipled me to follow Christ more faithfully:

Humor can be a godly tool in our ministry tool belt. Helen was funny! She was able to poke fun at herself and life itself in a way that softened the hearts of her audience. I appreciate that she used humor not to shame others, self-exalt, or self-deprecate but rather to reveal her humanity in a way that lifted the gaze of her audience to Christ and the cross.

I love to laugh and enjoy helping others to join in! In my years of serving with Harvest USA and being immersed in painful and difficult topics day after day, I’ve sought to grow in the wise use of humor. Levity and laughter can be effective ministry tools to diffuse a tense moment, to redirect a woman’s heart towards Christ rather than her self-constructed belief system, or simply to bring lightness and joy into someone’s world which is filled with darkness and pain. Humor can prepare a heart to receive tough truths of the gospel.

Full disclosure: I’ve also learned to get feedback from trusted friends who know and ‘get’ me when I plan to bring humor into a public teaching opportunity. After all, many of us are convinced that our humor is the funniest kind!

Surrendering self is a key truth of the gospel. One of Helen’s most known books is Living Sacrifice. In it she describes in beautiful, storied detail how God “whittled” her to be his faithful servant, an ‘arrow’ sent out in obedience to Romans 12:1-2.

A photocopied portion of Living Sacrifice is tucked in my bible (not my wallet), and I pull it out when I need help remembering that I don’t belong to myself, but to Christ. Let’s just say that I re-read it frequently! Her words and life story reorient me back to Jesus’s teaching that to follow him means that I must deny self, take up my cross, and follow him (Luke 9:23). All of our time, resources, relationships, and love are to be put on the altar, consumed by the Lord for his purposes. I surrender all and in return, I get to live for Jesus’s glory and then, eternal life. Quite an exchange!

Identifying with Jesus in suffering is a normal part of the Christian life. During Helen’s years as a missionary, she suffered in a variety of ways. The experience that most jarred me is when she was taken captive by rebel soldiers and brutalized physically and sexually—a nightmare of pain and humiliation.

Helen wrote and spoke about that traumatic, horrific night of abuse as the doorway through which Jesus taught her to identify with him in his suffering. Like him, she was allowed to go through an experience of being sinned against that terrifies me, but it has also inspired and encouraged me with the suffering I’ve faced.

I’ve never experienced anything close to Helen’s suffering, which also included multiple bouts with malaria and other diseases. But God doesn’t call me to identify with Helen, even if she is in my cloud of witnesses. Like those saints listed in Hebrews 11, Helen’s life points me to my ultimate Life, Jesus Christ, my Savior and Hero.

Who’s in your cloud of witnesses? What saints inspire you to laugh, cry, die, and serve all to the glory of Jesus? Reading biographies is a spiritual practice that greatly benefits my life as a disciple of Jesus. I’ll leave you with my top five books, for your consideration.

Living Sacrifice

A Chance to Die: The Life and Legacy of Amy Carmichael

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

A Passion for the Impossible: The story of Lilias Trotter

The Shadow of the Almighty: The Life and Testament of Jim Elliot

About the Author:

Ellen Dykas

Ellen received her MA in Biblical Studies from Covenant Theological Seminary in 1999 and serves as the Women’s Ministry Coordinator for Harvest USA, a national ministry focused on gospel-centered discipleship and teaching regarding sexuality. Ellen loves ministry to women and is most passionate about mentoring, teaching God’s Word and spiritually nurturing others to walk deeply with Jesus. New Life Presbyterian in Dresher, PA, is her home church.

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