Thursday, November 1, 2012

Why do good men suffer?

Mwamba Chibuta leading worship at KBC 25th Anniversary meetings

There are days when I battle with unbelief. This day is one of them. I'm on a flight to the Netherlands for a series of preaching engagements. On my way to the airport I passed through the home of one of our elders, Mwamba Joy Chibuta. He has not been well but nothing prepared me for what I found there. The man I last saw in fairly good health at the beginning of August was now decimated and very weak. He had been diagnosed with cancer and was now half way through his chemotherapy.

I left his home for the airport asking myself the question, "Why do good men suffer?" We are now about to land in Frankfurt, Germany. This question continues to gnaw away at my heart. As I ask this question my eyes fill up with tears. I've been a Christian now for over thirty years. I've known Mwamba for all these thirty-plus years. God is my witness when I say that he is one brother that I have been very close to from day-one and never ever have I seen a single blemish in his character. If there is a brother in whom grace has done a thorough job, he is certainly one of them. 

I would hate to steal Mwamba’s reward in heaven, but this is a pouring out of my soul 33,000 feet above sea level. In the thirty-plus years of my Christian life I am not acquainted with another Zambian Christian who is more generous. Mwamba can easily give you the last shirt on his back and walk into sub-zero temperature. It is a well-known fact that in the early 1980s, while I was still a university student, I began the Lusaka Baptist Church tape library. What is not known is that my secret sponsor was Mwamba. He had just dropped out of university and got a basic job in the bank. He single-handedly and quietly sponsored the whole project until I graduated from university and left Lusaka. His more recent feats are too well known by our present generation of believers at Kabwata Baptist Church and in the Zambian Reformed Baptist movement. So, I will not go into that. 

I owe a lot to this man. When I almost resigned my pastorate in 2003, due to very serious misunderstandings in the eldership, I informed Mwamba that my letter of resignation was written and I was planning to submit it to the church that day. Mwamba failed to go to work that morning and came to my home and pleaded with me not to hand in my letter of resignation. He rang up some of my closest friends in town who also abandoned their offices to come and dissuade me against my planned line of action. I am still in my pastorate today largely because of this Herculean effort on his part.

The Zambian Reformed Baptist movement owes a lot to this man. This movement grew from zero to almost fifty churches in less than 25 years. Almost all these churches started from scratch. Invariably, one of the greatest needs was that of putting up church buildings. Mwamba has championed this cause by leading the Zambian Reformed Baptist Building Trust Fund (ZRBBTF) from its inception to the present day. Almost every church building presently housing a Reformed Baptist church in Zambia has had some injection of funds from this Fund. The churches have continued to subscribe to and repay their interest free loans to the Fund because of their confidence in his leadership.

Mwamba Chibuta officiating at opening of the Kennedy Ndui Guest House
I am very emotional as I write this. Mwamba had reached the second highest position in our national building society. Out of integrity, he resigned his job recently, together with all the other directors. As directors, they were being pressured by higher powers into approving payments that they could not approve with clear consciences. Their resignation was headline news in the media. It was unprecedented in the history of our young nation that an entire team of directors should resign their jobs on moral grounds. Mwamba told me that he knew it was going to mean suffering for his family (although he had no idea at that time that it was going to include the cost of two months' medical treatment in India), yet out of integrity he said he opted to step down and leave his future in the hands of God. 

This is the man who now battles for his life at home, in full view of his loving wife and dear children. If this sounds like an obituary, it is only because we often only talk about the good that good men do after they are gone. This is not an obituary. It is the wrestlings of my soul, as I ask myself some very uncomfortable and disquieting questions. It is also a passionate plea to all who read my blog to uphold this choice servant of God in prayer as he battles with the devastating effects of both cancer and chemotherapy. 

I ask again, "Why do good men suffer like this?" Here I am crossing the continents of Africa and Europe to go and declare to the people of the Netherlands that God is love, and yet I leave behind in my own country one of his vessels of grace suffering from one of the worst illnesses on the planet. This is where the battle is raging in my heart and mind. 

Much has been written on this subject. The entire book of Job in the Old Testament of the Bible is an answer to this question. Its answer ultimately is that good men suffer not because God is malicious or capricious but because he is sovereign and infinitely wise. In his government of the universe, and the minute details that it demands, he often elects to bring his choice servants through trials whose purpose their finite minds cannot fathom. 

Then we also have a number of psalms that address this question. Psalm 73, which I will be preaching on in one of my sermons in the Netherlands, is a case in point. Asaph wrestled with thoughts of unbelief just as I am currently wrestling. The only difference was that in his case he was the one undergoing the painful trials. His answer to this question is that God often spares the ungodly of temporal suffering because they are being feted for the slaughter. The godly, in their suffering, should not lose sight of how privileged they are in walking with God in this life and in being welcomed into his presence in the life to come.

Mwamba Chibuta (seated right) with his fellow KBC elders
Why do good men suffer? In the New Testament, the apostle Paul wrestled with this matter in 2 Corinthians 12. Here was a good man, if ever there was one in Holy Writ after the Day of Pentecost. Yet, he had this thorn in his flesh that drove him mad--and God deliberately allowed it to continue despite his ardent prayers to the contrary. Why? Plagued by this question, Paul heard Jesus say, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore Paul said, "I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me." Let's face it, that is tough!

If God only allowed good and not evil in our lives as believers, how would our faith be tested as to its genuineness (1 Peter 1:6-7)? Even selfish worldlings would gladly "trust" in that kind of God. After all, he would secure their selfish pleasures in this life. It is when God takes away everything from us, casts us on a bed of thorns, and leaves our lives hanging on a thread that we learn contentment with what the Puritans called "a naked God", i.e. a God who offers us nothing but himself. That is true religion.

Pray for my fellow elder, Mwamba Chibuta. Pray that his faith may not fail. Pray for his restoration to fullness of health. He still has two more months of chemotherapy to go through. Pray for his wife, Chishiba, and their children--Mutale, Kombe, and Chishiba--that God's peace will be with them during this very trying time. Pray for us as a church to practically love our elder and his family at such a time as this. Please, please, pray!


  1. We can only attribute all this to God's sovereignty. We will give Him praise for all His wonderful work He has demonstrated through elder Mwamba in the past years to date. I pray that His faithful healing hand may be stretched upon elder Mwamba today and the entire family. Thank you for sharing with us.

  2. Oh no!!Indeed it is such a heavy burden and question we now closely face today! Elder Chibuta is one person I have personally poured out my heart to when I needed to make certain decisions just before I left Zambia about 14 months ago. He is such a loving parent and a mentor!

    May God in His will hear and answer our cry and sincere prayer for help. He is a God who knows no impossibility.

    If cancer could naturally disappear in the below scenarior, how much more can't it be our testimony now?

    Wisdom Kaleng'a

  3. Thank you Conrad for posting this on your blog. I will join you and others as you pray.

  4. May the love of God which surpasses all understanding dwell richly in the life of this blessed man of God. "By his stripes we are healed" and so shall Elder Chibuta.

  5. I will remember Mwamba Chibuta in my prayers. You have tackled this question very well and Biblically. To God alone be the glory. I am also with you in prayers as you preach in Netherlands.

  6. Well said. Thank you so much for sharing your heart. It was truly a blessing.

    Seth Fuller

  7. Pastor Mbewe shared this with us in his sermon on Ps 73 in our church in The Netherlands. Our church had also received sad news in the last week. The message from Gods Word was a real blessing. We will pray also from mr Mwamba Chibuta. May God bless you!

  8. Indeed it is sad to learn of the sickness of our brother Mwamba. My earnest supplications go out for him and his family. The question you have battled with, Pastor Mbewe, is one that continues to gnaw at our hearts but one teaching I thankfully learnt from you is that of the Sovereignty of God. For me, though a hard one, it settles the matter.

  9. Sir, i read about your in the Ligionier magazine the other day, You are a good man, But sir, you are African and Jesus was a Jew who never said anything about AFica, HE was not the son of any god and you are an African are leading your people astray to follow a Jewish god sytem that is not true at all. Go back to your roots sir and pray to your real African gods. You are black man, go back to your roots, leave the white people's poison alone. Shalom

  10. Hello,
    It is sad news about the cancer. But since when did God have colour? What kind of a mind can spew venom at a time like this?
    Only someone lost and destined for hell, who else?

    May God open eyes and hearts to Him, and lets continue to pray for Pastor Chibuta.

  11. A very grave thing and a heart rending situation to now gather Mr Chibuta is no more. MHSRIEP.

  12. I had not read this blog before the passing on of our dear brother. Reading it now, it is do prophetic. It is one of the few 'envied' deaths where we can confidently say the man fought a good fight and awaits his crown. As he takes his flight to glory land, we can only say fare thee well brother Chibuta. Till we meet again.