by Grace Tazelaar
It's the season of Lent when we reflect on the suffering that Jesus experienced so we can have a relationship with a holy God. Suffering is not something most people freely choose, and yet Jesus chose to suffer out of his love for us.
Around the world, millions of people are suffering without choice. Some are born into poverty, or suffer chronic disease and pain, or experience indescribable evils of torture, rape, or sexual slavery.
It is easy to forget those who are suffering when we are healthy and have adequate food, clothes and homes. At times the amount of suffering in the world overwhelms us and the enormity of it paralyzes us from trying to do something about it. Yet when I am not feeling well, when a member of my family dies, when I suffer in some way, I want someone to do something about it. I cry out to God to take my suffering away. I want relief from suffering -- and I want it quickly.
The suffering taking place in the world doesn’t concern us until it affects us. We may be concerned about the suffering of others, but we really don’t want to suffer ourselves in order to alleviate that suffering. As we are gearing up for the Urbana 12 Missions Conference at the end of this year, I frequently encounter this paradox. Students are concerned about social justice and want to address the suffering in the world, but they are often reluctant to sacrifice their personal comfort and careers in order to bring the gospel and relief to those who are suffering.
The call to missions is often counter-cultural. God calls missionaries to live lives that advance his Kingdom rather than their careers. That may mean surrendering their personal desires for marriage and family in order to fully serve God. It may require giving up personal comforts and lifestyles so that others may realize small improvements in their daily lives. Contrary to popular teaching, becoming a follower of Jesus does not guarantee a life free from suffering. Each of us has been given a cross to bear and an opportunity to enter into the fellowship of the sufferings of Christ. As Paul said, “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10-11 TNIV).
Since 1946, the Urbana Student Missions Conferences have played an important role in calling missionaries to bring the Good News of Jesus to a suffering world. Recently I was talking with a missionary couple to the Philippines from my church and mentioned that I was working on the healthcare focus for Urbana 12. The husband said, “I went to Urbana 96 and Urbana 2000. Both were important in our decision to go into missions.” This is an often-repeated scenario across the globe as missionaries ask each other, “Which Urbana did you attend?” and proceed to compare notes on their experiences.
The challenges facing missions, particularly healthcare missions, continue to be daunting. God has given us marvelous technology, convenience in air travel, new communication tools and open doors for nurse educators in restricted-access countries. Yet the Lord still confounds us with his desire to use the mission endeavor and our partnership in it to bring about his Kingdom purposes. His call to sacrifice reminds us of the sacrifice he paid for us. His call to address suffering, whether in the lives of others or our own, reminds us of the suffering he endured on our behalf. And his defeat of the Evil One on the cross and assurance of eternal life compels us to share this Good News with others.