TiBlanc was one of the poorest kids in his Haitian village. The house his family lived in had no electricity, no running water, and no bathroom. Every night he put cotton in his ears to keep out the bugs. His mother, Carole, knew a school janitor who saved the students’ leftovers to feed to his pigs. Carole asked for some of the food to feed her six surviving children. Her children were embarrassed when they found out where their meals were coming from, so Carole stopped getting food from the janitor. Instead she became a prostitute.
“One night, the man my mother was sleeping with got so mad at her that he grabbed a big rod that was on the floor and struck her. She died immediately. That was the darkest hour of my life,” he remembers. To finance her burial, the children went door to door asking for donations.
TiBlanc had nowhere to go after his mother’s funeral, so at age 10 he began sleeping outside. He ate mud pies to fill up his empty belly and dug through the garbage at wedding receptions for chicken bones to gnaw on.
He moved in with his grandmother when life got too difficult, but she treated him like a slave. His brother tortured him by tying him down for hours in the sun. He was sexually abused.
Then along came Deby Clark. She met TiBlanc while on a mission trip to Haiti and knew she had to adopt him. Although she and her husband, David, hired attorneys and jumped through hoops for years, government officials said they would never allow him to go to America. “But what they didn’t realize was that my parents are people of faith who believe in God. On October 15, 2004 God made a way.” The first day of sixth grade was the first time TiBlanc, who is now named Wilky, ever went to school.
Dr. David Clark has been a pastor for 45 years, 35 of those years as lead pastor at Central Christian Church, a mega church in Beloit, Wisconsin. Despite the struggles that come with being a pastor, he freely admits that adopting two of his four children from Haiti was the hardest thing he’s ever done. “There would be times when Wilky was in our home, even as a teenager, and a terrible memory would come to him and it would just wreck him, it would undo him, and he would sob.” Now a married 30-year-old with two children, Wilky has a passion to help ease the suffering in his homeland.
Suffering is part of the human condition whether one is a believer or not. “If the Son of God was not exempt from suffering, I don’t know why any of us would be made exempt,” says Clark. Some Christians say there is a reason for everything, but Clark disagrees. “I don’t believe that, but I do believe God can bring purpose out of everything.”
Dr. Michelle Bengtson (https://drmichellebengtson.com/) is a board-certified clinical neuropsychologist with more than 20 years of experience in the diagnosis and treatment of medical and mental disorders. She is also a speaker and has written extensively about hope in the midst of crisis. She has experienced more than her share of trials and is now fighting the battle of her life: cancer.
Bengtson is no stranger to cancer. “My husband has been given three different cancer diagnoses over the last 20 years. He was diagnosed almost 18 years ago with a very rare form of abdominal cancer, and we were told at that time to get our affairs in order because he wouldn’t live two years.”
Near the end of last summer and two weeks after finishing her third book, Breaking Anxiety’s Grip: How to Reclaim the Peace God Promises, Michelle went to her doctor with what she thought was a minor issue. The doctor scheduled a biopsy. “We were driving to an appointment to meet with my husband’s oncologist when I got the call from my doctor telling me the words no one expects or wants to hear: ‘I’m sorry to tell you this, but you have cancer.’”
“We sat waiting to see his doctor, holding hands and drawing strength from each other. At one point I realized I had been holding my breath and had to remind myself to breathe,” she says.
Surgery and chemotherapy have taken a toll on Michelle’s physical strength and energy. There are days she gets frustrated because of unrelenting pain or nausea and vomiting, but she remains strong and steadfast because of her faith. “When I received the cancer diagnosis, I knew I had only a moment to determine how I would respond. I could give in to the temptation to become worried, anxious, and afraid, or I could remember that God has always been faithful. This diagnosis didn’t take God by surprise. He wasn’t up in Heaven wringing his hands wondering how he was going to help me, so I could trust him.”
Many Christians assume that believers who suffer from emotional or mental illness don’t have enough faith in the Lord. “I think it’s a myth. I think it does a disservice to people who struggle with mental health issues,” states Clark. He knows many of the people listening to him teach are struggling with depression and/or anxiety, or as he puts it, “the ugly twin sisters.”
Dr. Bengtson offers wonderful advice on dealing with emotional suffering. “I believe cancer is a little c but Christ is a big C and all cancer has to bow at the name of Jesus Christ. I am not a victim of a diagnosis! I am grateful for my life, and the fact that because of him, hope prevails.”
In times of intense suffering, many Christians feel abandoned by God. In David Clark’s dark seasons of spiritual suffering (clergy are not immune) the Word of God has always been a life preserver. “Sometimes when we suffer we don’t feel like turning to Scripture. If I’m feeling abandoned by God and I can’t pray, it’s great to be surrounded by other believers who can pray with me and for me.” The good news is the Holy Spirit intercedes for us (see Romans 8:26, 27).”
When we are so emotionally bereft that we can’t focus, reading Scripture may be fruitless. In those instances, Clark writes Scripture verses. He says, “Write a prayer to God. Tell him you’re upset. Tell him you feel abandoned. He’s big enough to handle anything you throw at him.”
Maintaining Faith in Suffering
- Know what you believe before a crisis hits. Crises will either push you toward God or pull you away from God.
- Don’t ask God why you are suffering. Ask what he wants you to learn from it.
- Surround yourself with people who speak life into your situation, not those who feed your fears.
- Spend more time reading God’s Word. If you can’t read it, listen to it.
- “Write encouraging Scriptures on sticky notes and place them around you. When you come upon a note, recite the verse out loud,” Bengtson recommends.
- Play praise and worship music 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, even when you are sleeping!
- Rather than focus on yourself, encourage others who are struggling.
- Take on a gratitude challenge. Write down something you are grateful for every day. Better yet, post it on social media!
- Remember that suffering will cease when we step into eternity. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away (Revelation 21:4).”
- Rather than asking, “Why me?” ask, “Why not me?”
When God led Wilky to help the Haitian people, he started doing odd jobs to save money to build a house for his friend John who had helped him when life was difficult. Other people donated to the cause and raised more than $7,000. In 2006, Wilky returned to Haiti and built John’s house. To date, he has built five homes, dug three wells, and developed three chicken farms to provide food and jobs. He opened an orphanage two years ago and is in the process of building a school. Well done good and faithful servant. Well done.
Amy Hagberg is an author, ghost writer, and book doctor. She lives in a log home in the woods of Buffalo Minnesota with her husband of 34 years. They have two children, four grandchildren, and Fitzy the rescue dog.