What is the reason for the hardships we encounter? Why do we have to endure them in our day-to-day lives? Don’t get me wrong. It should be a comfort knowing that as we go through trials, there is One who is aware and is always looking out for us. But when struck at that moment, our human nature will always think Why? or Why this?
Like everyone else, I was merely looking for permanent work, something that could support and build my future and possibly a family. After working for a construction firm for more than two years, I started to have issues with the company. After three months of unpaid salary, I decided to leave. Thinking they were behind me, I started looking forward to my next career opportunity. But I found out that the company was falling apart and that a lawsuit was filed against it. I was implicated in it.
This was no little problem. The company’s clients filed a criminal case against it, and I was wrongfully implicated. The legal suit was for no bail and threatened life imprisonment if proven guilty. Though I was confident of my innocence, I was shocked by the threat of spending jail time while the case was run through court. At my age, I had no time for such a hard detour.
Here in the Philippines, “innocent until proven guilty” isn’t as it is in other countries. We don’t have a jury to decide a verdict. The players of the court have always been the prosecution, defense, judge, and money. In many cases here, the accused was finally deemed innocent after spending years and years incarcerated as they awaited a determination of innocence. I could not accept that this was to be my fate.
In my great distress, I prayed to God, hoping for a rescue, for an intervention. But it didn’t come. The law got to me, and I was put in jail. To make matters worse, the pandemic made life inside prison much harder. I was eating only twice a day — once in the morning and again in the evening. Water was limited to one fifteen-liter container per day, both for drinking and bathing. I slept in a cramped space under the bed of a privileged inmate.
The first few weeks felt unreal — stuff that I only heard about in stories. Now I was really living it. A barrage of negative thoughts flooded my mind, corrupting my heart: This is going to be my life now.
The complainant was not budging in response to my poor mother’s tearful pleas. This gave me the thought that humanity is hopeless because it doesn’t care for truth or what is right, but only for its own interests. I was innocent, but the rest of my relatives were dubious and cynical. My mother suffered humiliation and pain.
Dark clouds built around me, and I sank into my dark corner. With a tired inner voice, I called to God: “Why, Lord?” Like Job, I started to account for my work with God’s people — the church, the youth — but I couldn’t get a hold of an answer that would make me understand why I was in prison. I spent most of my nights sleepless, tearful, and broken.
The hurt was worse on Saturdays. Sabbath seemed far from me. I tried to sing hymns in my head but always ended up hiding with tears. I sorely missed my fellowship, but it was gone.
In springtime the inmates were allowed to go outside. Although I could do a lot of things, I only stared at the trees beyond the walls of the prison compound, or at the clouds and birds above. The same question continued to ring in my head: Why?
One day that spring, an elderly inmate found out that I used to serve in a church, so he started talking to me about Bible verses he could recall. He strained to remember them. At first I just responded out of respect (in prison, we have to show respect to elders, or we will be punished). He misquoted the verses, and I just ignored it. But then he uttered the words from Jeremiah 33:1-3:
The word of the Lord came unto Jeremiah . . . while he was yet shut up in the court of the prison, saying, Thus saith the Lord the maker thereof, the Lord that formed it, to establish it; the Lord is his name; call unto me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not (KJV).
I froze, my heart pounding. I couldn’t speak. As I stared at him, he continued his sincere effort to convey the meanings of the words in the verses. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It was like a voice that I had not heard in a long time. Later that night I got my hands on an old Good News Bible and hurried through the pages to the book of Jeremiah. When I got to chapter 33, my eyes caught the end of chapter 32: “For thus says the Lord: Just as I have brought this disaster on these people, so I am going to give them all the good things that I have promised” (v. 42, GNT).
My eyes began to get misty, and I could not stop the tears from falling. My heart beat hard, but not from pain; it was warm and comforted. I had felt God despite still being in prison. And like a little boy in a scary place, I was OK because I was holding the hand of my Father.
During church time in prison, I always stayed away because I felt lost. But now I stepped inside and listened to old hymns being sung, and I remembered my Sabbath. I felt it again in my heart. I shut my very wet eyes, raised my hand to God, and asked for forgiveness because I had allowed myself to sink in the darkness and had forgotten His promises. I had forgotten how much He loved me. I asked the Lord to remove my anger for my accuser and my hatred for relatives who abandoned me. I asked the Lord to give me forgiveness for my old employers, to give my mother a calm heart and comfort. And I asked the Lord to use me for His purpose, that I might serve Him and these people here in prison.
I felt as though a great weight was lifted off of me, and my eyes started to see the prison in a different way. I was renewed. I sent a letter to my mother asking to send her pocket-sized Bible to me. I even worked for a privilege to get a pen and a notebook for myself.
I was on a mission. I found myself preaching to more than seven hundred inmates twice a month. I prayed with them, and some asked for a prayer for them. It was no longer scary; it was a place full of lost souls.
On February 12, 2021 (my birthday), after spending ninety days incarcerated, the judge ruled out my implication as “unjust,” and an order was given for my immediate release. I went back to my family, to my happy mother.
Human as we are, when we are ambushed by tribulations, we often focus, knowingly or unknowingly, on the distress. But we have to remind ourselves what Ephesians 6:12 says — that we are in a spiritual conflict — and then be challenged to walk beyond that. Our carnal nature will always be inclined to respond by the rules — the law of the flesh, our old self. But the Holy Spirit guides us to consider our old self as dead (Colossians 3:3; Romans 6:6) and to rise above it into a new life that is in Jesus Christ.
So what is the reason for the hardships we encounter? Why do we have to endure them? For me, they serve as an opportunity to discover and re-discover that I am holding my Father’s hand all the way through. I see that He has never left me nor abandoned me. He was always there and will always be there because that is who He is: loving and faithful.