Tuesday, 29 November 2016


It's quite hard to know where to start when writing about something like suffering. It is such a subjective, sensitive and complex issue. Yet living in a developing country like Zambia means it cannot be escaped or ignored.

An elderly couple I met in Northern Province

Human suffering gets 'in your face' here. When we visit people in the local communities supported by Arise, there are malnourished children wandering about, people dressed in old and tatty clothing, drunk people stumbling around and people who are so desperate they will beg for money. Occasionally we see people with deformities or disabilities but not many of them because sadly the majority of don't survive in such an environment.

Visiting one of our Kapumpe pupils at home

Suffering is "the state of undergoing pain, distress or hardship". It can be physical, emotional, spiritual or psychological; temporary or ongoing. I'm sure we have all experienced some degree of suffering in our lives but it’s a personal thing which is quite difficult to compare with others. Yet sometimes difficulties that we've faced in our own lives actually help us to empathise with other people.

My generation may not have experienced some of the suffering that previous generations or people in other parts of the world have endured, such as world wars, ethnic cleansing or huge rates of infant mortality, but we do seem to grapple with it. In some situations suffering prompts us to reflect on life and ask questions. For example..."Why is this happening to me?", "How can there be a god?", "If there is a god, how can he be all powerful and all loving when people are suffering?", and "Why do bad things happen to good people?".

Masala market in Ndola

Sometimes we see human mistakes that directly cause people to suffer. Yet the reasons behind other types of suffering remain much more mysterious. I have found it interesting to visit people here who are living in extremely tough circumstances, and observe how they respond to it. I have been inspired by many people who, rather than question whether there is a god because of suffering, actually call out to Him during these times. 

I recently spoke to one of these inspirational characters – an Arise guardian called Mandalene. She is a widow, most likely in her 60s (she herself isn’t sure of her age) who looks after five orphaned grandchildren. She is too old to work so she doesn’t have an income. Daily life is a struggle but she prays that God will provide and works extremely hard growing maize in her field in order to feed her family. Mandalene has very little of material worth but she exudes a peace and contentment that I think many people would probably love to attainI think this comes from her faith and trust in a God that is bigger than her circumstances, and from the hope that she has for the future. I have noticed that Mandalene is quick to thank God for the smallest of things, which means she focuses on what she has to be grateful for rather than what she doesn’t have. 

Mandalene with one of the grandchildren she cares for

Mandalene with her grandchildren at her home receiving a gift from Arise

With my Western mindset, it could be tempting to patronise Mandalene and presume that she tries to think this way to make her feel better about her situation. Rather than that, her character provokes me to listen and learn from her. Mandalene is an example of someone who lives out the hope she has through suffering.

One of the difficult things about a lot of suffering is that there is often no way to relieve it - no plaster or bandage you can put on, and no pill to make the pain go away. In Arise we try to help alleviate suffering by addressing immediate needs and offering empowerment opportunities through education, farming and discipleship. But sometimes it is frustrating when the small things we are able to do seem to have such a small impact. I often feel pretty useless in these situations but remind myself that the issue of suffering is huge and something that I can't solve. All I can do is listen, pray, encourage and learn from the people that I meet.

One of our guardians quick to thank God for the gift she has received

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