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 (Manna 86: Go and Make Disciples of All Nations)
Overcoming Affliction for the Gospel
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FF Chong—London, UK

On the surface, pioneering work in Africa seems difficult: one is forced to live without creature comforts, handle numerous culture shocks, and live through weeks on just bare essentials. As a result, repeat visits in the field are rare. However, serving God in harsh conditions brings many spiritual blessings, which more than make up for the physical discomfort. The lessons learned under such circumstances are invaluable.

A common problem, when doing pioneering work in Africa, is coming into contact with illness and disease. Despite modern medical science, personal health and safety precautions, there is no such thing as being one hundred percent immune from disease. Sometimes, despite the worker’s utmost caution, God will use affliction to teach the worker. This testimony is about one such lesson I received from God during my service in Africa.

ILLNESS BEGINS IN KENYA

In 2002, I was assigned to minister in Kenya. The work was going smoothly until one afternoon when I was conducting water baptism. I suddenly noticed swellings on my left thigh, right foot, and other parts of my body; I also began to pick up a temperature. Initially, I thought I would sleep it off, hoping that some rest would ease the swelling. However, the pain in my thigh became so bad that I could neither walk nor sleep.

That night was indeed a sleepless one. I prayed throughout the night, sincerely asking God to have mercy on me. I was anxious for daybreak so that I could seek medical help. After consulting a local church worker, I was persuaded to see a doctor at a private hospital in Kisumu. When the doctor saw the swellings, he was shocked and asked me what I had done to myself. I did not know how to respond. In the end, I was given two antibiotic injections, and left the hospital feeling quite dejected at the doctor's perplexed reaction.

The swellings subsided and the day of my return to the United Kingdom (UK) arrived. Swellings were still visible on my face, and it took some time for them to completely disappear. Foolishly, I did not see a doctor when I arrived home. I thought that the disappearance of the swellings meant I was better and ready to continue God's work. At that point, I had no idea I had contracted a liver infection. My ignorance proved costly, and it severely impacted my subsequent trips to Kenya.

ILLNESS WORSENS ON RETURNING TO KENYA

The following year when I returned to Kenya, the infection that caused the swellings relapsed severely. A number of boils appeared around my waist and grew to the size of dove eggs. When burst, they seeped pus, and the pain was torturous. I struggled with basic movements and my sleep was badly affected. I debated internally whether I should return to the UK early to seek medical help.  However, part of me felt I must rely on God and continue as planned. I was quite torn in deciding the best course of action: my body cried out for help, yet my mind was uncertain. To make matters worse, the next location on our itinerary was Sigulu Island, located in the middle of Lake Victoria in Ugandan territory, East Africa. This was a place so remote that basic necessities do not exist: there were no toilets or washrooms. Knowing what I would face, my desire to leave only grew stronger.

The night before our departure, I prayed to God to help me make a decision. To my surprise, prayer empowered my will to continue God's work. My fears were driven away and I was no longer unsettled: I was determined to continue as planned. We remained at Sigulu Island for four days, walking distances of up to five kilometers or more each day. During this time, God truly demonstrated His mercy and power on me whilst in this impoverished environment.

Before this particular trip, my wife had prepared a small first aid kit for me. To ensure no further infections, I carefully applied what was in the kit to the boils and affected areas. At the end of each day, I would sterilize some water for my shower, and change the dressings after showering. Each time I did this, I saw thick pus and blood clots. However, I noticed the boils reducing in size. The walking seemed to help. And by the last day, the boils had virtually disappeared. I still experienced twinges of pain but, by the grace of God, I was able to complete the trip without further complications. We even managed to visit some other places of worship to cater to the spiritual needs of the brethren there.

FINALLY HEALED

Despite the healing of my skin, the liver infection persisted. More boils developed over the months after my return to the UK, but they were smaller than before. I was referred to the Royal Free Hospital in London for treatment and a liver biopsy was performed. This left me exhausted and in excruciating pain. During the course of my treatment, I was diagnosed with a fatty liver, non-alcohol related—a condition that required constant monitoring and further examination by the consultant. This involved yearly scans and blood tests to ensure no relapses occurred. After three years of careful monitoring and diet control, the doctors were happy with my progress and I was fully discharged.

DO NOT TAKE GOD'S WORK LIGHTLY

This experience left enduring reminders about our appreciation of God’s presence and our attitude to God’s work. We must not be nonchalant when taking up church assignments. Although the church may assign you to carry out a task, it is God who gives the ultimate green light on any project. I would not have been able to serve the Lord in Africa had He not given me strength, protection and, most importantly, life. Through my experiences, I have come to know God's work as living and true, rather than as just a concept preached from the pulpit. Furthermore, we must do all our work for God with a heart of thanksgiving and humility. There are many times when many of us could easily have perished had it not been for God's direct intervention in times of danger.

AFFLICTION PRODUCES A POSITIVE EFFECT

When serving God, not everything will go smoothly and easily; God allows afflictions to blight us when we work for Him. His intentions are clear: He makes all things work for the good of His children (Rom 8:28). With this in mind, affliction can be positive for our spiritual lives. I learned to trust in God despite my physical pain. I still remember how I prayed throughout that night of great agony and, in the process, received a heart of peace in the face of uncertainty. I managed to find strength only in the Lord. With this, I could then continue with the work until the very end.

Secondly, suffering can put us in the right frame of mind when serving God. It is not about doing what we want to do for God; rather, it is about what God wants us to do for Him, regardless of what state we find ourselves in. Some may judge my persistence in going to the poverty-stricken island despite my severe infection as reckless, foolish and unwise. I did not make that decision in a moment of extreme impulsiveness and madness. I had gone ahead because, after deep and earnest prayer, I was filled with a strong conviction to complete God's will.

Thirdly, suffering can produce genuine faith. When we exhibit faith in difficult circumstances, we see that the power of God manifests itself to achieve His will. Had I not been given faith in the first place to go to the island, I would not have been able to evangelize there. The joy and peace I had within me was boundless because I knew that God was there to help me face this ordeal. Furthermore, God gave me strength, endurance and wisdom to preach the gospel; I really thank God from the bottom of my heart.

Fourthly, affliction shapes us for the better. It makes us think about our relationship with God. During times of trouble, we reflect and desire to be closer to the Lord. The sense of uncertainty or loss drives us to make extra efforts to right the wrongs in our relationship with God. During the two years of my infection, whilst serving in Africa, I often took time to reflect over my work for God, my life, my inner being, and my faith. Although I was unwell, I found myself with time, energy and willingness to search deeply into my heart. It dawned on me that God is truly the sustainer of my servitude. Without Him, I would be a mere shell without the substance of a soul. I was only able to survive the trip because He mercifully chose to sustain me—thank God! I may not have experienced this affliction, and subsequent closeness to God, had I only served in comfortable environments. Complacency would have robbed me of the chance to learn these invaluable lessons.

Finally, affliction teaches us to be more understanding and empathetic towards others who are suffering. The perennially healthy can never envision the amount of endurance needed to fight an illness. Some illnesses are stubborn and recurrent in nature—a torment to the sufferer. Even though what I went through was not too severe, it has given me a clearer idea of how distressing and disruptive illness can be in a person's life. For those who suffer, assistance, comfort and encouragement from brothers and sisters are essential in uplifting the spiritual wellbeing of the sufferer. As such, the church must always be ready and willing to provide this support in times of need.

CONCLUSION: COUNT IT ALL JOY

It is understandable, given our human nature, to want to serve in comfortable and easy environments. However, when serving in a pioneering area, one must face the reality that hygiene levels and medical care may not be what we are used to, especially for those living in developed countries. Of course, if the church sends us to these areas, we must responsibly ensure we take precautions to prevent illness. Doing otherwise would be foolish and constitutes testing God, which is wrong. Yet, illnesses do happen and workers may fall ill when ministering in a pioneering area. If this happens to us, be positive, knowing that affliction brings about the fullness of God's mercy, grace, strength and power. In whatever circumstances, let our illness be a positive catalyst in our relationship with God, helping us draw ever closer to Him as we come before Him with humble, prayerful and grateful hearts.

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Author: FF Chong
Publisher: True Jesus Church
Date: 09/28/2018
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