As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. Genesis 50:20
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. James 1:2-3
If there is one thing I’ve learned from my travels and foreign ministry work, it is that an immigration office is one of the most unpleasant places on earth. One country in which I was on an extended stay required all visas to be renewed every 30th day. It soon became apparent to me that “on the 30th day” meant on the 30th day – not the 29th or the 28th. I was roundly chastised for having the audacity to believe I could renew a day early.
This became a major point of frustration one month as I was leaving for the villages on the 29th day for several weeks, and the only place to renew in the entire province was at immigration headquarters in the capital city. Reaching the villages required a 30-minute drive out of the city, another hour on dirt roads, and lastly, off-roading through the 6-foot high savannah grass for another 30 minutes. All this was done on a “blue-bus” – a human cargo vehicle with 3 or 4 to a seat, plenty of farm animals, and reckless drivers (not all, certainly, I became close friends with some who are fantastic drivers). Needless to say, it’s a great way to meet people while becoming a little too well acquainted at the same time.
This development with my visa stirred up bitterness and irritation in me. We had to call for a blue bus to drive out to our location on my first full day in the bush – a day meant for outreach. However, that morning, I was greeted with a surprise.
As I stepped outside from the small, mud house in which I was sleeping, my eyes perceived a strange sight: a crowd of people surrounding an ox-drawn cart were caravanning up the path toward us. As the distant cluster gradually came into full view, I looked on in bewilderment at this mysterious crowd. When they were about a football field’s length away the local pastor I was staying with, another team member, and I went out to meet them.
When we arrived, the crowd was eager to show us their precious cargo hidden under blankets in the cart. One woman pulled them back, revealing a man with a horrendous and grotesque wound running from his calf to his lower back. The skin had been eaten away, revealing bare, infected flesh. The stench of death hung over him.
This poor, unfortunate man had fallen onto a fire. For weeks, his family had tried to clean his wound with used rags and dirty water – the only resources available to them. To their horror, his wounds grew worse. Soon, he began to fade in and out of consciousness. His family knew we would be in the villages that day and were compelled to come for aid.
We were ill-equipped for an injury of this severity, however, all we had were alcohol swabs. For hours we scrubbed. Each of us took turns stretching out across his body to hold him down while the others worked. His agonizing cries of pain have remained with me for all the years since.
After several hours, we gave up – defeated, deflated, and weary. As we considered our options, but with little hope, a second surprising sight appeared. The blue-bus we called to carry me back into the city drove up. Suddenly, the realization of the events God had orchestrated dawned on me. The hospital was right down the road from the immigration office. This ordeal with my visa was not meant to cause grief or unnecessary frustration. It was ordained to save a man’s life.
So often, we trudge through our difficulties and tribulations and never stop to consider the bigger picture. What may be a trial, struggle, or suffering for us may be salvation for someone else. If we are to be imitators of Christ, then there is no better tool for God to use than suffering. And we can rejoice in this, because it means we are being conformed to the image of Christ.
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. Romans 8:29
We should take heart in knowing that none of the trials that come our way are experienced in vain. Rather, they are instruments for God’s use to further His redemptive work on the earth (Colossians 1:24). Rather than looking at our circumstances and difficulties, we should look up. They may be the means by which God brings others to salvation. Through his suffering, Christ overcame suffering and is able to bring it about for good. What a relief it is to know that we will face no tribulations which have not already been defeated by Christ.
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. John 16:33