I leave next week for India with Drew and Aaron. I was asked to prepare a teaching on the Theology of Suffering to share with the leaders there. I wanted you to have it too as a way to remember us in prayer. This is the first of 4 posts on what I have prepared.
Thirty years ago, as I was walking in the city center of Nairobi with my wife Connie and another couple, two men came up behind me and snatched my bag off my arm. They ran to a vehicle waiting for them in the street. We ran after them and beat on the car before it drove away. Though I reported the matter to police and gave them the registration number of the car, they were never caught.
We lost cash, checks, passport and credit cards. Shortly thereafter, four checks of ours that the thieves wrote arrived at our USA bank. The bank refused to honor them as I had alerted the bank to the theft. However, the person who had been paid by these thieves came after me with a threat to take me to the international police. I informed him I was a victim of robbery, losing these checks, and the people he was dealing with were impersonating me.
This happened over several months’ time period as checks and letters went through the postal mail in those days. I never met my accuser, and he never pursued me once he realized he had been tricked. But during those months, I had my days of wondering if he would find me. It was my first time as the victim of a crime, and though I wasn’t hurt, it shook my sense of safety.
We had several “victim” experiences during our 26 years in East Africa. Over time, they wore me down. They wore down my wife. Though they didn’t defeat us, and we very much enjoyed our long season of life there, we learned that there is a cost in living out our faith in Jesus. Sometimes the cost is simply because of the hard realities of life in this world. But other times, the cost is tied directly to our obedience to Christ.
2 Timothy 3:12 says, “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.”
Suffering happens to everybody, but as I said sometimes that suffering is because we follow Jesus. For example, had we not followed the call to leave the USA and gone to Kenya to teach God’s Word…
- we would not have been robbed in Nairobi
- we would not have come down with malaria and ended up in the hospital
- I would not have been threatened with court three times in one year
- I would not have been surrounded by 70 Maasai men with weapons who were against me handing over of property to the local church
- We would not have had money stolen from our bank account by a fake wire transfer, six years after our robbery
- We would not have been robbed in year nine, this time in our home at night by a gang of men with knives and clubs threatening us. I was injured by one of them, my wife and children were threatened and traumatized, and again we lost a lot of money.
The months that followed the armed robbery in our home were the worst in our 26 years there.
- We lost the home we had built and moved several hours away into Nairobi
- Our children had to adjust to a radically new way of life in a big city, while processing the trauma of violent men in our home
- My wife lost the opportunity to use her nursing skills in a clinic we were just ready to open
- We lost daily life with all our Maasai friends
- We lost the beauty of living in the countryside and around African wildlife
- We lost the reason we had originally moved to East Africa
We definitely went through a time of suffering as we accepted our losses and learned what these new changes would mean living in Nairobi.
Had we never left the USA, none of these things would have happened to us in a foreign land. Yet, these times of suffering became the opening for us to understand God in a new way. It became a way for us to relate to our African friends, many who had been through similar hard experiences.
The scriptures took on added depth for me, as my wife and I chose to stay in East Africa and have the community of believers minister to us. It took time, but we were able to heal and became stronger from these experiences.
Here are some scriptures that made my heart strong during those months:
Give us aid against the enemy, for the help of man is worthless. With God we will gain the victory, and he will trample down our enemies. (Ps 60:11-12)
From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe. I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings. For you have heard my vows, o God; you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name. (Ps 61:2-5)
Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge.Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge. (Ps 62:5-8)
On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night. (Ps 63:6)
Hide me from the conspiracy of the wicked, from that noisy crowd of evildoers. They sharpen their tongues like swords and aim their words like deadly arrows. They shoot from ambush at the innocent man; they shoot at him suddenly without fear…. But God will shoot them with arrows; suddenly they will be struck down. He will turn their own tongues against them and bring them to ruin; all who see them will shake their heads in scorn. All mankind will fear; they will proclaim the works of God and ponder what he has done. Let the righteous rejoice in the Lord and take refuge in him; let all the upright in heart praise him! (Ps 64:2-4, 7-10)
Next week I will share how suffering drew us to Jesus in the processing of our pain.