I will never forget the cool morning air as it hit my face standing in a packed field outside a feeding station in Ethiopia. The famine had already claimed thousands of lives. The people crushed around me would be the next victims of starvation unless help came in the next few hours. People were not talking. A silence of death hung heavy.
As I walked along with medical personnel into the crowd, people began to whisper and quietly tell their desperate story of why they needed help immediately. The reason for the whisper was to save calories, yes, to preserve their lives a few more hours. I later learned that mothers had buried several of their children on the way to the feeding station and some had even died at the gate of sheer hunger and exhaustion. This was suffering beyond comprehension to me.
In daily news, we are made aware in graphic pictures of suffering. It is difficult to grasp the pain of war, rape, murder on our streets, sickness that surrounds us. If we are honest, we will admit a fear of identifying too closely with the suffering. We fear experiencing the pain ourselves. As a result we as a culture are driven to seek happiness at all costs. In a recent article (April 7, 2014) in the New York Times, David Brooks writes, “We are a culture awash in talk about happiness. In one three-month period last year more than 1,000 books were released on Amazon on that subject.”
In a culture seeking only fleeting happiness, Christianity must be counter-cultural and take suffering seriously.
Jesus entered into the suffering with people. He wept with Mary and Martha at the death of their brother.
Paul tells the church in Corinth,"If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored every part rejoices with it" (1 Corinthians 12:26). Also to the Romans he writes, "Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn" (Romans 12:15).
A Christian is never an escapist. We enter into suffering with people, bringing a healing presence for people who feel alone in their pain.
I will never forget the words of an old woman I met in a refugee camp who must have been over 80. After being carried by her family members escaping the atrocities of the rebel war in Sierra Leone, Africa, she told us: "Thank you for coming, I thought we had been forgotten."
There are missions of people calling to us, saying, "We are suffering . . . Have we been forgotten?"
Join me in the best Christian response: “We will enter into your suffering and there we will find the Resurrection of Christ with you."