“But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 3:13b-14 (NIV)

The apostle Paul faced many challenges and pain in his ministry, but he persevered and pressed on to the spiritual finish line. In Lusaka, Zambia, Peace Mwitwa, known as Ba Mayo—translated as “our mother”—is someone who presses on and perseveres through the painful challenges of life. She’s such an inspiration.

Ba Mayo has endured pain for most of her life. But when you meet her, you wouldn’t know that. She has the most welcoming smile and the warmest heart.

At 78, she’s been a disciple of Jesus for over 20 years. Way back in 1978, at 36, she suffered a massive heart attack coupled with a stroke that paralyzed her. She spent considerable time in the hospital, unable to sit, talk, eat or do anything for herself. That lasted almost a year, with her children often left alone at home.

Ten years later, she suffered another massive heart attack and stroke. It weakened her even further. Meanwhile, because of her sickness and stay in the hospital, her marriage suffered, and so did her kids. Ba Mayo was in pain and unable to do much for herself.

She lost her first five children while they were babies. It was a big blow. Ba Mayo had five more children who became adults. Along the way, she lost one child to a heart attack. Another succumbed to a terminal illness, while one other disappeared on campus. She currently lives with a grandson who has a medical condition caused by a bout with cerebral malaria. She’s been on medication for over 40 years. Most nights, she’s unable to sleep because of pain. She can’t even attend church because any vigorous activity causes attacks.

Last year, she lost her husband in a road accident. Talk about pain. She has seen and felt so much. Yet, when you talk to her, she’s so encouraging. She’s not bitter towards God. Instead, she has a positive outlook on life. Whenever anyone visits her they end up leaving encouraged and uplifted.

How is she still standing despite all that she’s gone through? This is her advice: “You must know whose you are. You belong to God, and his presence and influence will help you stand in times of suffering. You must learn to encourage yourself during times of pain and struggle,” she said. “Fix your thoughts on Jesus and not on the problem. Because he is the problem-solver. If you are connected to God, no matter what you go through, his presence swallows it up.”

Ba Mayo is pressing on towards the finish line. She has learnt to await with eagerness the crown of righteousness kept for her by the Lord.

She has words of encouragement for you. “Focus on God because he will turn your pain into gain and your scars into stars. So regroup, refocus, and resolve to press on.”

So I ask you, how are you doing? Are you bitter about the pain and challenges you’ve gone through? Or are you pressing on to the finish line, forgetting what’s behind and straining towards what is ahead?

Ba Mayo is a living example of what it means to persevere through pain and suffering.