Christ’s message for the suffering church
Suffering is part of the Mennonite Brethren identity. Suffering has been part of our experience in the Congo. I know many people who cannot have two meals a day. I know many children who cannot go to school. Eighty percent of our people are jobless.
Suffering is part of our identity.
Five thoughts on suffering
First, there are many kinds of suffering Christians are going through around the world. We know those who have everything, but their hearts are hurting.
We know also those who are suffering persecution because of their faith. This is happening, for instance, in North Africa and India.
There are those who are suffering poverty because of their social or economic contexts. This is happening – especially in the Congo.
Everywhere people are suffering. They are suffering in various ways.
Second, no matter what kind of suffering we are going through, suffering is the Way. Suffering is not a way, but the way – that is, the way of the cross. Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, went through suffering. You remember on the cross that day when he cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).
The apostles went through that way. When we read Hebrews 11:36–38, we see how Christians suffered because of their faith. They were beaten, killed, imprisoned – all because of their faith. Our Anabaptist forebears experienced struggle, violence; they lost their lives. They were scattered throughout Europe because of suffering.
Third, no matter what kind of suffering we are going through, God is calling us to be faithful. In Revelation 2:8–11, we see a church suffering. However, Jesus is saying to that church, “I know your affliction. I know your poverty. Yet you have other things that you are going to suffer.”
Jesus’ recommendation is: remain faithful even to the point of death.
So, beloved, suffering is one of the marks of a true church. Why? Because we are moving to a better place. It is normal that we suffer as we long for that better place.
Fourth, I see many things happening in the Congo as people go through struggles. I will begin with negative things: pitfalls, our sins. Many people – including leaders – are struggling with matters of integrity: “How can I manage well what belongs to the church community, whereas my family has nothing to eat?” That’s why you sometimes see corruption, mismanagement, and fights in Africa. God forgive us.
Many people – including leaders – are lazy, thinking, “Maybe help will come from somewhere else,” and they are waiting, doing nothing. God have mercy upon us.
There are people – including leaders in the church – who are giving up, abandoning their faith.
Many people are trying to get out of the land, to go somewhere else.
Five positions of suffering
But I also see many positive things.
Dependence on God. When you don’t know what you are going to eat tomorrow, what can you do but pray? That’s why revival is taking place in various families and communities throughout Africa. As we lift our eyes, we see, as David said, where our help comes from. So we pray. And we pray.
Hope. In the midst of pain and suffering, we believe that there is a better place for us. One day we will be where there is no pain, no more suffering; and the Lord Jesus Christ is going to be with us, and he himself is going to wipe away our tears. This is our hope. Paul tells us to focus our eyes, to focus our minds, on heaven.
Commitment to serve the Lord. I know many people in God’s service who don’t even get a salary. Those who do receive less than $10. But I hear pastors saying, “I’m going to take care of Jesus’ sheep. Even though I’m not getting something from the church, I’m going to take care of Jesus’ sheep.”
Generosity. People will share the little that they have with others – even taking care of elders.
Experiencing God. We are learning many things about our God. First, we are learning that God is our comfort. The Holy Spirit is there to comfort us in our pain, in our suffering. Second, God is our provider. God provides. God sometimes provides miraculously. God acts justly in the right time. Third, God is faithful. We have experienced God’s faithfulness to us. And we are learning also that God is our peace. As the Lord Jesus told us in John 16:33, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” We can feel that peace in the midst of pain and suffering.
The same command
Finally, beloved, as Mennonite Brethren, suffering is part of our identity. That’s who we are. We cannot avoid it. And if we are going to follow Jesus, we cannot avoid suffering, which means our theology, our mission, our ministry must be focused on the cross. Let me suggest a few things:
For those who don’t have, like those in the Congo, I want you to know that Jesus’ words remain the same: Be faithful! Our temptation in Africa is to despair, to be sad, not practicing integrity. But we are to continue to pray, to persevere, to continue to work to improve our country’s conditions, and depend on the Lord. Even the poor can give.
For those who have, Jesus’ words are the same: Be faithful! Our temptation in North America is to ignore, to accumulate, or to build our own security, or give what we don’t need. Beloved, put your trust in God. Not in things. Not in possessions. Not in lots of money. Not in a big house. Those are gifts from God, but we must put our hope and trust in God.
And be content. Show hospitality. Show compassion. Invest for the kingdom.
My beloved, I thank God for you. You have done so many things for us. Thank you for giving us Jesus! He is our hope! He is our future! Despite our many sacrifices and pain, we have Jesus.
So let us be faithful as we face trials and suffering. Let us not forget what Paul said: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). Paul went through pain and suffering, but he kept his faith. Let us be faithful. Even in pain. Even in suffering.