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Suffering and God’s lessons

Here is a deeply personal account of how CMS missionary Naomi Rubie (working with Shane in Ethiopia) has come to a peace about her suffering and the suffering of those around.

There is an old saying that two things are inevitable in this world—death and taxes. I’d add one more: suffering. The Bible tells us we will suffer, and that this is because we live in a fallen world. But it is also because God himself sends suffering to us for our own good, and so that his glory may be revealed in us. As followers of Jesus we carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that his life may be revealed in us (2 Corinthians 4:10).
Here in Ethiopia we have daily experienced suffering in our personal lives, and in the lives of those we live amongst. I believe that can be said for all of us, however it seems more raw and evident here because it is so visible and primitive. This daily experience doesn’t make it easier. There is nothing fun, enjoyable or humorous about suffering. There is nothing stoic or admirable about us or our attitude in such times, and we don’t go out of our way looking for or desiring it. But I would say we’ve come to a peace about it. I’ll try to explain why.

A personal account

I’ll begin firstly with ourselves and physical suffering. Now I know there are so many others who will have suffered more than us. That’s the thing about suffering – there are always others worse off than yourself! Despite this, five of the six of our family here have had hospital visits here for broken bones, kidney issues, and infections. We all have constant stomach issues. Thankfully in a country where health care is basic, God has faithfully provided for us. Other sicknesses come through living in community, in a compound, and working with children. We look to medical care for relief and answers for this physical suffering, joined with prayer and petition. We have taught our children Romans 5, that suffering produces perseverance and character, and Romans 8:35 -37, that nothing can separate us from the love of God. We believe our afflictions are momentary, and are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all (2 Corinthians 4:17).

A couple of years ago I fell into suffering of a different sort. It was probably from fatigue, and a desire to have all the answers. This experience of emotional and mental suffering was directly from God, given to teach me “you are not God”! I had been trying to work things out in my own strength. God taught me not only do I not have to work (just rest in him) but that I can only do things in his strength. Time and again he brought Scripture and healing, and promises that I am just seeing come to fruition now. It taught me to let go of the control I wanted so badly (and still do – it’s a lesson I’m only slowly learning!) It was a suffering I needed to test my faith, bring perseverance and increase my maturity (James 1:2-4). I learned lessons during this time that I couldn’t learn in any other way. Shane too experienced this through times of burnout.

The suffering of others

Another form of suffering felt constantly here is bearing one another’s burdens. Christ asks us to do this in Galatians 6:2. The Ethiopian people seem to have lives of suffering beyond what I’d ever imagined. Daily outside our compound walls, we are faced with homeless people (predominantly children and youth) the blind, lame, mentally ill, and poor. At best our heart cries for them, at worst we are indifferent or ashamedly annoyed by their constant nagging presence. Their colossal needs are overwhelming and bring a suffering of a different kind for a tender heart. I’ve learnt I need to trust God to put people in my path that he wants me to help, and to pray through all requests. I’ve been privileged to make dear friends, and to carry their burdens is an honour.

The comfort God offers

God in his word offers hope to those suffering, through Jesus. Sometimes in the midst of suffering, one has to hope, and stand on the promises of Jesus, for the person suffering – they are not in a position to do it for themselves. The greatest verse for this is Revelation 21:4 “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away, and he who was seated on the throne said ‘Behold, I am making all things new’.” Also, Romans 8:18 “Our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us”, and James 1:12 “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised.”

Living here has taught me how important it is to live with ‘heaven in our eyes’. Fellow Ethiopian believers modelled to me how to live with eyes fixed on Jesus and the world to come. They know this world will soon pass away. They’ve taught me so much in their depth and richness of suffering and life. For those who do not yet know the love of God in Christ Jesus, it makes it all the more important that we meet them in their place of suffering and share with them the hope of glory awaiting them.

1 Peter 5:10 “And the God of all grace who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen”

CARE

Naomi suggests that one of the best ways to care for the needs of missionaries and those in their location is to continue to pray for them, even if there is no other way to supply their needs. And, says Naomi, “a message of encouragement never goes astray.”

Find out more about what the Rubies are doing in Ethiopia at this link. https://www.cms.org.au/2018/07/caring-students-mind-body-spirit/