Mission trips are one of the front lines of spiritual warfare. Nothing tests (and strengthens) faith more than getting to the mission field. This year’s Brazil trip has been amazing, but tonight I’m simply processing a few things that have happened. Stories will come later, after sleep and after these events settle in my mind.
One question Christians often face is known as “the question of suffering.” One reason it’s tough is because it must be answered in two different ways, depending on the situation. If asked philosophically, a rational answer can be given. If asked emotionally, it’s best to simply practice a ministry of presence. It’s best to listen, empathize, and pray.
Yesterday as we were walking the streets of Jardinopolis sharing the Good News of Christ as well as the good news of the chapel we are building, we met a sweet woman talking to a couple of workers. Angie made an instant connection with her. The woman apologized because she wouldn’t be able to attend our celebration…her son couldn’t come and she had no one to watch him if she went. She invited us into her house to see and pray for her sick son.
The details of the story are for another time, but her son was bedridden and his disease was chronic. He was 25 and might have had ALS, but it could have been something else. He smiled and laughed as we talked and prayed with him. We prayed with his mother, too.
We went back and visited him again today. He was very happy to see us again and enjoyed the sunglasses and toy truck we gave him.
Only two visits after that, we met another woman with a sick child. She also invited us in. Her son had turned 6 on June 3. Two and a half years ago, an iron beam had fallen on his head. The doctors told her he wouldn’t live more than two days. Mom told us that his continued life was proof of God’s existence and love. That boy was her miracle. She brought us in to meet him so that we could tell everyone we meet that her son is proof of God’s love and presence with us on earth.
These two events are what I’m processing. In my home town, both of these boys would have received much different medical care than what the public health care of Brazil can offer. What we would call their “quality of life” would likely be much higher. Neither would have a normal life, though.
Why are these boys like this and why did God lead us here? We provided some encouragement and a smile for the moms and sons, but those can be so slippery…almost impossible to hold onto in the dark and lonely times when life hangs in the balance.
I can’t help but think about the question of suffering. Perhaps instead a philosophical answer, we should consider these events a Christian case study. These are notes from the field manual.
The answer: praise Him. As simple and unsatisfying as it sounds, that’s the Christian response to suffering. Praise. I preached on it Sunday night from Acts 16. We saw it with both of these moms. As we walked away from the second house, I wanted to cry out to God in praise.
Somehow, in spite of the feeding tube and metal crib, God was glorified in that boy and his mother. God was glorified in that boy who couldn’t quite hold his new truck in his knotted up hand. Each of those lives have dignity and value. We are most profoundly reminded of that not when an Olympic athlete breaks a world record, but when we see the beauty, dignity, and worthof a young man misshapen by this broken world. We see it in the love of a mother’s eyes as she proudly shares her miracle boy with strangers from another country.
The true Christian answer to suffering is presence. God is with us through the pain, sustaining us and assuring us of His love…unconditional and relentless in spite of the fallen state of this present world. It’s the whisper that YOU matter, that there is something more than the life we cling to so desperately now. He reminds us of the glory that awaits us in the next life, where all of His beloved children will be healed and whole. There may be tears today (and there were many), but one day there will be no more weeping for those in the kingdom.
Yes, this life is precious. This is why we cling to it so tightly. This is why we grieve when any human life is lost, regardless of age, race, religion, or classification. And this is why we (Christians) desire for ALL to know Christ, to trust in Him and turn to Him. Eternity is much more important than anything this world (or the forces of evil) can throw at us.
God is good. All the time. Today He showed us, once again, how true this is.
One more thing before I go…if your view of Christianity doesn’t have room for “God is good all the time” or “God’s desire is for ALL to be with Him for eternity,” then you have a faulty understanding of Christianity and God. Please don’t let this tragic condition persist. I’m not even asking you to believe what I believe, I just want you to understand what I believe before disagreeing with me. I love to answer questions, and I love to talk about God.