Early in my parish ministry in 1980s in the city of Nairobi, Kenya, I discovered prayers of lamentation in the Bible and mostly from the book of Psalms. As I reflected more on the plight of parishioners who lived in extreme poverty and girls and women from all walks of life who shared painful experiences of sexual and gender- based violence, my journals and theological discourse increasingly assumed the language of lament. In 1989 I found myself preaching against stigma of people with AIDS. In 1993, my lament intensified when I first visited Alexandra Township in South Africa and came face to face with the evils of apartheid regime. After visiting the slave castles in Cape Coast of Ghana in 2000, I felt that the enemy of the African people had prevailed and I no longer enjoyed going to church and worshipping God who did not seem to hear the pain and prayers of Africans.
But the worst tragedy of my life happened on 7 November 2008 when my beloved son at 29 years died by suicide after suffering severe depression. Four months before his death we had celebrated his PhD graduation in electrical engineering. The week he died I was reflecting on Mark 4:30-41 – about parables of Jesus and raging storms in my professional life.
In deep grief and confusion I lost my lamenting voice. I never recall asking God a single question and all I could say in silence, out loud and in my journals is: God is faithful!
Whereas the pain of losing my son did not lessen, my song of lament somehow disappeared. I encountered messages of God’s steadfast love and patient endurance both in the Bible and from people living positively with HIV and others who have overcome great odds. My song of lament moved to language of hope in God and belief that tragedies or even death do not have the last word.
Life is a journey with many twists and turns. God comes to us in different ways. This experience has taught me to trust in God’s steadfast love but when I am weak and downcast I have found colleagues, friends, family members and even strangers lifting me up with compassion, listening with love and patient endurance. I am particularly grateful to people living with HIV and survivors and/or victors of sexual and gender-based-violence who continue to teach us that social death does not have the last word and that Jesus is still saying to us: “Peace! Be still!
To think about: What is pulling you down today?
The Reverend Dr. Nyambura Njoroge is the global coordinator of Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiative and Advocacy (EHAIA) of the World Council of Churches, Geneva, Switzerland.