MINISTRY FROM THE BENCH: God’s plan for us in our pain

By Naftali Oswago

After eighteen hours of labour pains, David was born on the night of December 16th 2010. It was an exhausting wait but we were very excited. As first-time parents we did not know what to expect as we eagerly ventured into this new phase of our lives. David developed normally (as far as we were concerned) until August 2012 when he was about one and a half years old; he was unable to walk without support. We were referred to a paediatric neurologist who diagnosed him with cerebral palsy. Then, we were not devastated by that diagnosis because we did not know much about cerebral palsy. Also, David looked very healthy. We had no idea what cerebral palsy would mean for us as a family or how our ‘normal family life’ would change from what we had anticipated.

I remember the Lord clearly putting Jeremiah 29:11 on my heart and Mary’s too. Jeremiah 29:11 “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.” We did not grasp then why God would put that verse on our hearts. The night of March 4th 2013, David had a seizure at night. This earned us our first ambulance ride and visit to the intensive care unit ICU. This was the be-ginning of many hospital visits due to seizures- many happening at night. From November 2013, there was a slow regression in David’s movement abilities. Being unable to walk on his own developed to being unable to hold his head up without support; chewing food is also a struggle.

This long and sustained pain, uncertainty, and helplessness thrust us to depend on God and do the best we could to help our son. You may wonder, “What has the ‘bench’ to do with this story?” Well, all this greatly affected our frontline ministry on campus; we had to shift more focus from our field ministry on campus to our family ministry at home. It is just like a sports per¬son, say a footballer, who after an injury, has to spend time on the bench as he/she heals and hopefully gets back to the right form to play again.

I remember going through a time of feeling ‘demoted’ when I needed to stay at home to take care of David and our second son, Joshua. Sometimes the emotional wear on us meant that I did not have the energy to go on campus even when I had the opportunity to do so. I know God is teaching me something profound but I cannot say exactly what it is if you ask me; I am still figuring that out.

At one point I struggled with the thought, “What does it mean to work for God?” If I worked for certain organizations, I would be exempt from certain things and get certain privileges. I thought serving God with The Navigator ministry would exempt my family and I from any kind of suffering and would entitle us to good health, provision and prosperity. I was wrong. In studying the Bible, I see God using suffering to bring growth of character in the lives of the people he used. I have wondered what a Biblical character like Moses would have written about what God was teaching him during the 40 years he was in the desert taking care of his father-in-law’s sheep before God used him to deliver the children of Israel from Egypt. In sharing our story, I desire that God would use it to help you in your own bench story journey and that we would together seek what God teaches us through suffering.

The hospital visits have reduced and we still pursue David’s wholeness. I prayed this morning, “Lord, may David fulfil your purposes in His life.” In praying that, I give up the right to define how fulfilling the purposes of God in David’s life should look like. Mary and I desire that it would mean that David would be able to be independent, walk, talk, feed himself, learn and grow and maybe someday do great things (like be a great pianist) but we do not know how the outworking of God’s purposes would look like for David. So we rest in the fact that God knows the plans HE has for David’s life, plans to prosper David and not to harm him. Plans to give David a hope and a future and all of us as well. (personalized version of Jeremiah 29:11)

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