To console those who mourn in Zion,
To give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.
During the 20-year insurgency in Northern Uganda, people were forced from their homes to live in IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) Camps. Those who made it through survived terrible conditions and endured tremendous tragedy.
The people in the camps cook with firewood on small stoves made from mud. There was a lot of smoke, oftentimes filling their homes, because they would cook inside (which makes sense if you don’t want the rain to put it out or the dust to spoil the food or a small child to stumble into the fire, which sadly happens way too often). Unfortunately, this was not good for their lungs. After they cooked, there was always a pile of ashes left behind, reminiscent of the war’s spiritual, emotional, and physical toll upon the people.
Everything went up in flames, and their dreams and even their basics dignities were left in a heap of ashes.
It was a devastating time for the Acholi people. Hopelessness was rampant as a result of the situation.
BUT in the midst of that, God moved.
Because all of the people were grouped together in these camps, they were easier to reach out to. Instead of going into many remote villages deep in the bush, it was possible to go to a camp and share with upwards of 1,000 people in one day. We were able to reach many more with the good news. Some who may have never heard about the God of all hope, who loves them and desires to set them free from their sins, not only heard but became pillars in the local body of believers.
In the midst of extreme pain, we were welcomed in to share the Word of God with them; to teach them about the Living God who loves them, sees their pain, and wants to heal their hearts, forgive their sins, and empower them to forgive others.
Many are still active today, beacons of light in their villages and communities.
As a result of suffering and hardship, the Gospel spread.
As I look at some of the hardships I face, I wonder how God will turn them around to something good.
Sometimes we all feel that way, don’t we? All we can see in our struggle (lost income, sickness, prodigal children, broken marriages, job or ministry stresses, or whatever it may be) is a pile of ashes. Our dreams destroyed, gone up in smoke. All we are left with is the smoke and rubble to remind us what we lost or what we don’t have.
However, just like God allowed the people in Kitgum to be put into IDP Camps to reach them with His love, He allows the struggles you are going through today. It is not haphazard. He really does want to take that pile of ashes in your hands and turn it into something beautiful.
God allows us to go through His refiner’s fire, not to destroy us, but to remake us. Trust the God who is in control even when you can’t see any good coming from it.
He wants to establish you and be glorified in your life.