The Redemptive Power of Suffering

“I could feel myself dying.”

Reid Satterfield lay on the floor of his mud hut, feeling the life bleeding out of him. He had already tied a tourniquet of sorts on his friend Erik’s arm, whose artery had been severed by a bullet wound. But now Erik had passed out and Reid was left alone, with no one to tend the gunshot wound to his shoulder and medical help four hours away. Surprisingly, he felt a tremendous peace about dying.

Then the Lord spoke to Reid: “You’re not going to die. Ask me to stop the bleeding.” Reid asked, and within moments, the huge wound clotted itself.

This was not Reid’s first experience with suffering as a missionary to the Aringa people in Uganda. He and April, his wife, had moved to Uganda in 1999 and then into an Aringa village just after Easter in 2000. But Reid had spent two to three of their first eight months there in bed with malaria.

Through Reid’s sickness, God had begun to teach them more about the Aringa people’s second language: suffering. A villager said to April one day, “The village has decided that you and Reid love us because you have not left.” Suddenly Reid’s suffering had a purpose, as difficult as it was to endure.

From the Bible Belt to Urbana

Reid and April hadn’t always envisioned themselves experiencing hardship on the mission field in Africa. Both grew up in North Carolina, in the Bible Belt. Reid was raised in a Christian home, but at 15 he got caught up in the world and, as he put it, “raised hell.” It wasn’t until college at the University of North Carolina—Wilmington (UNCW), when he became roommates with the campus director for InterVarsity, that his life turned back around. Reid became involved with the InterVarsity chapter during his senior year, which was the second year the chapter existed at UNCW.

April did not grow up in a Christian home. But she was blessed with Christian friends who invited her to come to youth group. When she went off to college at UNCW, she quickly became involved with the InterVarsity chapter, which helped her grow in her spiritual walk.

That all eventually led April to Urbana 93. “I went to Urbana thinking missions was living in a mud hut in Africa, and I didn’t really want to do that,” she said. But Urbana opened her eyes to the fact that missions was much more than she originally thought. The speaker April remembers most was Mary Nordstrom, a medical missionary in China, who exhorted, “Everyone waits to hear a loud go from God, but we’re all called to serve, and we should all go until we hear stop.” April’s understanding of God’s mission to redeem entire people groups began at Urbana.

“Everyone waits to hear a loud go from God, but we’re all called to serve, and we should all go until we hear stop.”

That week of the conference, April recommitted her life to Jesus and committed herself to become more actively involved in global missions. Reid recalled that Urbana not only changed April; it changed their entire InterVarsity chapter at UNCW as well.

The following summer in 1994, April followed through on a commitment she made at Urbana and went on a short-term missions trip to the Dominican Republic. Reid, who had gone on the trip the summer before, also participated. He already felt actively called to missions, but it was during that trip in the Dominican that he and April, who were dating at the time, decided that overseas missions was something they could do together.

In for the Long Haul

Looking back, God used a variety of ways to call Reid and April to Uganda: April’s Urbana 93 attendance, their trips to the Dominican Republic through their church, and their participation in the Perspectives course (a 15-week teaching series that opens students’ eyes to the Bible, world history, international culture, and God’s purpose for it all). In addition, their home church had recently worked with Africa Inland Mission (AIM) to adopt the Aringa people, an unreached people group that was over 90 percent Muslim. The rest of the population was made up of animists and nominal Catholics and Christians. AIM knew of only four committed Christians among the 190,000 Aringa.

April and Reid had submitted themselves to the missions committee of their church, committing to go wherever God called them. And it became clear that he was sending them to the Aringa people.

Their transition to Uganda wasn’t easy. Figuring out how to live with the Aringa, along with Reid’s chronic malaria, was challenging. But they loved the Aringa—and the Aringa loved them. Soon after they moved to Uganda, April became pregnant with their daughter Emma Jane. The village made the whole family one of their own, deliberating for three hours to give Emma Jane a name in their native language. The name they chose means “the loved one.” Reid and April said that they were “committed for the long haul.”

But five months later, life changed suddenly.

Reid’s and April’s parents wanted to see their granddaughter, so—through a logistical miracle—April and Emma Jane got a flight back to the States for a month-long stay. The day April left, another missionary, Erik Lawrence, arrived. He and Reid planned to spend the next month preparing to bring Erik’s family up to the Aringa village.

Erik’s third day in the village turned out to be a day neither of the men would ever forget. As they sat in Reid’s sitting room, armed men began kicking through the screen door. Thinking they had machetes, Reid jumped up to block the door. But a machine gun opened fire on them. A bullet shot through Reid’s upper right chest and hit Erik just above the right elbow.

As they sat in Reid’s sitting room, armed men began kicking through the screen door. Thinking they had machetes, Reid jumped up to block the door. But a machine gun opened fire on them. A bullet shot through Reid’s upper right chest and hit Erik just above the right elbow.

Reid was able to contact the nearest missionaries—50 miles away—via radio. They arrived hours later to drive the men to the nearest airfield in Arua, four hours away, for a medical evacuation. One of the Aringa Christians, Isaac, saw Reid and Erik before they were flown to Nairobi for surgery. “Your blood will speak,” Isaac said to Reid, weeping.

And it did—in part through Reid’s remarkable recovery. “We’ve had numerous medical physicians who’ve told us I should have died instantly from that wound,” Reid said.

But once again it was their suffering that really spoke to the Aringa, and continued to speak even after the Satterfields were forced to return to the U.S. only a year-and-a-half after they’d arrived in Uganda, due to the medical care Reid’s injury required. When they returned to Uganda for a visit 18 months later, they saw the fruit of their suffering.

During their visit, the Muslim elder and chief historian got up and told the history of the Aringa people. He finished with Reid and April coming to the village, and the shooting that happened. “That’s when April and I realized that we had become a redemptive analogy for the Aringa people,” Reid explained. “What God had done with Erik and I catching a bullet was something that would have taken a decade or more to do.” While there, they were also able to take part in the baptism of a villager.

The Bigger Story

Having to leave so soon after they had arrived made Reid and April feel like a failure in a worldly sense as missionaries, but they feel blessed to know they are part of the Aringa people’s redemptive history. And they still feel very much a part of the Aringa people despite the distance. Their correspondence has ebbed and flowed over the past 14 years, but Reid and April desire to continue their relationship with the Aringa. The New Testament has since been translated into the Aringa language, and Reid is talking with Isaac about coming to do some work with the local pastors to strengthen the marriages there.

As Reid and April long to be reconnected with their family among the Aringa, they identify with the longing for heaven. And they know that when they are worshiping in heaven around the throne someday, they will be in the section of the choir with the Aringa people.

Reid’s shoulder injury, which still gives him pain, is also a daily reminder of the people they love. And it’s a tangible picture of the way God can use suffering in our lives—as he did in Reid’s and April’s—for the bigger story of his kingdom. 

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These blogs are the words of the writers and do not represent InterVarsity or Urbana. The same is true of any comments which may be posted about any blog entries. Submitted comments may or may not be posted within the blog, at the blogger's discretion.