The Hot Water Bottle

Ruth’s Prayer



Helen Roseveare is a physician from Northern Ireland who served as a medical missionary in Zaire, Africa for some time.  This is her story of believing prayer and the wonder of a God who hears and answers.


 “One night, in Central Africa, I had worked hard to help a mother in the labor ward; but in spite of all that 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.  We had no incubator.  We had no electricity to run in incubator, and no special feeding facilities.  Although we lived on the equator, nights were often chilly with treacherous drafts.


A student midwife went for the box we had for such babies and for 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 spilt milk; so, in Central Africa it might be considered no good crying over a burst water bottle.  They do not grow on trees, and there are no drug stores down forest pathways.  ‘All right,’ I said, ‘Put the baby as near the fire as you safely can; sleep between the baby and the door to keep it free of drafts.  Your job is to keep the baby warm.’


The following noon, as I did most days, I went to have prayers with many 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.  The baby could so easily die if it got chilled.  I also told them about the two year old sister, crying because her mother had died.  During the prayer time, one ten year old girl, Ruth, prayed with the usual blunt consciousness of our African children. ‘Please, God,’ she prayed, ‘send us a water bottle.  It’ll be no good tomorrow, God, the baby’ll be dead; so, please send it this afternoon.’  While I gasped inwardly at the audacity of the prayer, she added by corollary, ‘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 the 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 He can do everything: The Bible says so, but there are limits, aren’t there?  The only way God could answer this particular prayer would be by sending 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 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 veranda, was a large twenty two 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 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 began to look a little bored.  Next came a box of mixed raisins and sultanas – that would make a nice batch of buns for the weekend.  As I put in my had 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 into 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, Mummy, and give this dolly to that little girl, so she’ll know that Jesus really loves her?’


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.  One of the girls had put in a dolly for an African child – five months earlier in answer to the believing prayer of a ten year old to bring it ‘That afternoon!”
“And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear.” Isaiah 65:24.


Oh what a sweet story of faith.  What are we to learn from Ruth?

1. This little girl was naïve and ignorant of the great obstacles to the answering of her prayer, she simply believed in a God who loved little premature babies, little lonely two year old girls and little faith filled ten year old girls. 


May our faith be such, not looking at the obstacles, but to a God who hears and answers prayer against all odds.  Oh God give me faith like Ruth and take all my sophistication away from me and let me believe you can do anything, that simply nothing is impossible for you!!!


2. Ruth was an orphan in Central Africa and was probably as poor as she could be.  But she was so rich in faith and caring.  She only prayed for the two little girls of the dead woman who were poorer than her. 


May we in the West, so rich in material things realize our depth of poverty.  We cry at the loss of something we can do without and don’t realize our infinite need of Him.

Oh God may we become impoverished in the World’s things and become rich in You!!