“He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” (Isaiah 53:3)
by Eeva Vähäsarja
For years, I’ve been praying through the TWR Women of Hope prayer calendar and learning about the dire situations many women around the world find themselves in. Sadly, suffering is a part of everyone’s journey on earth one way or another. You, too, may have been battling through a dark time in life, such as trying to conquer depression, relationship problems, cancer or other serious illnesses. Or perhaps your life has been changed in the blink of an eye by an accident or the sudden loss of a loved one.
We all have our stories of suffering. For me and my husband, Jari, our lives took an unexpected turn on March 7, 2020, when we were knocked down by an invisible enemy – COVID-19.
On that day, I woke up in the morning with a scorching headache, fever and pain. The pain I felt, drilled literally down to the bone. Jari fell ill the following day. The already overwhelming pain was only worsened by severe diarrhea and a complete loss of appetite. For the days following, I was able to consume only liquids, and my strength was quickly fading.
As our situation was in a downward spiral, we decided to seek help from our family doctor in Austria. We waited outside his office in the breezy spring weather of Vienna, only to be turned down and sent home a couple of hours later. He was convinced that our symptoms didn’t match the COVID-19 description but still didn’t want to take the risk of letting us into his practice. Without the doctor’s diagnosis, we had no choice but to go back home and pray that the pain would subside.
My condition was weakening to the point that I was not able to do anything but sleep. Jari had to take care of all the practical things around the home. As the coronavirus was wreaking havoc inside my body, and dehydration was becoming the most acute concern, calling an ambulance was our only option. Despite our obviously severe symptoms, we were sent home again with two things: charcoal tablets and the advice to eat boiled carrots. In addition to physical struggles, being left completely on our own and without any treatment really hit us hard mentally during this time. Fortunately, though, hope was near.
By the grace of God, we were able to reserve seats on the last flight to leave Vienna for Helsinki. Even in this process, we were able to witness the goodness of God through all the suffering. Despite putting herself at serious risk, our former colleague walked with us through the departure progress, all the way from packing everything up to accompanying us until the security-check line at the airport.
As I am writing this, it is April, and the disease that began in early March and made life feel like a nightmare is finally letting go its grip, and my road to recovery has started.
It was a great blessing to have many people praying for us during this time. A dear friend of ours sent a message saying that God had woken her in the middle of the night to pray for us. Another friend had felt led by God to pray for us the entire day as we repatriated to Finland in our dire condition. The short message we received was encouraging: “The hand of the Lord is protecting you.”
The fact that people were praying for us is humbling. It is said that humility is a realistic awareness that everything is a gift. Being humble also means being thankful – it is recognizing and appreciating the gifts that one has received without comparing them to those of others.
Right now, the whole world is still living through this surreal and trying time. The Bible assures us that God is almighty. A Finnish bishop emeritus writes in his book Pieni kirja kärsimyksestä (in English, The Small Book About Suffering), “God is in the midst of the realities of human life, in its weaknesses and all its sufferings. God is closer in times when we feel he is farthest away. The darkness, into which He leads me, is actually light in which I see more clearly the meaning of life, my values and my mission. Only in the theology of the cross, a suffering person can find hope and comfort, because it draws us nearer to our gracious God.”
Let’s hold on to the promises of God, who will neither leave us nor forsake us.
Listen to this short word of encouragement from Eeva!
Eeva Vähäsarja is the TWR Women of Hope coordinator for Europe and CAMENA (Central Asia, Middle East, and North Africa). In her role, she facilitates ministry operations in a number of countries. Eeva and her husband Jari are from Finland and serve as missionaries with TWR.
photo by: Jani Laukkanen