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In this conversation, Daniel Punnose, vice president of GFA, shares about the importance of suffering in a Christian’s life.
If I’m a Christian and I’m doing my best to follow the Lord, why do I experience difficulties and suffering?
There’s a video I watched once that’s about growing herbs. It said that if you’re going to grow a plant indoors then you occasionally need to brush your hand across the top of the plants as they grow to mimic the wind. Pushing against it in that way strengthens the roots. You see, the wind is always moving stuff around, loosening things up, which makes plants dig their roots deeper into the ground for stability.
When I think about our journey with the Lord over the many years and all the things God allows to happen in our lives, it’s like He’s brushing His hand across the top of us to strengthen our roots, our foundation in Him, our dependence in Him. If God did not allow us to go through certain trials or difficulties or whatever challenges in our lives, we would always remain the same, we would always be at the same level of maturity.
We find in Scripture that the men and women whom we admire a lot—the ones God used to do great and significant things for the kingdom—were also the ones God allowed to go through challenges so their roots would go down deep. In a sense, He kind of brushed them along the top a little bit.
The Lord has allowed us to peek into the hidden lives of these men and women in Scripture—with all their failings and struggles—so they would be an encouragement to us and our examples.
The Christian life is never without its difficulties and sufferings. We very clearly see that throughout Scripture. And as God allows us to go through some challenges in our lives, we have to fully trust Him and believe God’s purposes for it are good.
Do you have an example of one of these men or women whom the Lord allowed to go through suffering?
Let’s look at Queen Esther. The account of her life is one of my favorites. We see she was put in a tough spot. Her people were in danger of being wiped out by a spiteful man, and her uncle—who had raised her as his own daughter—was encouraging her to risk her life for her people.
Queen Esther was a little afraid. If she went to the king uncalled for, she could die. If she did not, then her people would die—and she along with them. Then her uncle spoke these words to her: “Do not think in your heart that you will escape in the king’s palace any more than all the other Jews. For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13–14)
One of the things that is so powerful about what Mordecai said is this: God is absolutely faithful, and He has put you into that position right now for this purpose. You have been given something very difficult to do. It is not a simple task. If you take it, you have this incredible honor to be used by God to do something unbelievable. If you don’t, God will raise up someone else, and you would have missed your chance to be used by God in such a significant way.
You see, Queen Esther lived in the king’s palace and enjoyed the privileges of royalty, but she still faced difficulties and suffering that could have ended in her death or the death of an entire nation. She embraced the position and circumstances she was in as God’s will—and at the end of that season of uncertainty, she and her people celebrated their freedom.
Like Esther, whenever we live for the Lord, there are great privileges and incredible things we get to see God doing. At the same time, we have the privilege, and I call it a privilege, to be able to enter into the suffering of Christ a little bit.
How can I “enter into” the suffering of Christ?
Sometimes we think Jesus’ suffering was only on the cross, but the true test of suffering for Him was not on the cross. Christ’s entire life was filled with suffering, and it culminated in the garden of Gethsemane. There in the garden, He wrestled with this aspect of facing death for the first time, of taking the sin of the world upon Himself. He prayed, “O my Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will but as You will” (Matthew 26:39). That was not a simple prayer for Jesus. And not only does He pray once, He prays three times the same prayer. This was intense suffering that He experienced. Yet He embraced His suffering “for the joy that was set before Him” (Hebrews 12:2).
Have you ever struggled with God for something so much that you find yourself praying the same thing over and over again? Jesus did. Serving God is a privilege and a blessing, but the suffering we embrace is also a blessing because there is no other way to be refined into the image of Christ. We cannot become more like Christ through mere intellect; it doesn’t work that way. Like Christ, we can embrace the challenges and difficulties, trusting that the Lord’s will in it is better than we can imagine—and we become changed by His power, not our own willpower.
If we think about believers around the world who are living in heavily persecuted areas, how do they trust God for their day-to-day lives? How do they trust God for their kids, especially when they are sending them to schools where they are being indoctrinated every single day to a set of beliefs contrary to their own? How do they trust God for their husbands, not knowing if they are going to see them again because they could be killed? How do they trust God for their own lives as they travel to an underground church meeting, not knowing if they are going to come back or not? Somehow, they have such joy and excitement in being able to embrace a little bit of suffering for the Lord.
The point is: What is the attitude within our hearts as we go through suffering? It’s not OK to wallow in our struggles, but it is OK to struggle—like Jesus and Esther did.
Our mindset should be: Yes, Christians go through bad things, really really bad things, sometimes, but we trust God through it, knowing He is in control. If that’s our mindset, it will actually help us when bad things happen.
How can I maintain a proper mindset when going through difficulties and suffering?
The journey, which at times can seem chaotic, God brings us on makes life exciting. Unfortunately, including myself, it is difficult for us to see it from that point of view.
But we have Scripture that reminds us often of the joys of belonging to Christ and living in His love.
We have one another to offer encouragement in times of suffering and difficulties. We should remember that the sufferings we experience aren’t meant to be kept to ourselves. The Lord wants our lives—all of it, not just the “good stuff”—to become examples and encouragements to others.
We have the Holy Spirit working in our lives, consistently pointing our hearts and our minds and everything else towards Christ.
We have the example of Christ Himself who has gone before us! “Though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered” (Hebrews 5:8).
We have so much that God has given to us. We have more than we can ever imagine, and the secret James tells us is to give thanks (see James 1:2). When we don’t know what to do, give thanks. That’s it. When you don’t know what to do, give Him praise, and your heart will automatically be fixed on the Lord.
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USA – More than 100 people from Wills Point, Texas, gathered on GFA’s campus on June 24 to participate in a 5K run to help provide needed school supplies for local students.
Russell Memorial Methodist Church, a local church, organized the Supply Run that GFA hosted. The Supply Run is just one of several regular events Russell Memorial organizes to help build the community.
“The love of Christ compels us to do these things,” said Pastor Cartwright, senior pastor of Russell Memorial. “When we bless the schools, you’re going to bless the children who go there. When you bless the children, you’re going to bless the families. Bless the families, you’re going to bless the community.”
Along the route for the Supply Run, participants encountered GFA staff manning water tables or cheering them on as they ran or walked. Finding ways to provide access for education is a priority for GFA, whose Bridge of Hope child sponsorship program helps more than 80,000 impoverished children in Asia.
Dr. K.P. Yohannan, founder and director of GFA, participated in the Supply Run.
“I’m so proud to be part of a community like Wills Point that’s taking the initiative to help these kids,” Yohannan said. “I’m especially grateful for Pastor Cartwright for making this happen. This is the best investment we can make in the future of the community, and I wish we can do even more.”
Registration fees from the Supply Run helped fund the Back to School Fair, which the Wills Point ISD puts together every year. The Fair provides students who fall into the low socioeconomic level with a bag full of supplies that will get them ready for their first day of school.
ASIA – On March 18, around 21 men and women living in a home for the elderly received a new set of clothes, buckets and a one-time meal at an event hosted by GFA-supported workers.
Pastor Hammad had visited this home for the elderly once before. It was during that time that he saw how the men and women were neglected by the ones they loved, and his heart became burdened for them. He prayed for them and brought their situation to his leaders. Together they organized a gift-distribution event to bless the men and women.
A leader of the area was an honored guest at the event.
“[The church] is concerned about helpless people like you,” she told those attending. “They are actively involved in the service to the poor and needy people in the society. Don’t be discouraged; this church will do its best to make your life better.”
After the event, the men and women were shown the love of Christ as Pastor Hammad and other GFA-supported workers presented them with food and their gifts.
Mangai, a recipient, expressed her thankfulness in receiving a new dress.
“For a long time I have not worn a good sari like this,” she said. “I am so glad to receive this sari.”
GFA-supported workers minister to the least of the least within their societies. They see the needs around them and find ways to help alleviate people’s poverty and burdens, while showing them the overflowing love of Jesus.
SRI LANKA – On July 13, Dr. K.P. Yohannan, founder of GFA, visited flood-stricken Sri Lanka to deliver supplies to families still suffering from the floods and landslides that took place in June. He and other GFA-supported workers collaborated with religious leaders from a Buddhist monastery to encourage the flood survivors and meet their immediate needs.
“We welcome the opportunity to work with anyone and everyone who wants to help the poor and needy,” Yohannan said. “When disaster strikes, as it has in Sri Lanka, what matters most is for everyone to come together and try to help.
A total of 250 people received dry ration kits containing essential foods and other materials that can sustain them while they seek to rebuild their lives.
“In all these situations,” Yohannan said, “there was one question the local people kept asking us: ‘Why are we doing this?’ Our answer always remains the same: It is because of the love of Christ.”
The Buddhist leader of the monastery expressed his gratitude for the aid.
“This is the first time a Christian religious leader has come [here],” he said. “[They have] helped the really needy people of our village who greatly suffered due to the flood crisis in this area. This shows that there is no division of race, caste or religion, and everyone can join together as one to help.”
Learn more about the Sri Lanka flooding and the immediate relief brought by GFA-supported workers »
For Nuveena, life was about parties, pleasures and pleasing herself. Though she was a wife and a mother of three, Nuveena lived for her own desires, neglecting her family for the excitement of shopping and fun-loving friends. That is, until she read the Word of God.
Nuveena had been brought up in a traditional religion of her country, worshiping like those around her. She even experimented with worshiping other gods with her friends. But she found no true peace. At night, bad dreams would haunt Nuveena, and she would scream with fear. However, she was determined not to let these fears affect her fun.
During the daytime, Nuveena would waste her husband’s hard-earned money, shopping with friends and feeding her children with the extravagant hotel food she brought home. Nuveena’s husband, Chandana, tried to encourage her in her family duties, but Nuveena would not listen.
God, however, knew how to break into Nuveena’s stubborn heart. One day, she met a GFA-supported pastor. As they talked, her heart began to break and tears fell from her eyes. Suddenly she could see the life she had chosen to live was hurting both herself and her family. Eagerly, Nuveena took a Bible.
Nuveena found light flooding into her life through the Book she had been given. Day and night, Nuveena read hungrily. She read the accounts of Jesus and studied His miracles—and her heart began to change. She began to fellowship with believers and to spend time in God’s presence. Over time, she decided to stop living for herself and to live for the Lord.
Nowadays, life in Nuveena’s household is very different. You will find Nuveena praising God as she cooks, washes and does household chores. She loves to thank God as she serves her family and cares for her children. Her husband, Chandana, has also come to love the Jesus who has changed Nuveena’s life, and their children are also learning from God’s Word.
Nuveena’s eyes fill with tears when she thinks about her past.
“I never listened to my husband or anyone,” she said. “I always did what was right to me. But after I came to know my loving Jesus, I left my sinful life. Now I am a good mother to my children. … I cook with my own hands and feed them. Now I am a good wife to my husband. My life is joyful with my family.”
God is sending out His Word to the nations, and many who have never heard of Him are discovering the beauty and glory of our Lord. God broke Nuveena’s heart as He opened her eyes to see the life she had been living. His Word made it possible for her to know the Lord who beckoned to her and created her for a higher calling—to be His and not the world’s.
“So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.”
“It’s not safe to send our people, our children, our wives or our daughters to the tea garden at night to use the toilet. Sometimes leopards, snakes and leaches . . . are there. It is not practical to go [out in the] open [to use the] toilet,” said Iniyavan, a tea estate laborer living with his wife and children in employee housing.
Iniyavan’s house was small, having only a kitchen and two bedrooms. There was no bathroom in the home, so he, his wife and his daughters were forced to use the fields as their restroom before dawn or after dusk to avoid the humiliation of being seen in broad daylight. But the cover of night also posed many risks, especially when wild animals, snakes and leeches lived in the fields that Iniyavan and hundreds of other laborers called their toilet.
Iniyavan made only 2,400 rupees a month, which was equivalent to about $37(USD) a month. This barely supported himself and his family of eight, so the prospect of saving enough money to construct a toilet so his family didn’t have to face danger was not in his immediate plans.
Like Iniyavan, 869 million people worldwide practice open defecation.1 According to WHO/UNICEF, “Around 60 percent of the global population—4.5 billion people—either have no toilet at home or one that doesn’t safely manage excreta.” For women, having no proper toilet facility could mean risking assault as they go out into an open field in the dark. Then there’s the risk of disease as families continually return to communal waste grounds.
GFA-supported Compassion Services teams construct toilets, also known as sanitation facilities, for people who, like Iniyavan, do not have the means to do so on their own. In 2016, GFA helped construct 10,512 toilets. Thanks to these acts of compassion, Iniyavan’s family and thousands more no longer face the potential dangers of wildlife, the risk of contracting diseases, or the humiliation of being seen during a private moment.
“Now, since I have this toilet built in my house, I don’t have to worry. My family and I don’t have to go to the tea garden for toilet, and it is very safe here,” Iniyavan said. “I am very . . . grateful to all those who donated the money, who thought about us and gave us all the facilities. Of course, my words are not enough to say thank you because you have expressed your love so much.”
1 “World Toilet Day 2017: Where Does Our Poo Go?” Factsheet, worldtoiletday.info
Sean, GFA staff member, shares about meeting a young brother in Christ who sacrificed much to serve the Lord.
A few years ago I visited a Bible college in Asia. While I was there, a first-year student shared his testimony with us through a translator. I will never forget what he said.
His family worshiped idols, gods and goddesses, but when he was 13, someone invited him to church, and he began attending regularly. His parents warned him not to go; this was not their family’s faith! But he didn’t stop. He found such peace in the Word and worship that he could not stay away.
His parents eventually had enough. They harassed him and beat him until he stopped going. But still, he couldn’t stay away for long. After a while, he secretly began attending again. One Sunday, the pastor shared about confessing sin. This young man cried, confessed his sins and decided he would spend the rest of his life worshiping Jesus as his Lord and Saviour! He also discovered a desire to share God’s Word with others.
Because of his new faith in Christ, his parents were furious. He begged and pleaded with them not to throw him out, but they did anyway. After sharing what had happened with his pastor, his pastor encouraged him to go to Bible college to study God’s Word.
His parents told him not to go, but he replied, “Even if you cut me in pieces, I will never leave my Jesus.” Every time he called his parents, they would demand he stop studying at Bible college and come home. It got to the point that he was afraid to go home lest his parents kidnap him.
When I met this man, he was 21 years old and in his first year at Bible college. All these things had happened not long before I met him. He was praying for God’s leading and asked for prayer for his family.
As he began to walk away, I reached out and grabbed his arm. As he turned to face me, I wasn't sure what I wanted. I couldn’t speak his language, and I don’t think he knew much of mine. His estranged relationship with his family broke my heart, and tears were filling my eyes.
I put my hand on his shoulder and prayed for him, though I think he didn’t understand a word I said. I finished and looked up at him, tears now streaming down my face. He smiled, put his arm on my shoulder, and prayed for me in his language.
When he finished praying, we looked at each other, instinctively hugged, and went on our separate ways. I was left with a paradoxical feeling of no understanding, and yet complete understanding, of our brief encounter. I realised my family—our family—was much greater than I had previously understood, extending to millions of people across vast continents. The Jesus I pray to in English is the same Jesus he prays to in his language on the other side of the world.
Suddenly Nehemiah 4:19–20 made so much more sense. The work is indeed great and widely spread, and we are all separated along the wall far from each other—but we are all building the same wall, we are all one, and our God fights for us. We are in this together.
“Then I said to the nobles, the rulers, and the rest of the people, ‘The work is great and extensive, and we are separated far from one another on the wall. Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us.’”
“The house you own is not fitting for human beings to reside in.” Those words struck Dheerendra’s heart like daggers laced with venom, especially because they came from the woman he loved, his wife.
The tension between him and his wife, Sadgati, seemed to escalate. Her words hurt—and she knew it. But she couldn’t bear having a husband who was a Christian. How dare he turn his back on the gods they and their forefathers had worshiped. She wouldn’t have it, so Sadgati wanted to make him pay.
Though Dheerendra’s marriage was falling apart, he loved his wife. But he also couldn’t neglect the new love he had found in Jesus. And the closer he drew to Christ, the more trouble he found himself in. There were days when Sadgati would run off to her parents’ home without telling her husband. Whenever Dheerendra would go to his father-in-law’s house to reconcile with her, Sadgati’s parents would beat him. Then one day, she decided to forsake her life with him altogether.
With no other choice, Dheerendra stayed with his mother.
But his troubles only worsened. Three of his cousins, enraged that a family member would choose to worship a different God, decided they would make Dheerendra’s life even more miserable. They’d bring liquor to Dheerendra’s mother when he wasn’t around in an effort to stir up disunity between mother and son. They threw stones at his house, hoping to destroy it. They set fire to the wood Dheerendra brought to repair his house. They’d steal his belongings. They even ruined the vegetable garden Dheerendra had planted to use as food for his family.
It was one thing right after the other, but Dheerendra never once thought about forsaking Jesus. He believed and trusted in his Lord to make a way where there seemed to be no way.
“Whatever may be the situation,” he said, “I will follow my Lord all through my life.”
Dheerendra’s courage and his steadfast faith amazed and perplexed his neighbors, and they wondered how he could withstand the cruelty of his family. But Dheerendra found a love worth living and fighting for, and he’s willing to stick beside Jesus, knowing He’s with him as he walks through the fire.
Deciding to walk with Jesus can be a lonely journey for some people. Friends and family you dearly love may suddenly see you as an enemy and begin treating you as such. Dheerendra has paid a heavy price, but his testimony has the potential to bring others into the love of Christ. Please pray for Dheerendra and those in similar situations, that they will have the strength to endure until the end. Pray they will have joy in having the deep, unmatchable love of God though their family rejects them.
“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love.”
—1 Peter 1:6–8
Thousands of people were pressing against Jesus while He was making His way to Jairus’ house to pray for his gravely sick daughter. They all wanted to get a glimpse of the Man who could heal the sick and do wonders. Perhaps they would hear Him say something important, or better yet, see Him perform a miracle.
And then, all of a sudden, Jesus raised His voice and asked the multitude, “Who touched Me?” (Luke 8:45) His disciples could hardly believe Jesus would ask such a question since everybody was crowding around Him. Yet Jesus said, “Somebody touched Me, for I perceived power going out from Me” (Luke 8:46). Jesus was looking for one individual that touched Him differently than all the others—someone who touched Him with faith.
Finally, a lady came forward trembling and telling her tragic story of how she suffered 12 years from hemorrhage, and no one could help her. Hearing that Jesus was passing by, she said to herself: “If only I may touch His garment, I shall be made well” (Matthew 9:21). And when she did, she was instantly healed.
Jesus responded to her: “Daughter, . . . your faith has made you well. Go in peace” (Luke 8:48).
The only weapon this dear woman had against her hopeless sickness was her faith that Jesus can do the impossible.
This account from the Gospels teaches us a very important truth about our Heavenly Father:
Though we are surrounded by more than 7 billion people on earth, we are not lost to His attention. He knows us and the needs we have, and He will stop in His tracks to respond when we touch Him in faith.
Faith is the one thing God is looking for.
You can read through the entire Bible and search for events in which God acted in human affairs that didn’t require faith. You won’t find a single case.
In fact, Hebrews 11:6 tells us: “Without faith it is impossible to please Him.”
Hebrews 11 was written for our sake so we can learn from people like Noah, Abraham, Moses and a host of others on how to believe God to do the impossible on our behalf.
When God told Noah to build an ark because a flood would come and destroy every living thing on earth, Noah had no other weapon for his survival than his faith. So far, no human being had ever seen a drop of rain falling from the sky, much less a flood. For the next 120 years, while Noah was working on the ark, he must have told himself every day: “God has already figured everything out regarding the flood and my family’s survival. I don’t need to worry how He is going to pull this off. I believe He can do the impossible.”
So often we quit believing God to intervene in a hopeless situation we face or to fulfill a promise from His Word because we can’t figure out how it could be possible.
Abraham too had to use this weapon of faith to receive the promises God made to Him. It started when God asked him to leave his home and all the securities he knew and travel to a land He was going to show him. Abraham’s family and friends must have thought he had lost his mind to set out on a long and dangerous journey without knowing the final destination. But he had heard God’s voice, and he put his faith in Him to lead him one step at a time.
Abraham’s journey of faith continued throughout his life. He had to keep on believing until he was 100 years old to get Isaac, the son God promised him 25 years earlier.
As we read Abraham’s story, we find the man was not perfect. He made some stupid detours, lied a few times and had several miserable failures. But through it all, he never quit believing God. And God never walked away from him. He took the detours and failures and turned them into valuable learning experiences that deepened Abraham’s understanding of God and his trust in Him.
Finally, we see Abraham as the Father of Faith willing to sacrifice Isaac on Mt. Moriah, able to believe that God will do the impossible and raise his son from the dead.
God wants to tell us through Abraham’s story that He does not expect perfection from us; He expects faith that doesn’t quit and faith that believes God will do what He promised no matter how many mistakes we make on our journey.
My dear friend, our greatest weapon in the face of discouragement, sin, failures, regrets and impossible circumstances is our faith that believes all things are possible with God.
Whatever steep mountains you are up against in your life, I urge you to come to Jesus and touch Him in faith, and He will do for you what He promised in His Word.