“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. ” —2 Corinthians 1:3-5
This passage has always struck me as the clearest explanation for why God allows His children to experience pain and suffering: “that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”
When we think of World Vision’s work through sponsorship, comfort is not usually the first word that comes to mind. Yet, the comfort our World Vision staff extends to those who suffer through an encouraging word or tender touch is as important and life transforming as the food and water they provide.
I saw the power of comfort in action through our staff on a trip to Thailand in 2003. I went with several World Vision staff to meet with the elderly parents of a young woman dying from AIDS.
Anchelee’s husband had infected her before his own illness became apparent. She nursed him as he wasted away, leaving her to care for their two daughters and young son. After his death, she also began to fail.
Finally unable to care for her children, Anchelee left her daughters with relatives and brought her 9-year-old son, Jon, to live with her parents in a one-room shack along one of Bangkok’s many overcrowded canals.
By the time I met her, it was obvious that Anchelee only had days to live. Her once beautiful body was little more than a skeleton with flesh on it. She struggled to sit up to greet us, but soon found the effort too much, lying back on the thin mat that served as her bed.
A World Vision staff member sat with Anchelee’s parents, offering to take their daughter to the hospital where the pain of her final days could be eased. He also explained that, through sponsorship, World Vision could help them care for her son once she was gone. None of us noticed the child who crept in the door and sat silently at his mother’s feet, listening.
“Look at the boy,” whispered a co-worker, suddenly sighting the child. “He’s crying!”
The picture of that little boy, silently sobbing as he heard of his mother’s impending death, is forever etched in my memory. But equally vivid is what happened next. Without a word, the World Vision staff member stood up and walked over to the boy. Pulling him onto his lap, he began rocking him like a baby. At the touch of those arms of love, the boy released his anguish in wails of such pure despair that I immediately felt tears well in my own eyes.
Anchelee, who until that moment seemed oblivious to what was happening around her, also began to weep, her frail body wracked with sobs she was too weak to voice. Another staff member and I moved to her side. Taking her fevered hand in my own, my instinct was to pray — to comfort her with the comfort that I had experienced so many times in my own life. But this was a Buddhist home. What would our hosts think if we called upon the name of Jesus?
The staff member caught my eye. “Pray,” he urged.
Bowing our heads we called on Jesus to fill that small room with His peace and comfort and to help Anchelee and Jon know they were not alone. When I was done, the staff member began to speak. He spoke in a language I could not understand, but I had no doubt what he was saying, for I could see Anchelee’s eyes change from utter despair to cautious hope.
After many tearful hugs, we left Anchelee’s parents with the assurance that World Vision staff would be back the next day. As we walked back towards our car, I asked the staff member what he had said. “I told her not to be afraid. That Jesus loved her, and it was not too late to know Him.”
“And do you think she understood what you were saying?” I asked.
“Not yet,” he answered, with a gentle smile, “but I believe she will. You see, we will be with her and encourage her until the end.”
Shortly after I returned home, Anchelee lost her battle with AIDS. The email telling me of her passing said, “Anchelee has gone home to be with her Lord, and Jon is now in sponsorship.” Once again my eyes welled with tears, but this time the tears were pure joy. What had begun as a simple act of comfort had resulted in a dying woman finding eternal life. And her child now had hope for the future.
My ongoing prayer is that Anchelee’s entire family will come to know “the God of all comfort” through this continuing witness.
Anchelee’s story is not unique. Every day God gives World Vision’s staff the opportunity to share the Good News with people who desperately need to know about God’s healing, forgiveness, and love. Most often, this happens spontaneously as they go about the business of sponsorship. As you pray for your sponsored child, remember to also pray for the World Vision staff who touch their lives with countless acts of mercy and comfort.