My time in Philly for SMI has been an exciting and equally challenging time. It has been mixed with struggles and growth. I would like to share an experience I had during the last few weeks to explain what I mean.

During one of our community outreaches when we walk around the streets of North Philly knocking on doors to see if anyone is interested in a free health screening, my group came across a middle aged woman. She invited us into her house to talk, but she originally refused the health screening because she was well acquainted with her physical problems. She offered us a place to sit and a moment of relief from the sweltering heat while she shared her story.

This woman began to describe the variety of physical issues she had been confronted with over the past several years including: high blood pressure, diabetes, fibromyalgia, congestive heart failure, asthma, among many others. She expressed the difficulty she had while communicating with her many doctors. She stated that her doctors would not listen to her because she was a native Spanish speaker (though her English was very good) and they did not think that she knew anything that was going on with her health. Time and time again she recounted horrific experiences of how the healthcare system had mistreated and abused her.

This woman was clearly suffering and the question is, what do you do in a situation like this? All of this was not part of the plan. As SMI students, we are trained to evaluate the health status of a person by going through predetermined screenings and to share the gospel with them as well as offer to pray with them. We are not experts at weeding through the baggage that people carry with them. How to respond to an encounter like this was not in the textbook. It just so happens that the world in which we live does not always resolve in the way that we think it should. Suffering and brokenness are very real and this woman had freely exposed her suffering to us, complete strangers who showed up on her doorstep.

Despite the difficulty of addressing the issues of suffering, we were able to comfort the woman in several ways. First of all, we offered a listening ear. Many people simply want to be heard. This woman expressed the frustration she felt when her doctors underestimated her understanding of her physical condition and that prompted us to lend a listening ear before speaking. Second, we affirmed that what the woman had been going through was difficult. We did not belittle or make light of the gravity of her situation. Third, we sought to address her need for community in her life. Suffering was not meant to be faced alone, but with the support of people that genuinely care for the sufferer. Our means of addressing her need for community was referring her to one of our partnering churches in her neighborhood. While there are many ways to address suffering in people’s lives, this is how we approached this particular situation.

While suffering exists in the lives of people all around the world, one thing I appreciate about the people of North Philly is the transparency with which they show the suffering in their lives. Where I am from (a small town in Northeast PA), people, myself included, do anything to hide their suffering from those around them. It is refreshing to see how people here share the realness of their suffering with others and are not afraid to be perceived as they truly are. I believe this is a strength of this community because it provides them with the opportunity to bear one another’s burdens as we are commanded to do in Galatians 6:2. While suffering is a very difficult thing, having the burden of suffering lifted by our brothers and sisters in Christ can build and strengthen the body of Christ.

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