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Sri Lanka Easter Bombings: How Should We Respond?

Screenshot taken from Guardian News Video

 

Written By Asiri Fernando, Sri Lanka

Asiri graduated from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, USA with a Master of Divinity and is now working for Youth for Christ in Sri Lanka. Asiri is a speaker, Bible teacher and a singer songwriter. Asiri blogs at http://asirifernando.wordpress.com.

 

I was at my packed church on Easter Sunday (Apr 21) in the central hills of Sri Lanka when a friend told me that bombs were going off at church services around the country. Upon returning home, I watched the news in disbelief as it reported scores of people killed in the bombs that went off in three hotels and three churches around the country.

To date, more than 250 people have lost their lives in the explosions and close to 500 have been injured. These figures include the sister of a ministry leader I know who suffered serious head injuries and is currently fighting for her life. A former member of the same ministry died in the bombings. Another youth who attends my organization’s sports ministry lost a leg.

As I reflected on the tragedy that hit the church and our nation as a whole, these two thoughts struck me about how we as believers should respond:

 

1. Embrace the spiritual oneness of the body of Christ

As many who died were church-goers, I had to pause and reflect on the spiritual oneness I shared with the suffering. One of the great marks of being a Christian is that we are part of a family in whom the resurrected Christ dwells (Ephesians 3:17). This may give the impression that we are all living in isolated places as Christ dwells in us. But the Bible says that we are together in Christ too!

A great miracle that took place on the cross apart from our salvation was that God was bringing together a body of people who as a result of the cross will be made irreversibly “one”. Jesus prayed to the Father in John 17:21b “. . . That they may also be in us”. Paul, in Romans 12:5 says “we are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (ESV). The NIV renders it as “belonging to one another”. Isn’t that the language of married couples? We were never saved to live in isolation but saved into a oneness that we together share in Christ. The New Testament shows that we are incorporated into Christ’s body. In a wonderfully spiritual way not visible to our eyes, the Bible says that we were crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20), buried with him (Colossians 2:12), baptized into Christ and his death (Romans 6:3), united with him in his resurrection (Romans 6:5). We are now together one body in Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-13)!

As a result of this glorious truth, the Bible commands us to avoid identity markers as we see Christians from another race, color, nation, social standing, gender etc. “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:27–28). By the use of the words “neither” and “nor”, Paul, in his writing to the Galatians, says that the primary way we see another Christian is as someone who is clothed with Christ!

As someone from the Sinhalese race, this means that I would see a Christian who is Tamil, not as a “Tamil Christian” but someone who is “clothed with Christ”. While the Bible elsewhere does ask us to celebrate our various identities that make us unique, as we see here, we are to hold lightly to them because of the greater identity we have as those who are clothed with Christ.

All this goes to show the extent of the oneness we share with the body of Christ regardless of where we are in the world. It is because of this oneness that when one part of the body is suffering, we suffer together with it. This would mean that regardless of where we are in the world, as believers, we should pause from our busy schedules, get rid of all distractions (especially the digital ones) and cry out to God on behalf of our brothers and sisters who are suffering.

 

2. Reach out to those of other faiths

As the aftermath of the tragedy unfolded before our eyes, the question on everyone’s minds was who was behind it. It was confirmed 24 hours later that the bombers were those influenced by extremists Muslim ideologies.

Romans 12-13 makes it clear that justice will be meted out on the perpetrators. God is serious about punishing wrong and has given earthly rulers the authority to execute judgement (His wrath) on wrongdoers. As Christians, we must condemn evil, and even urge the authorities to act justly. We can also be certain that regardless of what happens in this life, He has also set a day to judge the world.

At the same time, because of the actions of some, the entire Muslim community in Sri Lanka has suffered severe shame and are overcome by deep sadness, fear, and anxiety as they move in public places. I know this is a reality for Muslims in western countries too.

The moment the identity of the perpetrators was revealed, I wrote to my high school Muslim friends assuring them of my love for them. Later on, I also visited the home of a Muslim youth living in Kandy (my city) who is very dear to me. I spent several hours with him, wanting him to be affirmed that my love for him had not changed.

We must do all we can to be close to the those of other faiths who are suffering. If we have not learned to look at them through the eyes of grace, then perhaps we have not fully appreciated all that God has done for us (Romans 5:10). May God open our eyes to see His great love for them and how much He desires for them to know Christ.

 

While we mourn over the lives lost after a horrific tragedy like this, we must keep our two-fold commitment to the body of Christ and to the rest of the world that desperately needs Christ. May we be filled with the Spirit to carry our cross for the glory of God in every season.

Surviving Traumatic Brain Injury: From “Why Me?” to “Why Not Me?”

Written By Matthew Job Tan, Singapore

Jeremiah 29:11 says, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”

Most Christians have probably heard this famous Bible verse at some point or another. That being said, knowing is one thing, to experience it is another. Unless it is experienced, this idea remains a mere abstract belief.

 

The trial

“For affliction does not come from the dust, nor does trouble sprout from the ground.” (Job 5:6, ESV)

When I was 16, everything in life was going well. I excelled in academics and sports (Judo), and I had a promising future ahead of me. Yet, my triumphant days came to a cruel and abrupt halt on April 20, 2010. I was in the semi-finals of a Judo competition—this close to my first gold medal—when I landed unsafely while receiving an attack from my opponent. This resulted in me sustaining a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).

The injury put me in a two-month-long coma, which caused muscle deterioration in addition to the brain trauma. These combined factors rendered me incapable of virtually every human function. I was given nourishment through the UV-drip (for water) and the rouse tube (for food). My core muscles were too weak to keep my head or body upright. Speaking and moving were impossible for me. In a split second, my life fell into ruins.

The journey to recovery and reintegration into society was nothing less than tumultuous. In the initial days of rehabilitation, getting my functions back was a nightmare. Reduced to an invalid who could neither speak nor move, I dreaded waking up every morning to face my broken body.

One year later, I returned to my previous secondary school on a wheelchair, only to encounter more difficulties. Apart from having to attend weekly outpatient therapy sessions, I struggled to focus and keep up during lessons because of my limited mental stamina and delayed thought processes. That was when I discovered the irreversible damage the TBI brought upon my cognition.

I could not keep up with my peers in school even though I was taking a reduced number of subjects. I took only five subjects while my classmates had nine. From my repeated flunking at exams, it was evident that I was no longer the achiever I once was.

Moving on to polytechnic, not only did I continue to struggle with my academics, I toiled to fit in socially. This was due to my awkward demeanor caused by my delayed mental processes. Despite consolation from those around me, I felt alone and disliked myself.

Yet, of all the difficulties I faced, the worst was questioning God’s purpose in allowing the disaster to befall me. If God’s plans for my life were meant to prosper me, and give me a hope and a future, I simply could not fathom why God did not stop the accident from happening.

“Did I commit any grave sins to deserve such a great punishment? Why does He still keep me here to suffer? Wouldn’t it be better if I had just died on that fateful day? Why me?” These were questions that hurled me into the pits of despair. At one point, I even considered ending my life. The storms were simply too overwhelming. Nobody would blame me had I given up.

 

Understanding the “why”

“You gave me life and showed me kindness, and in your providence watched over my spirit.” (Job 10:12)

My distrust of God’s perfect plans did not diminish His love for me. Through my family, teachers, friends, mentors and even strangers, God provided His support, encouragement and miracles to tide me through the times. As I look back today, all I see are His fingerprints in my life: it must have been His Grace that has sustained me and gave me strength to bear my cross.

Though a failure when I returned to secondary school, I strove hard with tremendous support from my teachers, and I did so well in my ‘O’ levels that I achieved a scholarship to further my studies in a polytechnic.

The use of alternative methods like acupuncture, swimming, and meditation were introduced to me along the way. Coupled with intense daily exercises, I finally regained my ability to walk after two years, and went on to complete many long distance races, including a 10 kilometre run in 2016.

Despite being hit with the reality that I would be unable to handle an educational or work industry for normal functioning persons during polytechnic, I did manage to obtain employment as a music therapy therapist assistant in a faith-based nursing home that was willing to invest in me with unconditional support.

My occupation has enabled me to improve in terms of my rehabilitation and in my professional work competencies. For one, the immense nursing home compound requires a lot of footwork, giving me plenty of practice for my walking. And I am proud to say that my gait has improved!

I am also challenged to think of ways to add value to the tasks I am given at work, and to suggest these ideas to my co-workers. Daily clinical hours with the residents has allowed me to develop in my rapport building and people skills. Furthermore, the need to juggle duties like preparation, execution, and clean-up of group and individual sessions has given me opportunities to work on my time management. Apart from tangible professional growth, I am beginning to see a fragment of why God allowed me to go through my devastating experiences.

 

Experiencing God’s redemptive purpose

At work, I interact with those who have approached the eventide of their existence on a daily basis. I journey with persons who have, either gradually or suddenly, lost control of their lives and who are basically counting on people around them for their own survival—those who show me a reflection of my past.

Utilizing the power of music, I get to bring joy and comfort to these people I can relate to the most. Of course, my pain and suffering cannot be compared to theirs, but the Lord has given me this history of hopelessness, helplessness, hurt, and loss for me to empathize more deeply with the residents of this nursing home.

With this empathy, I have become more patient and sensitive to them during my engagement sessions, and I persist in journeying even with difficult or unresponsive residents. My awareness of the loneliness within the confines of institutionalized care has prompted me to reach out and visit residents on a daily basis even if there are no scheduled engagement sessions.

To be sure, my extra dedication to work means that I am not spared from substantial fatigue at the end of every day, but I am content to head home from work with no regrets. I stand in awe of God’s love for me, for my unique circumstances has certainly magnified the meaning and joy I find in my work.

As time goes by, I am starting to see God’s purpose for my life revealing itself. He must have known that I would suffer, and yet He gave me adequate support to survive this TBI in order to prepare me for my current beautiful vocation. By the mercy of God, I have successfully turned my greatest trial into what may be potentially the best thing that ever happened to me.

Having experienced the truth and beauty of God’s promises, I cannot begin to imagine what the future holds. Had I given up on life back then, I would not have been able to see His works in my life and enjoy this walk with the Lord today. My prior question of “Why me?” has turned into “Why not me?”, and it was only made possible because I persevered through my temporal sufferings.

God never promised an easy life, but just as He walked with the Israelites through their period of exile, He has also promised that He will never leave us or abandon us in the midst of our trials and sufferings.

God’s plans may sometimes involve pain and suffering, but He will be there to see us through (Isaiah 41:10). Whatever you may be going through now, I invite you to hang in there, for when you “Let perseverance finish its work”, you will emerge “mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:4). That vision of being perfected in Him will be what gives us hope for our future. Amen.

Episode 5: How Can I keep My Faith During Suffering?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How the Gospel Transformed My Life

Written By Agnes Lee, Singapore

I sank into near depression after giving birth four years ago. My days were spent in tears of self-pity as I faced many issues on my own as a new mom, combined with misunderstandings with my husband and in-laws. My marriage was on the rocks. I had no joy. My life was a mess I could not get out of.

I never expected this mess when I got married. I had thought that things would be beautiful. If not for a mentor pointing me back to the Word of God, I would not have had the strength to reconcile with my husband and family. The words of God spoken to us are full of Spirit and life, and when we face trouble, there is no better place to run to except to the Word of God.

Having seen God’s Word work in my life, I want to share it with anyone else who has encountered difficulties in their lives. I find my own past experiences often make a good starting place for sharing God’s Word, and I especially want to share God’s good news with those who have regrets, those have suffered, and those struggling with anger.

 

1. Those with Regrets

Regrets trap us and prevent us from starting afresh and making things right. But the Bible tells us that we are new creations when we are in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). Because of the gospel, we are no longer slaves to regrets when we accept Christ, but we are able to move forward, to press on in our new identities and pursue salvation (Philippians 3:14).

I used to murmur about marrying the wrong man, but as I lived in Christ, I realized that murmuring such comments prevented my marriage from growing. In embracing Christ, I began working on my marriage and seeking maturity in Christ-likeness. I realized how God’s Word brings renewed life and purpose to regretful people.

I had the opportunity to share this with my colleague one day, while walking to the train station after work. I told her how God had used His Word to renew my mindset about my marriage, and that this freed me from past regrets. My colleague was encouraged by this and decided that she would do the same for some of her current regrets.

 

2. Those Who Have Suffered

People suffering from sickness, emotional or physical abuse, or hurt by the wrongdoings of others will not find solace in the world. The word of God is the only place where we can find a safe hiding place. God is a refuge in times of trouble, and He cares for those who trust in Him (Nahum 1:7).

I found solace in God’s Word when I was in the most trying times of my marriage. I embraced God as He assured me that all things happen for our good according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). Without knowledge of the gospel, I would have missed out on God’s purpose for me to know Him intimately through my struggles. I would have wasted in despair. But we do not waste our suffering when we know God.

During my unexpected marriage struggles, I prayed and waited upon the Lord, but at times He was silent and things only got worse. But even though I questioned God, He kept using His Word and my church family to remind me that He was in control. As I struggled in my marriage, I increasingly looked to God’s Word for comfort, and God turned my sorrows to joy and hope.

I took comfort in the fact that God can turn all harms for good (Genesis 50:20), and I had an opportunity to share my struggles and joys with a friend at church who was also struggling in her marriage. God used this to show her that her struggles could be an opportunity to mature in the faith, and that even in the midst of her difficulties, she can experience God’s love, blessings, power, and glory.

 

3. Those Struggling with Anger

Some of us become easily angry when things are not going our way, and we tend to react in our own unrighteous ways. I am especially short-fused. Whenever someone close to me offends me with words, I react with harsh words. This has led me to many quarrels and hurt relationships. Thankfully, the gospel guides our feet into the path of peace (Luke 1:79). With God’s Word, we can discern situations better and respond with peace.

We have God’s Word so that God’s joy may be in us and complete our joy (John 15:11). Joy should always be our motive of sharing the gospel, since we have such a joy and want to share it so that unbelievers around us can also learn to walk in the light and experience the joy of God.

I often share my struggles with unbelievers, as well as how God has been my refuge for each time of difficulty. Even when we are persecuted, instead of using harsh words or actions to attack the other party, we can learn to be still before the Lord. The more trouble comes, the more we should equip ourselves with God’s Word and pray unceasingly for strength (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Some people say that this is easier said than done. But instead of being angry and relying on our own unrighteous strength, we need to stay focused on the Lord, and watch Him deliver us out of every trouble.

 

When we share the gospel, we remember that salvation belongs only to the Lord and He will save whomever He wants to save. However, we must not give up sharing even when our efforts seem futile, as we simply do not know how God is working in each individual faith journey. Till today, I am still grateful that someone shared the gospel with me when my heart was far away from the Lord. God was faithful to me even when I was unfaithful. The person who shared the gospel with me answered the call of God and persevered to help me see the beauty of the gospel, and she never gave up sharing till I believed. He who calls us is faithful (1 Thessalonians 5:24).