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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.