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I told them to come at six-thirty.

As the rain drizzled down on me, I peered into the dim morning light. Nothing. Not so much as a foot could be seen.

Why had I expected anything else? Why would the twelve students build their nursing school? What was I thinking.

When they came the night before after making the journey from Nebobongo to Nyankunde, they were muddy and tired. I explained to them that the Congo had been in a civil war and was still getting its feet under them. After being ruled by the Belgians for years, the Congolese people cried out for independence. On June 30, 1960, they got their wish – or so they thought. The Belgian commander of the Congo forces announced they would retain military control and the country erupted in rioting. White people fled the country, but some missionaries stayed behind, including me. Not only was I their doctor, I was their friend. The Congolese in the area called me Mama Luka, after the gospel writer and physician Luke.

As the political unrest continued, many nations fought over the now Republic of Congo. Eventually Christopher Gbenye set himself up as the president of the Marxist government. His fellow rebels called themselves Simbas, which meant Lions in Swahili. They round up myself and other missionaries. I still have nightmares from my time with them. Thankfully we were rescued and I was able to return to England, where I was from. I thought I would never go back to the Congo. But after receiving letters from my friends there, I realized they were more than friends; they were family.

So I went back and helped the people in Nebobongo, many of which hadn’t seen a doctor in eighteen months. Another doctor, Dr. Becker, helped me hatch a plan for a nurses’ training facility, a hospital, and a flying doctor service in Nyankonde. Which was why the students were here. Once they were trained as nurses, they would become staff for the new hospital. Which is also why I sat in the rain, praying for the students to come. I told them the previous night that if they still wanted to learn from me and were willing to build the facility to meet me at six-thirty the next morning. Now it was close to eight and they hadn’t come.

Hoping against hope I arranged seating for them and took out my Bible. Minutes dragged on and I decided to give up. They weren’t coming. I was crazy thinking they would agree to this.

Then I saw one student come towards me. Then another and another, until all twelve sat before me. A little sullen, yes, but determined and willing. I took a deep breath and led them in that morning’s devotions. Then I stood up and looked them in the eye. “Okay, let’s get to work.”

Helen Roseveare was born in 1925 and first arrived in Congo, later the DRC, in 1953 with the goal of providing medical services to the Congolese. She trained many doctors and nurses, as well as helped start hospitals and a nursing school. She died on December 7, 2016, when she was 91.

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