Saturday, September 19, 2009

Compassion? Going above and beyond

This post is a long time in the writing. Meaning that this topic or some facet of it is something I think about every. single. day. here in Niger. It’s reality in my life is as inescapable as the sand in a sandstorm around here! It will take me days to write that which has been a year brewing, and your comments and insights are appreciated at the end :)

Compassion. What does it mean to you? I believe that God as gifted me in this area in that I feel compassion deeply for people and followed his call here to Africa to put that into action in a specific way. But there are many days when my compassion for the people here can be overwhelming and totally emotionally draining.  The needs here are those in-your-face obvious needs. I was sitting at a streetlight today on my way to pick up the kids from school and at one light I had 4 different beggars come to the side of the vehicle to ask for something. One old man had no hand, one young girl was leading an old woman, another man was blind and the third…well he was just a kid looking for some money. All of our workers are very poor and the majority of them live in straw huts. They come to us since we are their best hope for medicine, help, money, loans, jobs, etc. Their community pitches in and helps often with loans to each other, but you can only squeeze so much money from those who are also poor. Everywhere we go, the needs of the people are clear, and for those with a compassionate heart, well we need to find a balance. I know I can’t help everyone.

To paraphrase in a book I am reading about photography- “Anyone can take a picture of poverty. It’s pretty easy to capture dirt and hurt in people. But it’s much harder to capture, both in film and spirit, what lies beneath the surface of those people. Their beauty and dignity and desires for their life. Had it not been for their birth place and circumstances, they could have been just like me. I want my images of people to tell their story, not just show their faces”.

My compassion goes the same way. I don’t want to meet only their base needs (although i don’t doubt they are important). I want to meet deeper needs of their heart, for them to know they have value and are loved and will be treated with respect by me. When people come to our window of our truck to beg, I make sure to always look them in the eye, even if I have nothing to give them, and say no politely and smile to them. I can’t just ignore them. But I find it awkward when I have already said “no i don’t need to buy anything or have nothing to give” 5 times to the same person and they are still standing there staring at me in the window. At what point do i simply sigh and look away from them and go on waiting for the light to turn green? Do they think staring me down will change something or magically make money appear in my purse to give them?

So what I am learning, and praying about and hopefully growing in, is how to move beyond wanting to help the people and even feeling pity to social justice and mercy and true compassion. I can’t help everyone, but what are the criteria for those that I can?

 

Here is the story of Y to demonstrate. Y is an older man who is a respected muslim and looked up to as a spiritual man among the Tuaregs we know. He lives in a hut in the same yard enclosure as my main guard S and his wife and child. Y is not married, and yet has several aunts and sisters and their children living with him under his care. He worked for our group for the last few years as a night guard. Problem is, he was a horrible guard. He would sleep during his shifts, leave his post and wander off, leave tasks undone and his attitude was also one that he was too good to have a job. He was above this. He also felt that he had the right to get everything he could from our organization (in terms of benefits, loans, etc) because he worked for our team, even though he had repeatedly I believe been told he was not working good. So anyhow, his boss went back to Canada in June and Y was laid off. Our team did not have another position available and due to his poor work and bad attitude we were not too sad to let him go as an employee. Problem is, he didn’t get the fact that once you are no longer an employee, it really isn’t polite to keep asking and insisting for benefits as if you still worked for these people! Now that his old boss is gone, he has taken it upon himself to come to our house often. He came the other day and I spoke with him for a while and our conversation went something like this.

Y- I have been unable to find another job. What are you going to do for me?

Me- Well I have been praying for you to find another job and if I hear about an opening I will let you know. We don’t have any positions available

Y- You need to give me a loan so I can open a little store. Really guard work isn’t what I want to do. I want to buy and sell things in a little store but I don’t have the money.

Me – I am sorry but I can’t just give business loans to everyone who asks. Do you have a plan on what you want to do? Have you saved up some money to go towards starting one yourself?

Y- Well no…. what are you going to do for me?

Me- I have never been your boss Y. Why do you assume I have to do something for you when you won’t go out and do something for yourself?

Y- I don’t have a job anymore because I pray to Allah too much at work. I know that is the reason I have no job now.

Me- You were told many times why you don’t have a job now. (I re-explained them to him and it has nothing to do with him being a Mus*lim man who prays)

This conversation went around in circles for a while like that.

Then he says –Well what are you going to do for my kids? You HAVE do so something for them. I have no job so they can’t go to school this year.

Now Y has 6 kids under his care. When he worked for our team, one of the benefits that the school aged dependant children get is that we pay for schooling for them. But when he lost his job, he lost that benefit as well. He went on and on saying how it was our responsibility to pay for their school, etc.

 

So here is the crux of my problem. Y is a man who drives me crazy sometimes. Ok..usually. He feels like everything is owed to him and he doesn’t really want to work for anything.  I hate that he comes here several times a week lately asking for a job, for loans, for his kids school, assuming we owe him shifts whenever there is one available somewhere. He drives me nuts! And I can’t really fully exit a relationship with this family since I see them often. The hut class is in their same enclosure and I visit the other family there. And my kids play with those kids. And most importantly….God loves this man and those children EXACTLY as much as he loves me and my children!! It is not the fault of those children that their father is arrogant and feels he is owed everything and thus alienates people. It is not their fault they were born into poverty and lack the ability to get a good education without help. Paul went to their school yesterday to see how they did last year and what kind of marks and attendance they had. We were very pleased to see all 6 kids had high attendance and quite high marks, all over 70%.  So we know they didn’t waste the benefit last year. These kids also attend our kids hut classes to help with their homework,etc. So…we are leaning towards paying for school this year for all 6 of those children. This will cost approximately $1000 CDN to our work special fund for each year we support those children. We don’t know what we will do for following years yet, that decision will come later and depending on how this year goes i think. We have talked with the school and found a way that we can track marks and attendance for all the children of our employees so that we can be on top of our “investments” into their education and ensure they are attending and doing as well as possible.

Two of the children

IMG_5577 hutclassweb28

 

In my heart I feel that God is leading us to do this. I know we can’t help everyone here, but we CAN help these children. We can’t abandon children who do show so much promise, who we have relationships with and who do have legitimate need. The cost to us will be an on-going relationship with Y, which will be very draining for us many times I am sure. We are working to find a way that Y will also be giving something to this project, be in free work to us in return, donating time elsewhere etc, but to find a way that he is also engaged and sacrificing for those children to go to school.

So in spite of the fact that our human minds would like to turn away, to not put ourselves in a position of constant irritation and requests, as Christians we can’t just walk away from people we already have a relationship with! God does call us to go the extra mile. He never tells us to only love the people who are easy, to only give to people who will be cheery and then leave us alone in peace, or to connect their work ethic or performance with our compassion in return. But I know it is easier to write that than live it!

“Compassion literally means to feel with, to suffer with. Everyone is capable of compassion, and yet everyone tends to avoid it because it's uncomfortable. And the avoidance produces psychic numbing -- resistance to experiencing our pain for the world and other beings.We simply stop feeling it.”

I never want to lose the blessing that my heart hurts for the people of Niger. I never want to just live here and do good things, I want to yearn to help more, I want to cry for the poor and love them in even greater depths than my human mind can imagine.

 

A quick look at the bible will show us that compassion is central to the character of God.

  • The Lord will always have compassion on us. (2 Kings 13:23, Nehemiah 9:27, Psalm 103:13, Isaiah 54:8)
  • Jesus felt compassion to those in need. (Matthew 9:36, 14:14, 15:32, 20:34, Mark 6:34, 8:2, Luke 15:20, etc.)
  • Those who walk with the Lord will have compassion. (Ephesians 4:32, Colossians 3:12-13, Philippians 2:1-2, 1 Peter 3:8)
  • Compassion fulfills the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2)

So in allowing my heart and life to be renewed and refined, I need to keep compassion central to my being as well. For this situation, it means not only giving financially, but also emotionally and giving our time and some days even our sanity! I yearn to be more like God, to love people fully and see beyond their attitudes and actions, and to JUST LOVE FULLY. And oh how often I fail at this.

Please pray for us as we take these steps, as God refines in us our capacity to love and not take the easy way out.

Comments and your thoughts on compassion are welcome below in the comments section!

Your partner here in Niger,

 

Chantelle

5 comments :

Princess Pamela said...

Chantelle and Paul, thank you for reminding us that God's way isn't always the easiest way...but it's definitely the best way. We so appreciate your insights into situations most of us encounter, yet often turn away from. It's a good reminder that by following what Christ's desire is for our lives, He in turn will provide for us.

Always with you in spirit!

Pam
oxox

Anonymous said...

Wow! Very touching, and a very true description of what missionaries face every day. I too have thought about what my responsibility is when faced with never-ending needs.

It's so contrary to our North American nature to really, truly sacrifice and get involved with people's lives in a meaningful way. It's so much easier to just give a "little something" to get rid of the person. But God is teaching me more and more that He wants us as missionaries to show compassion -His compassion- to those around us, which usually means leaving our comfort zone.

There's a really great book I just finished reading that in part deals with this subject. It's called "Crazy Love," by Francis Chan. While it doesn't deal with specifics on how to help people, etc., it does talk in depth about the biblical motivation that all Christians should have to sacrifice, give up the "self-life," and show the love of Christ to the world in real, tangible ways. ... Read More

Keep up the compassion-ing!

Anonymous said...

Wow...I don't think you have to worry about compassion!!! maybe just
how to channel it ????I hope you never lose the drive to be more like
Christ. I think with time and experience the drive will be tempered.
Remember even Christ went apart alone at times to re-group. It
sounds like your responses to Y were honest. I suppose they each have
to learn how the foreigners respond too. I think the idea of
education for the children has merit. As anywhere they are always at
the mercy of those caring for them. We will be praying for them and
maybe we will have to be thinking about how to help too.

Blessings, Barbara

Daaniel and Linda Kroshewsky S.L.A.C. said...

Hi Chantelle, Daniel here from SLAC, After reading your latest entry, I am even more amazed with you, Paul, your whole family. It is as if each entry is God showing me more proof of His grace, and love, and compassion. At this time on my walk, I can barely comprehend being so full of grace, and Christ's gifts. I thank you for being such fine examples, showing me what God's grace can do. I cannot begin to find words to express my respect and admiration for your work. Thank you so much for sharing, you may be living in Africa, helping people there, and that is true, but your also teaching me, and so many others what walking in Christ is really about. As you so beautifully expressed at our church, taking Christ's grace and making something happen with it is what his word was really about. Not just knowing or memorizing or living per say, but taking it to others, and acting on it. Hope you understand what I mean. Today was a great service by Pastor Jim, Pastor Kevin is on holidays. We started mens group tonight and it was so good...suppose to freeze tonight for the first time this year...and the tree's are all turning...my favorite time of the year. In closing my prayers, blessings, and thoughts go to you and your family. Have a family Hug for me, and remember Jesus is smiling as he watches you, that I know...God Bless You !

Daniel, and Linda @ Sylvan Lake Alliance Community Church...

Steve & Rachel said...

Thanks. You put into words many things I feel in Mozambique. Sometimes it is hard not to resent being "the white person who is a cow to be milked" and feeling used just because we're white. Or feeling that people want to be "friends" because it gives them more possibilities. I really need to hear from God to know who to give to and who is actually hindered from moving forward because I gave to them and fostered dependency. I think of the woman begging on the street who was offered a job. She asked the wage and then said, "No, I can do better begging." Lord, help me be discerning and willing to help those who truly are in need. And help me to show true compassion, which I'm learning is a negative trait in this culture.