Friends in the Lunga Lunga Slum of Nairobi, Kenya who Follow the Suffering

Follow the Suffering

We are all familiar with the clichés of “show me the money” or in investigations related to property crime or corruption, “follow the money.” The point of these phrases is that there is an object that defines our behavior or actions.

I must confess I am an unashamed and unabashed pursuer of money. Over the years I have become quite good at finding ways to secure resources to support my various causes and dreams or to support the dreams and aspirations of others. I am a hard headed realist and pragmatist that is not content with simply musing about abstract solutions to complex social and economic problems that contribute to poverty, disease and hunger. Rather, I would prefer wresting with ways to fund water systems, decentralize clinical services to reach the unreachable and to fight through bureaucracies that seem removed from the suffering of their people. Often I lose in these struggles, but as one of my mentors use to coach me, it isn’t over until we win.

Recently several former students reminded me of my admonitions never to surrender or quit while engaged in these struggles. For it is the struggle that defines or better yet, refines our faith. In my book, Voices from the Night: The Power and Promise of Community Change, soon to be published (I hope), I have written that as people of faith we should follow the suffering. If we follow the suffering we will find the heart and mind of God. It is in the brokenness of poverty, the horror of addiction, the despair of homelessness that we find His presence. His presence should be the object that defines our behavior or actions.

Following the suffering will be not easy. You need to begin that journey with your eyes wide open. Several things to remember if you follow the suffering:

  1. It can take you to dark and desperate places.
  2. It is possible you will leave those places discouraged and disappointed with broken promises and the failure of people to grasp the significance of your cause.
  3. You will need to be smart! Be informed and educated on what works when working with those that suffer because of poverty, disease or abandonment. Do no harm!
  4. Come along side those that suffer and avoid condescending actions or superior know it all attitudes.
  5. You will need to establish a different measure for success. Remember we are called to be obedient not successful. As the former Mayor of Philadelphia, Wilson Goode has reminded us: We are not to live a life of success but a life of significance.
  6. You will need to find ways of turning your anger at injustice into advocacy and to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.
  7. You will need to go back again and again. When you follow the suffering it demands your presence and resists one-off actions that satisfies your ego but ignores the pain of those you have come to serve

Follow the suffering and you will walk where our heroes have walked and you will certainly find our Savior to be the road beneath their feet.In the end – you will find the presence of God in the suffering you encounter. But remember, where ever He is to be found there is HOPE – there is POSSIBILITY – there is TRANSFORMATION.

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