Living the Prosperity of the Gospel in the Midst of Suffering

I sensed the vehicle was going to roll. Before I was turbulently thrown into a horizontal tornado of swirling dirt, the only word I could cry was, “Jesus!”

Dr. Randy and Kathy Arnett, IMB missionaries residing in Cote d’Ivoire, had joined us in Democratic Republic of the Congo for an eight-hour trip to train Baptist church leaders in a distant town. Two-and-a-half hours from our destination, the chauffeur suddenly lost control of the vehicle, sending us tumbling off the road into eight-foot-tall elephant grass. When the spinning vortex halted, I looked up from my seat behind my husband, Jeff, to see him open the door and fall out, obviously injured. Looking left, I realized that both Randy and Kathy had been ejected. In seconds our lives were forever changed.

The next days, weeks, and months were filled with trauma, pain, sorrow, and spiritual choices. These days have not yet ended. God chose to release Randy and Kathy from the boundaries of earth for their promised, amazing adventure in heaven. God chose for Jeff and me, our IMB team, our African colleagues, the Arnett’s and our families and friends to enter a time of suffering ordained by his loving hand. And God promises good.

Facing Our New Reality

While in a bush clinic with the sterile conditions of an old basement, the doctor, with bottled water as a cleansing agent and a flashlight, sewed up an extensive laceration on Jeff’s arm. For ninety minutes Jeff experienced agony in his terribly dislocated shoulder and shattered ribs with each painful stitch and tug. Jeff called out to me, “I don’t think I’m going to make it.” But I immediately felt affirmation from God that he would. Jeff did.

Barbara’s best friend, Alima, sees Barbara in the hospital for the first time after the accident.

In shock, with numerous bumps on my head and a broken left wrist, rib, and right elbow, God kept my mind clear and my body painless as I focused on dealing with the issues that confronted us. With phones lost, I couldn’t communicate with anyone outside the hospital. There were ambulances but no gas. The police needed reimbursement for services, the clinic bill needed to be paid.

When the doctor finally tied off the last stitch on Jeff’s arm, I gathered the courage to stand and walk to my husband’s side. The dirty foam mattress under Jeff was soaked with blood where the cover was torn. My husband’s blood dripped from the table onto my foot as I stood next to him.

We’ve been IMB missionaries for twenty-eight years. We’ve ministered in the city and the bush. The conditions didn’t surprise us. Nor were we surprised when the driver of the converted station wagon-ambulance stopped to relieve himself in the brush on the way to a city hospital. At the hospital, even the simplest medical protocols weren’t observed. We wouldn’t know Jeff had a collapsed lung until three days later when he sat on a gurney on the tarmac as we prepared to be life-flighted to South Africa. On the small jet, before takeoff, the doctor inserted a chest tube to cause Jeff’s lung to re-inflate.

Barbara Singerman kneels on the ground as medics work to re-inflate her husband’s lung inside the airplane.

Due to a massive infection in Jeff’s right arm, he lost arm and hand function. After five months and four surgeries in South Africa, we are now in the States for more surgeries so he may recover arm and hand movement.

What of Prosperity in the Gospel

In the three years we’ve lived in Kinshasa, DRC, we’ve been astounded at the presence of thousands of tin churches bellowing out a religion of personal prosperity devoid of suffering. Pastors print up pay-for-prayer brochures—like catalogs—to advertise the desired items and the individual pastoral prayer cost. Prayer must be bought. We’ve heard a voice screaming into a microphone, “Do you want peace? Eight dollars! Do you want good health? Ten dollars!”

Out of twenty-thousand street children begging on Kinshasa’s streets, 75 percent have been cast there by the false church accusing them of being sorcerers who prohibit the family from receiving the pastor’s promised prosperity. All this in the name of Jesus. The truths of Christ have become a blurred mess in an impoverished society seeking to pay for material blessing. In their doctrine, God’s good is riches and health, nothing else.

In their view, Christians don’t suffer. According to the prosperity gospel, preached everywhere from Kinshasa’s one-room fellowships to massive megachurches in America, this should have never happened to us.

Yet it has. What we are experiencing is the antithesis of the prosperity gospel. Jeff’s right hand doesn’t work because we are obedient servants of Christ. We are living with physical pain because we decided that to live for Christ you must first be willing to die for him. Randy and Kathy lost their lives because they were following Jesus. They were prepared to die.

The True Prosperity in Christ’s Gospel

We believe that among God’s reasons for allowing this accident to happen is the opportunity to show where the true prosperity of the gospel lies. In 1 Peter 4:12–13, God tells us not to be surprised when we are in the furnace of fire through which our faith will be tested. He commands us to rejoice as we share in Christ’s sufferings. Psalm 84 says the one who finds his strength in God makes the valley of suffering a place of refreshment. There are blessings that come only through suffering.

“This is the true prosperity of the gospel—the ability to, by God’s grace, turn deep suffering into a declaration of God’s goodness to us and his worthiness of praise from all peoples.”

Through the accident and aftermath, Jeff and I have chosen to continue to believe God is good and his purpose in our pain is his good for us. We believe this experience will further strengthen our relationship, cause us to be more effective for Christ, and use it to draw thousands more to the gospel (Phil. 1:12). This is the true prosperity of the gospel—the ability to, by God’s grace, turn deep suffering into a declaration of God’s goodness to us and his worthiness of praise from all peoples.

The accident wasn’t an accident but a rendezvous, for Randy and Kathy to embrace Christ personally, and for us to choose to rejoice with tears (1 Pet. 4:12), to praise Jesus when we hurt and when Jeff is limited by being one-handed/armed, to seek Jesus with our questions, and to allow this fiery, burning trial to carve into our lives a greater intimacy with Christ (Ps. 73:28). We continually must readjust our thoughts and emotions to be in line with Christ (Phil. 4:6–9,11; 2 Cor. 10:5).

In the most horrific, traumatic, and pain-filled moments, we can point to evidences of Christ’s grace being poured out on us, his amazing blessing. We are not living the prosperity of the prosperity gospel. But through the goodness of God and his ordained suffering, we are prospering in a deeper knowledge of Christ.

Jeff and Barbara Singerman in the hospital in South Africa.

Barbara Singerman and her husband, Jeff, were appointed to the IMB December 12, 1989. After language school in France, they lived twenty-four years in the Republic of Benin. They served in various roles, from working with the nation’s youth, church planting among unengaged, unreached peoples and relating to French West Africa Baptist leaders. In obedience to God’s call, they moved to Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, in 2015, to reopen IMB work in central Africa. Barbara is the author of Beyond Surrender.