I am borrowing the above C.S. Lewis book title for this reflection because it aptly describes what I want to share with you today. Pain is a problem because it frequently shows up wrapped in mystery. “How can a loving God allow innocent people to suffer?” “Why do bad things happen to good people?” In our struggle to understand our own pain, we frequently try to conceal it behind a fake smile, especially when it comes to mental pain. It’s easier to say, “My back is hurting” than to say, “My heart is broken.”
For the most part, those of us living in the western world view pain and suffering as a nuisance to be either denied, or eliminated as quickly as possible. In reality, pain and suffering are part of life that cannot be avoided. How we handle it however, makes all the difference in the world, and this leads me to a hope-filled revelation.
I’ve just returned from a ten-day trip to Lebanon and Greece where we visited refugee communities, and met with those serving them. My team of eight leaders from the U.S. heard stories and witnessed how victims of the largest humanitarian crisis of our day are coping. Words fail to describe the depth of trauma that these innocent refugees have endured, and the overwhelming burden carried by sacrificial leaders committed to serving them. Practically everyone we talked to had witnessed a member of their family beheaded or shot during the crisis. Yet, in the face of tragic loss, we noticed that Middle Easterners have a different perspective on suffering. They see it as a part of life that often opens the door to a better reality. Time and time again, we heard Muslim refugees confess, “I am happy for the war, because I found Jesus through my suffering. If you suffer, it’s a good thing because it brings you closer to Jesus.”
We learned that during the terrifying devastation of the war, refugees fled - often without shoes, and just the clothes on their back. In their desperation, they cried out to God for his intervention only to discover that their Muslim god was distant and silent. Instead, through dreams, visions, or the witness of a loving Christian, they discovered that Jesus was the One who heard and responded to their cry.
Middle Easterners share the same culture as Jesus, and when they become His followers, they understand aspects of His life more clearly than we do in the west. Suffering is one of them. The longing of most of the refugees we talked to is to one day return to their country and share with their own people the hope they’ve found in Jesus. When we inquired about the risk involved to do this, they casually replied, “If we get caught, we will die. But we are not worried about that at all. We are either in this body or in God’s kingdom. We having nothing to lose.” No fear, no self-pity, just a confident faith in the resurrection life and power of our Lord. In John 16:33 Jesus comforts us with the promise, “….in the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
Currently, my team and I are compiling a report showing the opportunities available to partner with organizations serving the refugee communities in Lebanon and Greece. Our goal is to build a network of churches and individuals who will commit to work together to bring encouragement and support to this movement. I would love to explore how that might look for you or your church. Together we can ensure that these precious people are given the tools to rebuild their lives, and to take the gospel back to their own people. Please don’t hesitate to contact me – firstname.lastname@example.org or call 425-770-3793.
Your friend and partner,
The season of Lent marks a time when Jesus followers, from around the world, dedicate extra time for reflection and prayer in preparation for Easter. Lent offers us an opportunity to invite the Holy Spirit to reveal areas in our life where repentance, and a change of heart is needed.
For me, this is proving to be very transformative. In my time of reflection, I’ve been meditating on John’s Gospel, chapter four, where Jesus encounters the woman at Jacob’s well found in Sychar, a town in Samaria. Jesus is tired and thirsty from the journey. He decides to rest a while by the well, while the disciples scurry off to the village in search of food. It is about the 6th hour (approximately noon) when, in the heat of the day, a Samaritan woman approaches the well to draw water. Presumably, this woman woke up that morning expecting the day to be no different than any other. But today a surprise awaits her. The Lord of the universe meets her at the well and lovingly challenges her paradigm about her identity. He offers her living water that will quench the deepest longings of her heart. The woman is challenged, and her life reaches a point of no return. No longer can she go back to her predictable past life. Her encounter with Jesus causes her self-image to change irrevocably.
As I pondered this story, I recognized that our life situations also represent our well where we meet Jesus daily. Through these encounters, Jesus may invite us to sacrifice something that is dear to us – our time, food, or maybe an article of sentimental value. Other times, this awakening can also happen in an unexpected moment as in the loss of a loved one, an illness, the challenge of a new career, the loss of a job, or a marital crisis. Such situations may cause us to question our current identity, or our perception of life and the way we approach God. Like the woman at the well, we may find ourselves in an unfamiliar place where we are called to rethink the very paradigm from which we live life.
I Corinthians 13:12 reminds us that “we all, with unveiled faces beholding as in a mirror, the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” This is the message of Lent; an invitation to detach from old ways, and to embrace the life and freedom Jesus died to give us.
Priest/psychologist, Adrean Van Kaam penned a short prayer that echoes this sentiment.
“Grant us Lord, the grace of sweet upheaval to this dense and dreary life. Let me meet You at the well of daily happenings, as once the woman did. Create a new heart in me that I may not return blindly to all that used to be."
On April 28th, I’m scheduled to travel to Greece and Lebanon to visit work among refugees. I’ll be joined by a team of eight to ten leaders representing various churches. Together we will visit refugee camps, business development projects, medical and dental programs, shelters for orphans and unaccompanied minors, and discipleship training programs for new believers. We will be seeking to develop a long-term partnership with organizations who are tirelessly serving the never-ending needs of refugees from Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and Iran. One church has already made a ten-year commitment to support work among refugees.
God continues to visit these precious people, who rely solely on His grace and mercy expressed through the kindness of those serving them. Facing overwhelming challenges, the refugees have also reached a place of no return. Yet, in the midst of their crises, they are discovering the saving grace of Jesus. Please remember them in your prayers, and for our team, as we all work together to see the Good News of Jesus become a reality in the refugee communities in Europe, the Middle East, and in our own nation.
Your friend and partner,