Reflections on Death, Suffering, and Joy

Death has marred the last few months of my time in Nepal.  It’s taken a very long time for me to come to terms with writing this update and I have still yet to process everything in it; however, I believe it’s time for me to share it.  It is extremely long so I thank you in advance for your time and I pray that together we learn how to love in the way that He loves.  There will be a more ‘normal’ update with pictures in a week or so detailing some prayer requests, future plans, financial needs, and a rather hilarious testimony etc…

Death, I distinctly remember the first time in my life that I encountered it.  My father had just told me that his father had died and I laid in my bed with inexplicable tears in my eyes for a man that I barely knew.  Years later, my friend’s grandmother died and I wrote the song “Instead of Ashes.”  It took me about ten minutes to scribble out the lyrics.  I never expected it to be anything more then a kind gesture to comfort a friend.  Somehow, by the grace of God, it became the title track of my album and a couple of months later, in the same month that my album was released, my own grandmother died.  She never got to hear it.

Death, we sing all the time about how it has been conquered by Jesus.  I remember leading worship all throughout my high school and university years, singing at the top of my lungs, “Saviour, He can move the mountains.  My God is mighty to save, He is mighty to save.  Forever, author of creation.  He rose and conquered the grave, He rose and conquered the grave.”   But what does it really mean for Jesus to have conquered death?  Recently, I’ve had a reality check.  I believe one hundred percent that Jesus rose and conquered the grave; however, if I am to be completely honest, often times I feel utterly defeated by it.  Behind the testimonies of His love doing incredible miraculous wonderful things, thousands being healed and many sons and daughters coming home to Father God, is an unspoken overwhelming burden, a hidden cost in plain sight that I was never warned about, a pain impossible to put into words of the wrenching felt in your heart as you cling onto someone whom you have laid down your life down to pour love into, desperately praying and running out of words, as their body grow heavy and limp in your arms and you hear their breath slow to a dead stop.

Two weeks before I left for a month long rest in America, I went to Thamel early on a Friday night to get dinner with my friend Nicole who was returning to Canada.  We arrived about an hour before the rest of the people in the dinner party so I casually suggested that we do some street ministry to pass the time; perhaps too casually.  Within a few minutes we found a blind man.  We got down, prayed for him, and he was completely healed.  We preached the gospel to the crowd that gathered, laughed, and had a great time.  No one else wanted prayer and no one gave their lives to Jesus but, we felt great and were having a ‘fun adventure.’   We headed toward the restaurant with smile on our faces.

On the way to the restaurant, I spotted my friend Yuri across the street.  I shouted a hello across the street to him and walked over.  He was with Sanju, a friend of mine who is one of the major drug dealers in Thamel.  Yuri said Sanju was asking him for prayer.  I checked the time and figured that we had a bit of time left before dinner to stop and pray for Sanju.  I looked at Sanju and asked him what was wrong.  He was unable to answer me.  I put my hand on him and ask him again.  Sanju looks up at me with a terrified look in his eyes, he says, “Please pray,” and then suddenly he falls over.  We grab him, lift him up, drag him to a place where he can sit, and he begins to die in my arms.

We start desperately praying.  His pulse stops, his breathing stops, and his eyes roll back.  We pray and he snaps back to life for a moment and then his pulse slows to a stop, his breathing stops, and his eyes roll back all again.  Over and over again, we pray and he slips in and out of death and darkness.  My friend is dying in my arms and then suddenly, to make matters worse, his pulse starts racing faster then humanly possible.  He starts growling and shouting curses at God and begins to manifest a demon.  We pray and it leaves but, as it leaves, Sanju begins to die again.  We pray for life but, as Sanju begins to come back to life, the demon comes back.  A huge crowd has surrounded us and are telling us to take him to a hospital.  I have no idea what to do.  Suddenly, Sanju grabs me by my shirt and begins swinging me around.  I ask him what’s going on and he tells me, “There are three woman dressed in all black behind you and they’re trying to kill me.”  I look behind me and there are no women.  I ask him again what he is seeing.  He says, “They can’t get past you.”  I realise that Sanju is using me as a shield against the demons attacking him.

Eventually, he stabilises and we take him to a hospital.  At the hospital, the demon begins manifesting again and Sanju begins to die again.  Half our team stays outside and prays while the other half are inside with Sanju.  Eventually he stabilises again and he tells us that two of the women dressed in black have left.  We pray some more and then he says that they have all left.  The hospital can’t find anything physically wrong with him and asks us to please leave.  Sanju then begins telling us his story.

He tells us that he has HIV and that he was in another hospital, Teku Hospital, the night before and that he ran away that morning.  He had woken up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom and, on the way to the bathroom, something struck him in the back.  He can’t see anything behind him but, when he goes back to his room, he sees the three women in black.  They chase him out of the hospital onto the streets where we eventually found him hours later.  He tells us that he has to go back to Teku Hospital because his family is there and he must see his child to make sure that the women in black haven’t killed his son.  We go to Teku Hospital but, his family is not there.  In Nepal, there is a rule that no one can be left unsupervised overnight at a hospital.  We can’t track down his family so we have to stay at the hospital with him.

Teku Hospital is horrific; rats, piss and blood on the floors, drunk nurses, and ex-HIV patients roam around the hospital wards partying with the nurses and often raping patients.  I was on my way to dinner with a friend but, here we are staying the night to love one drug addict dealer.  We stay and talk with him and get him food and love on him; eventually he falls asleep.  The next morning, his family comes and he thanks us.  He accepts Jesus into his heart which is an amazing incredible miracle but, I’m shaken up by the whole ‘adventure’ and a bit disappointed that I wasn’t able to get dinner with my friend Nicole.  I know God is trying to teach me something but, I’m so shaken up that I’m not able to hear or understand what I’m meant to learn.  I’m just ready to go back to America, not even really processing that my friend Sanju was likely raised from the dead a few times the night before.

A week later, a couple of days before I leave for America, I receive one of the worst phone calls of my life.  I’m eating dinner just before my last Friday Night Thamel Outreach and, over the phone, I’m told by my friends Yuri and Rahul that they found a woman in distress on the streets in Thamel.  I tell them that I’m eating dinner and that they can deal with it, they should just pray for her.  They tell me that they did and then they took her to a nearby hospital and she died.  My spirit spoke before my brain processed what I was saying, “I’m coming, we’re going to have to raise her from the dead.”

Earlier in the week Joel, the Iris Nepal base leader, and I had just been discussing Hebrews 6:1-2, that, according to the author of Hebrews, “the resurrection of the dead” is an “elementary doctrine of Christ.”  If raising the dead is an elementary doctrine then I’m definitely still on the elementary doctrines of Christ.  I arrived at the hospital with an excited YWAM Fire & Fragrance team, most of whom have never prayed for the dead to be raised and, upon hearing that we were going to pray for a woman who just died, got ready for a fun ‘adventure.’

I remember the first time Joel asked if I wanted to go pray for the dead to be raised in Pashupati, I remember my excited cavalier attitude and, I remember how quickly it disappeared once I began struggling for words to say to a mourning family and pray for a dead body on its way to eternal separation from the Father.

We arrived to police swarming around the hospital interrogating suspects, a crowd of curious spectators, and a shocked family desperately trying to make sense of the situation, answer the questions of the police and the crowd, and mourn the loss of a beloved family member.  The feelings of fun and adventure quickly disappeared.  I looked at myself and at our group and I couldn’t help but feel a little ashamed at the questioning anger in the eyes of the hurting, “why is this huge insensitive group of tourists here?”  And than it came rushing over me, the helplessness, the same feeling that I felt a couple months earlier when my friend and brother Govindra died, an alcoholic ex-teacher whose whole family died of TB, a self-proclaimed ‘hopeless case’ that we dreamed would be freed from alcoholism and someday work at our Iris School and, who was only just a couple days away from being entered into a Christian alcohol rehab program that could’ve potentially saved his life.  The same feeling when the husband and father of a family that regularly attended our Iris Nepal Church and who even featured in my “Instead of Ashes” music video suddenly died.  The same feeling when I hear yet another rumour that a fight on the street has left one of my street boys dead or that one of the street girls I work with has ‘disappeared’ with a man.  Helpless and then I heard Father God speak,

“Love Clem, go love,”

“But Father, how?”

I opened up my Bible to my favourite passage on raising the dead, Luke 7:11-15, and read it to our team.

Soon afterward he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him.  As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her.  And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.”  Then he came up and tucked the bier, and the bearers stood still.  And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.”  And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.

Behind me, as I read, I could hear the sobs of an older man.  I finished reading, turned, saw, and walked over.  I got down on my knees before this old man weeping, a younger man sat next to him, and all I could manage to say was, “I’m sorry.”  The younger man looked at me, confused and trying to process why I was there, he asked, “Are you the one who found my sister?”  The older man was the woman’s father.  I told him that my friends had found his sister and brought her to the hospital.  He looked at me, holding back tears in his eyes, and said, “Thank you, we will pay you back for whatever medical expenses and…”  I stopped him before he could continue, we hadn’t paid anything at all but, God had given us our way to love this family.  I told him, “No, I don’t want anything from you.  I believe in Jesus and I believe that you are my family because you are the sons and daughters of God.”  He was speechless.  His father asked what I said, he translated, and the father grasped my hands and we cried together.  Eventually a nurse came out with a massive stack of bills, I stood up and took the bill to go pay for it.  As I was paying for the bill, a man about my age came up behind me.  His face held anger and a fierce stoic determination to not cry and be in control of the situation.  He asked what I was doing.  I asked who he was.  He told me that he was the woman’s son.  I looked at him and I said,

“Brother, I am so sorry.”

“Please, give me the bills, I must pay for them.”

“I will pay for them”

“No, this is my responsibility.”

“I want to pay for them because I love you.”

“You don’t know me or my family.”

“I know that Jesus loves you and your family, so you’re my family.”

And then the walls came down.  He lunged at me.  I jumped back startled and nervous that he was going to hit me to try to take the bills from my hand but, instead he fell into my arms and began to weep saying, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

Romans 12:15 says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn.”  We mourned and the Father’s heart poured forth into that hospital upon every single person.  Eventually, we were not only allowed to pray for the woman to be raised from the dead but, her son escorted us into the hospital room himself and left us to pray.  We desperately cried out for her to be raised from the dead.  I asked the doctors to put a pulse-meter on her.  We prayed and prayed.  The pulse-meter jumped and for about ten seconds the woman had a pulse and then it went flat again.  She never responded again and we mourned with her family.

I don’t know what happened in those ten seconds.  Maybe I’ll find out someday in eternity, maybe I won’t but, what I do know is that Father God’s sons and daughters were loved.  I couldn’t offer them a clever argument, I couldn’t offer them an explanation, all I had were tears and, I guess, that was enough.

A couple of days later, I flew home to America exhausted and heavy-hearted.  Facing death is emotionally taxing.

I arrived back in Nepal a month later, just in time to make the memorial service of Shiba and Muna’s mother who died a few days before I arrived.  I’ve written about Shiba, Muna, and their mother in previous updates so I won’t rewrite what I’ve written.  You can reread their story here:

Again, the helplessness rushed over me.  I’m so tired of people that I love and have laid down my life trying to love dying.  I cried out to Father God,

“Why? Why did she have to die?  Why her?  What am I suppose to do?”

“Clem, isn’t this is what you signed up for?  I thought you wanted to know my heart”

I’ve always been told that missionary work came with suffering but, I’ve now realised that the real suffering isn’t the weird food, uncomfortable situations, bugs, climate, cultural clashes, cultural shocks, and etc…  The real suffering is the pain of discovering His heart, of falling in love with the One who gave love its definition when He hung on the cross and it’s what we are called to as the sons and daughters of the living God.  Joel, our Iris Nepal Base leader, always says, “the more you love, the more it hurts.”  He quotes the King James Version of 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, “Love is long-suffering…”  I have been told over and over in my life that love hurts but, no one warned me that loving God hurts; no one told me that that really going deep into intimacy with Him, wanting more of His heart, loving the lost, and praying, “break my heart for what breaks Yours,” means that it’s actually hurt and I’ll actually be broken-hearted.

We’ve falsely marketed intimacy with God and the riches of His love without revealing that the price is steep; consequently, we’ve turned the commission, ‘stop for the one,’ into a mere marketing slogan saying, ‘go on an adventure.’  The world has enough adventurers, spectators and dabblers settling for self-gratifying cheap entertainment instead of an eternal romance; we need labourers who choose the costly road to Calvary just to be closer to the Saviour, labourers who refuse to shut out the unbearable aching heart of the Father and are willing to hold out their arms to embrace His sons and daughters until their arms ache the same way Jesus’s arms ached as they hung nailed to a cross to lead His brothers and sisters into the Father’s embrace, labourers who desire the fire of the Holy Spirit to consume them no matter how much it hurts.

“Yes, I’m sorry.  Whatever the cost, Father God, I want to know Your heart.”

I’ve discovered through death that real joy is that the God of the universe trusts me enough as a friend and as a son to share in His pain; that He allows me the privilege to know Him and the power of His resurrection, and that I have been given the honour of sharing in His suffering, becoming like Him in His death.  He allows me to feel and share in His compassion.  What amazes me about the Luke 7:11-15 story is that Jesus saw, had compassion, felt the woman’s pain, felt her anguish, felt her sorrow, felt her tears, and He was strong enough to do something about it.  His compassion was strong enough to turn her tears of sadness into hope and worship.  I think perhaps, He’s made us strong enough as well.

Bill Johnson, at a conference I attended some time ago, spoke these words that have haunted me ever since I heard them, “everyone is harvestable if you have the anointing equal to their brokenness.”  I’ve adapted Bill Johnson’s words in my heart, “everyone is harvestable if you have the love equal to their brokenness.”  I want the love equal to the brokenness of the world; I want to share in the compassion that hurts, that costs something, just as it cost Jesus something, and, I want to, in sharing with His suffering, be able to be a vessel do something with Him to turn tears of sadness into hope and worship.

– Clement Chen

© Clement Chen