The Hot Water Bottle
One of the most amazing things I ever discovered is how the power of prayer TRANSCENDS barriers of time as we understand it. This story illustrates just that.
This true story was shared by Dr. Helen Roseveare, in her book “Living Faith.” The time is the 1950’s, the place is the Belgian Congo and the person sharing is herself…
One night I had worked hard to help a mother in the labor ward; but in spite of all we could do, she died, leaving us with a tiny, premature baby and a crying two-year-old daughter. We would have difficulty keeping the baby alive; as we had no incubator (we had no electricity to run an incubator).
We also had no special feeding facilities. Although we lived on the equator, nights were often chilly with treacherous drafts. One apprentice midwife went to fetch the box we had for such babies and the cotton wool that the baby would be wrapped in.
Another went to stoke up the fire and fill a hot water bottle. She came back shortly in distress to tell me that in filling the bottle, it had burst (rubber perishes easily in tropical climates). “And it is our last hot water bottle!” she exclaimed.
As in the West, it is no good crying over spilled milk, so in Central Africa it might be considered no good crying over burst water bottles. They do not grow on trees, and there are no drugstores down forest pathways. “All right,”
I said, “put the baby as near the fire as you safely can, and sleep between the baby and the door to keep it free from drafts. Your job is to keep the baby warm.” The following noon, as I did most days, I went to have prayers with any of the orphanage children who chose to gather with me.
I gave the youngsters various suggestions of things to pray about and told them about the tiny baby. I explained our problem about keeping the baby warm enough, mentioning the hot water bottle, and that the baby could so easily die if it got chills.
I also told them of the two-year-old sister, crying because her mother had died. During prayer time, one ten year old girl, Ruth, prayed with the usual blunt conciseness of our African children. “Please, God” she prayed, “Send us a hot water bottle today. It’ll be no good tomorrow, God, as the baby will be dead, so please send it this afternoon.”
While I gasped inwardly at the audacity of the prayer, she added, “And while You are about it, would You please send a dolly for the little girl so she’ll know You really love her?” As often with children’s prayers, I was put on the spot. Could I honestly say “Amen?”
I just did not believe that God could do this. Oh, yes, I know that He can do everything; the Scriptures says so. But there are limits, aren’t there? The only way God could answer this particular prayer would be by sending me a parcel from the homeland. I had been in Africa for almost four years at that time, and I had never, ever, received a parcel from home.
Anyway, if anyone did send me a parcel, who would put in a hot water bottle? I lived on the equator! Halfway through the afternoon, while I was teaching in the nurses’ training school, a message was sent that there was a car at my front door. By the time I reached home, the car had gone, but there on the verandah was a large 22-pound parcel.
I felt tears pricking my eyes. I could not open the parcel alone, so I sent for the orphanage children. Together we pulled off the string, carefully undoing each knot. We folded the paper, taking care not to tear it unduly. Excitement was mounting. Some thirty or forty pairs of eyes were focused on the large cardboard box.
From the top, I lifted out brightly-colored, knitted jerseys. Eyes sparkled as I gave them out. Then there were the knitted bandages for the leprosy patients, and the children looked a little bored. Then came a box of mixed raisins and sultanas – that would make a batch of buns for the weekend.
Then, as I put my hand in again, I felt the… could it really be? I grasped it and pulled it out. Yes, a brand new, rubber hot water bottle! I cried. I had not asked God to send it; I had not truly believed that He could. Ruth was in the front row of the children. She rushed forward, crying out, “If God has sent the bottle, He must have sent the dolly, too!”
Rummaging down to the bottom of the box, she pulled out the small, beautifully-dressed dolly. Her eyes shone! She had never doubted! Looking up at me, she asked, “Can I go over with you and give this dolly to that little girl, so she’ll know that God really loves her?”
“Of course,” I replied! That parcel had been on the way for five whole months, packed up by my former Sunday school class, whose leader had heard and obeyed God’s prompting to send a hot water bottle, even to the equator. And one of the girls had put in a dolly for an African child – five months before, in answer to the believing prayer of a ten-year-old to bring it “that afternoon.”
“Before they call, I will answer.” ~ Isaiah 65:24When you receive this, say a prayer. That’s all I ask. No strings attached. Then just send it on to whomever you want to – but do send it on. Prayer is one of the best free gifts we receive. There is no cost, but a lot of rewards. Let’s continue to trust in God with all our heart. What a faithful God.
~ Helen Roseveare, Living FaithLiving Faith was written in 1980 by Dr. Helen Roseveare. She was born in England in 1925 and went to medical school at Cambridge University. From 1953 to 1973 she was a Christian missionary to the Congo where she practiced medicine and trained many others in medical work.
In 1964 she was taken prisoner by rebel forces, held captive for five months and suffered many beatings and rapes. After her release she went back to England, but returned to the Congo two years later to help with the rebuilding of the country.
Over the next seven years, she supervised the funding and construction of a new medical school and hospital (the others she had built were destroyed during the civil war) and cared for countless numbers of patients. She lived in Northern Ireland until she passed on in 2016.
The Hot Water Bottle