I see people suffering every day. Even when we aren't visiting with our friends on the streets or in children's homes, we pass by teenagers, families, and mothers with small children sleeping on the streets or begging change. When we do visit our friends, we witness the extent of their pain as suffer physically, see their families in brokenness, and live under spiritual and governmental oppression. We are familiar with their suffering and pain and we count it our own as we walk alongside our friends. We tell them that God is present in their lives, even on the streets and in the favelas; that God loves them, cares what happens to them and wants good for them; that they can come before God no matter their physical or spiritual state. We tell them that God is good and that God is in control of this world.
And then suffering knocks on the door of our own home and invites himself into our family. Though he enters uninvited, I must sit with him and dine with him and spend my days with him relentlessly at my side. And I have answers neither for myself nor for those around me who wish for me just to feel better. In fact, I have infinitely more questions than answers. Questions that no one can answer except God. And in place of answers I hear only silence. Only a promise of presence. The trite answers that I have spoken to our friends seem useless now, even abrasive.
I become friends with Job. “For sighing comes to me instead of food; my groans pour out like water. What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me. I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil” (3:24-26). I imagine that some of our friends would commiserate with him more than I if only they knew him.
And so I do the only thing that I can. I trust. I trust that God is big enough to contain my suffering and the suffering of those around me. God is big enough to be in control. God is big enough for my questions and big enough to not give me the answers that I seek.
God never told Job the reason for his suffering. It was never revealed to Job himself that he suffered not for his sins, but quite the opposite. Job suffered because of his righteousness, his faithfulness to God. Like my close friend Job, I may never know why my heart has been (and surely will be again in the future) wrenched with pain. I may never know why I am friends with mothers on the street who can't seem to care more about their children than getting another hit of crack. I may never know this. But I can know one thing, “I know that [God] can do all things; no plan of [God's] can be thwarted….My ears had heard [him] but now my eyes have seen [him]” (42:2 &5).
Again, I am brought to trust that God is big enough for my pain and for the pain of those around me.
“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (I Corinthians 2:9).
Eugene Peterson says, “Our experience is too small; it's like trying to put the ocean into a thimble. What we want is to fit into the world revealed by Scripture, to swim in this vast ocean” (Eat This Book). I swim in this immense ocean and know that it is God's and I am His beloved. And I pray that my friends here in Rio will be able to swim with me and know that they, too, are beautiful and beloved.
We thank you for your solidarity with us and our friends here in Rio no matter the circumstances. You are a blessing to all of us.
Rich and Rebecca Nichols
P.S. Please make note of our new mailing address:
Rich & Rebecca Nichols
Rua dos Araujos, 66/202
Rio de Janeiro, RJ