By Casey Gauntt
Emily Buckberry forwarded to me an email she got from her brother, Joe Bill. It looked like something already well-traveled on the web. A couple of days earlier I had asked her a question that had been on my mind for quite some time, and she sent me this.
Subject: Isaiah 65:24-amazing! Faith is believing before you see it……. we all need it, don’t we?
‘The Lord directs the steps of the Godly. He delights in every detail of their lives. Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand.’ (Psalm 37:23-24 NLT)”
I almost stopped reading—this email was over two pages long and I wasn’t particularly in the mood for a sermon or a stream of quotes from the Bible. Emily had not before referenced the Bible in our numerous discussions regarding the circumstances surrounding her finding and ultimately getting around to sending me the letter from my dad–and I did not expect the answer to my particular question could be found in that Book, or any text for that matter. I wanted to know what she was thinking–what was going on her head–not what someone else may have thought or written two thousand years ago. I was also somewhat irritated that whoever circulated this email didn’t quote the Isaiah 65:24 passage, as if assuming the reader would surely know what it says. But Emily had said this would answer my question and, lacking the time or motivation to look up the passage, I decided to continue reading to see if it was, in fact, embedded in this maze of words.
The Hot Water Bottle Story
“This is a story written by a doctor who worked in Africa:
One night, I had worked hard to help a mother in the labor ward, but despite all we could do, she died, leaving us with a tiny premature baby and a crying two-year-old daughter. We would have difficulty in keeping the baby alive, as we had no incubator (we had no electricity to run an incubator!) and no special feeding facilities. Despite living on the equator, nights were often chilly, with treacherous drafts. One pupil midwife went for the box we used for such babies and the cotton wool they were 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 I might be considered no good crying over burst hot 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; sleep between the baby and the door to keep it free from drafts. Your job is to keep that baby warm.’
The following noon, I went to have prayers with any of the orphanage children who chose to gather with me, as I did most days. 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 burst hot water bottle. The baby could so easily die if it got chilled. 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. It’ll be no good tomorrow, God, as the baby’ll be dead; so please send it this afternoon.’
While I gasped inwardly at the audacity of the prayer, she added by way of 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 children’s prayers, I was put on the spot. Could I honestly say, ‘Amen?’ I just did not believe God could do this. Oh, yes, I know that He can do everything. The Bible says so. But there are limits, aren’t there? And I had some very big ‘buts.’ The only way God could answer this particular prayer would be by sending me a parcel from the homeland. I had been in Africa almost four years at the time, and I had never, never 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 veranda, was a large twenty-two pound parcel, all done up with paper and string, and bearing U.K. stamps. 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 to 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 knitted bandages for the leprosy patients and the children looked a little bored! Then a large bar of soap—and the children were probably more bored! Then a box of mixed raisins and sultanas that would make a nice 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 shown! 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 old GCU class, the 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.’ Can God still perform miracles? Is He the same yesterday, today and forever- in Israel, Africa, and anywhere else where He finds living faith? Indeed He can and is!”
End of story.
This was indeed “amazing”—so amazing, in fact, I wondered if it was actually true. “Written by a doctor who worked in Africa,” wasn’t much to go on, but I was intrigued and I Google’d ‘Isaiah 65:24’ and found a comment from someone that had also received the story via email and recognized it from the book, Living Faith, written in 1980 by Dr. Helen Roseveare. I continued my search and learned Dr. Roseveare 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 is now retired and living in Northern Ireland.
I promptly ordered Living Faith from Amazon and dove into it upon its arrival a few days later. I not only confirmed that this particular story, sometimes referred to as “The Hot Water Bottle,” was accurately transcribed in the email forwarded by Emily, but was delighted to discover that the book includes several other, equally stunning, stories of connection and synchronicity spawned by the power and spirit of this remarkable human being. I strongly encourage everyone to read Living Faith. An amazing book, by an even more amazing woman.
However, there was one thing that I did not find in Dr. Roseveare’s Hot Water Bottle Story—any reference to Isaiah 65:24.
A little over two years after Emily Buckberry called and sent me the letter from my father she found 40 years earlier, I wrote her and finally asked “Do you remember the specific timing of when you opened the box and found the letter? Is there any particular reason why you did that, at that time?” In her email forwarding the Hot Water Bottle story she wrote this:
“For the answers to your questions about when and why I found the letter when I did and found you when I decided to, I can’t think of anything special that you didn’t cover in your story The Letter, other than I still can’t figure why I didn’t mail you the letter the very next day after talking to you. I waited two days to get it to the post office, and for the life of me, I haven’t figured out why. I got it all ready and didn’t mail it straight away—just don’t know why. BUT, this email [Isaiah 65:24] which I just brought up today is the answer to probably all of these questions. And as for the ‘mysterious,’ remember Shakespeare to Hamlet: ‘There is more to heaven and earth than is written in your philosophies,’ or something like that. Much Good Love from The Dee-Vine Miz Em.”
Isaiah 65:24 ~ The Verse
I couldn’t take it anymore, and I finally searched for the passage.
‘And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer.’ Isaiah 65:24, King James Bible
‘That’s pretty good!” I thought. Emily Sue Buckberry had indeed stumbled upon and sent me my hot water bottle at the precise moment I needed it the most. But, the thing of it is, it wasn’t asked for—or perhaps I should rather say, I wasn’t the one who called. ‘Before they call.’ Since the moment Emily told me she had the letter, I have had a strong feeling of knowing who they are.
And as for the “mysterious,” Lewis Carroll put it a slightly different way than either Isaiah or Shakespeare in this exchange between Alice and the White Queen from Through The Looking-Glass:
Alice: “I can’t remember things before they happen.”
The Queen: “It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards.”
Isaiah 65:24, Some interesting, comparative “Parallel Translations”