Compassion is a powerful force.
Stories of compassion are often found in places of tragedy and suffering. These are the locations of wounded and broken people.
Members of a small Baptist church in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon know about compassion.
They saw more than a million Syrian refugees pour into their country – desperate people who were fleeing the bloodshed and violence of their country.
Most Lebanese citizens did not want Syrians in their communities. They remembered the brutality of Syrian soldiers during the occupation of Lebanon from 1976 to 2005.
The massive influx of refugees posed a threat to the stability of Lebanon and strained the capacity of social services, housing and employment.
The pastor and members of the church responded in a different manner. They felt compassion for the victims of the civil conflict.
The small congregation of 60 opened their church doors to refugees. A school and a safe place to play were established in the church for children traumatized by bullets and bombs.
A weekly clinic attended to medical needs. With the assistance of Canadian Baptist Ministries (CBM) and the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, our Lebanese church partner provided food aid to more than 4,500 people each month.
The church also looked to help refugees with housing and employment opportunities.
This was not a program that was subcontracted to paid professionals; it was a ministry that many members of their church selflessly gave their time to as they visited the families and helped in any way they could, both physically and spiritually.
They were unashamed of their faith as they shared about the God of compassion, and as they prayed with those who sought help. Assistance was provided without conditions or manipulation to get people to believe.
Reflecting on the transformation of his church, the pastor said, “We had been praying for years for revival and nothing happened. But when we as a congregation started helping the desperately poor and needy refugees, and shared the love of God with both hands, in words and in action, revival came and changed our church.”
They were seeing people from different faiths choosing to follow Christ, prisoners in jail transformed, and dramatic answers to prayer.
This is not a formula or a template for church renewal. But the testimony of this Baptist church in Lebanon bears out the promise of Isaiah 58:7-9 where God’s word addresses the social needs in post-exilic Israel.
The prophet compares pious public presentations of fasting with the authentic spirituality of feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless.
The concluding words are “Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: ‘Here am I.'”
There is a connection between a congregation’s demonstration of compassion for wounded people and the manifestation of God’s presence among them.
How can compassion be nurtured in our hearts? Expressed in life-giving ways as part of our witness in a broken world?
The following are some suggestions:
1. Practice spiritual disciplines.
Read the Scriptures with a heightened awareness of the compassion of God, Jesus and the Spirit. Be attentive to the Bible’s teaching on human mercy as a virtue.
Pray for the Spirit’s quiet work in your heart and direction in your actions. Support in prayer those who represent God’s love and grace in difficult places. Ask God to act on behalf of those people who suffer from violence, poverty, discrimination or natural disasters.
2. Be sensitive to your personal experiences of suffering, pain and consolation.
Paul wrote about a time when he felt crushed beyond endurance and despaired of life. This difficult period eventually became a resource for understanding affliction, God’s mercy and the role of a restorative community (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
3. Listen attentively to the stories of men and women who have different and difficult life experiences.
Allow the heart to feel first and the mind to analyze second. Attempt to understand how background and events play a role in giving shape to people’s attitudes and decisions.
4. Do not stifle compassion.
Give yourself the freedom to become emotionally involved with a person or an issue without losing perspective. Find ways to be informed about promising practices that are helping people.
5. Express your compassion in concrete actions with the support of others in your church or community.
Remember that you do not have to solve the world’s problems. Leave the big picture to God.
Find inspiration in Paul’s comments in 2 Corinthians 8:8-15: (1) God’s love is extravagant. Jesus, being rich, became poor so that we might become rich. (2) We need to be realistic about what we can accomplish. (3) We work toward a fair balance that is concerned for people at the margins.
Rupen Das is global field staff with Canadian Baptist Ministries (CBM) based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. He is also research professor at Tyndale University College and Seminary in Toronto, Canada. He recently published “Compassion and the Mission of God,” and his writings also can be found on his blog.
Gordon King serves as CBM’s resource specialist. He recently published “Seed Falling on Good Soil: Rooting our Lives in the Parables of Jesus.”
Editor’s note: A longer version of this article first appeared in the Fall 2016 edition of Mosaic magazine, a publication of Canadian Baptist Ministries. This shortened version is reprinted with permission of Mosaic magazine.