Heartbreaking tragedies are everywhere – locally, nationally, and globally – and there is no way to avoid them. How should believers respond when life doesn’t make sense and the hurts are overwhelming? When we hear of a natural or man-made disaster in another country, we often pray that the church will step in and take the opportunity to witness, bringing the love of Christ to bear on the pains and problems. We may imagine missionaries eagerly engaging sobered skeptics who now look to them for answers. While this is sometimes the reality, Christians and missionaries also suffer when their people hurt, when helping someone bury child, or when a young widow is left destitute and pleads to know how the loving God they preach could allow this to happen.

Woes – We live in a fallen world

John 9:1-5 records a time when Jesus’ disciples asked Him “Why?” Jesus’ answer regarding why a man was born blind neither blames the man nor his parents. We live in a fallen world.

A few weeks ago I arrived in Costa Rica to lead a retreat conference for pastors. The camp director who had planned out every detail of the conference was there to receive us and proudly showed us around the camp. Sadly, we did not see her again because she learned during the night that her dad had died suddenly and she had to leave. We also learned that week of a devastating earthquake in Ecuador where we had served for years, and where our son and his family are missionaries now. Hundreds died, thousands were injured, and many times more were left homeless.

We traveled from Costa Rica to Ecuador to train pastors for a week. While there, a town related to our ministry suffered terrible flooding and mudslides, killing several, including two young sisters sleeping in the same crib. During the week of training, a 2-year-old daughter of one of our students died suddenly after two days of illness. Before the week was out, another man in the community was killed in a car wreck. The week following our training, Francisco Tamay, a dear brother and one of our recent graduates, was killed in a bus wreck. While this is not a typical week for most missionaries, it is not far removed from the experience of some – especially those in global hotspots of persecution, refugee crises, and warfare. 

Why does suffering come? For God’s glory

In the midst of tragedy, remember Jesus’ teaching that it came for a reason. The reason may not be one that you can discern from limited human perspective, but it’s for His glory – everything is (John 9:3). If He were not sovereign, then yes, we’d have reason to wring our hands – but He is. What His sovereignty means is that while earthquakes, the refugee crisis, and all the other heartaches mentioned earlier may grieve our hearts, and they most certainly grieve His too, but they were sent or allowed for a reason. We suffer such things in a fallen world, and though the world is not as it should be, each one comes for a reason, and for a season. God does not willingly afflict the children of men and our loving Father will not cause His child a needless tear.

When must we minister? Now is the time and the time is short

While we are here in this world, we must redeem the opportunities that come our way, and the “when” to do so is now because night is coming when no one may work (John 9:4). We must labor to relieve the widow, provide for the orphan, receive the refugee, feed the hungry, rescue the victim, and even seek redemption, reconciliation, and restoration for those who oppress them. The time to do this is now. Today’s the day.

Francisco’s sudden departure reminds me of the urgency of this truth. Time is so fleeting; it’s like a vapor. How much time do you have to delay full obedience? One day soon you will step from this life into that which is truly life. As you look over your shoulder, how thankful will you be for the way you invested the days, resources, education, and talents God gave you?

Where? In all the world

Where should you get involved? John Wesley said, “The world is my parish.” Others have similarly told me, “I do not sense any geographic boundaries on my missionary call, but like Paul I long to preach Christ where He has never been named.” While God often calls to specific places, I also like that some sense their call is to full, prompt obedience, no matter where.

Jim Elliot said, “Wherever you are, be all there. Live to the hilt every situation that you believe to be the will of God for you.” Where are you? What in the world are you doing? The rest of John 9 is especially helpful, so take a moment to read verses 24-38, and notice especially verse 25. Many have said, “Yes, I know that I should witness and spread the gospel, but I’m not prepared, I don’t have seminary, and I’m not a theologian. I may say something wrong.” Others in Bible college or seminary defend their lack of involvement with, “I’ll do something once I have all my education.” In Reaching & Teaching trips to train pastors and leaders we have found that as a general rule in places of biblical illiteracy, if you can teach adult Sunday School in your home church, you can help us train. Anyone who is a believer can evangelize. Notice that the blind man said, “All I know is that once I was blind but now I can see.” Every believer can do this, and it is one of the most powerful and effective witnessing tools.

Empty Seats – Is one of them yours?

I spend a lot of time in airports. Seeing people from all walks of life, I try to imagine why they’re traveling: businessmen going out or going home, students returning to school, young families on vacation, young moms with kids going to visit grandparents. Many of the planes are packed full, and flight attendants somehow make us all fit, but I have also seen some planes going out mostly empty. When flying to Africa during the Ebola scare only about 1/3 of the plane was occupied. People opt to stay home for lots of reasons.

These empty planes always make me wonder who could be on that plane, and who should be on that plane. Are seats to mission fields unfilled because of selfishness, heartaches, disappointments, or even the lack of a specific geographical call to go “there.” Jesus asked the formerly blind man in John 9:35, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” What about you, do you? Do you want to see others believe? Let’s go and tell what he has done for us. Let’s be about it today, because night is coming.

Dr. David Sills

Dr. David Sills is the founder and president of Reaching & Teaching International Ministries, a missions professor at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, speaker, and author.

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