Sustainable compassion

Did you ever feed or clothe Jesus? or Did you ever offer bread to a homeless and crippled adult in the streets? These are some important questions that come to mind when we think of compassion. We all have become familiar with the notion of giving people fish and teaching man how to fish. A quote which says ” If you give me fish, you would have fed me today but when you teach me how to fish you would have fed me for generations’  has become so popularized that even in the Christian circles we have been slowly considering what this means as we undertake our ministry.  But we have also faulted on many occasions in our compassionate ministry and the call to be relevant to the needs of society.

Meeting with leaders in Tondo, Manila

Meeting with leaders in Tondo, Manila

Having been raised in a Christian family, i have learnt the concept of compassion from an early age and have taken that as part of my personal life. This life has continued till now, strengthened by church, service, training sessions, reading and lots of engagement on compassionate ministry. But it has never exhausted my curiosity and questioning over some of the practices that are so common in this aspect of ministry, especially the publicity around charity and the need to eradicate poverty.

I do remember last year August, a charity organization invited me to be the speaker at a ceremony where they were announcing the people who were to be awarded scholarships. It was a well prepared ceremony with lots of suits and surprisingly the guest speaker was dressed in a jean and t-shirt. It was a crazy surprise to most of the people but i did so intentionally. At my arrival i noted the presence of the media and was surprised and instead of giving an hour long message as planned, i only spoke for 5 minutes. One of the organizers invited me for a closed lunch after the session and welcomed the opportunity. It then turned out to be a conversation on sustainable compassion. How do we help people build capacity and have compassion ministry as a genuine concern and a not a task to be fulfilled on account of an expectation as a Christian or social organization.

You would note on TV, newspapers and radio several publicity related to donations and assistance to the poor people or those in desperate conditions. Whenever i reach such a point i either skip or find an alternative activity. It pains me to see how we have transformed the concept of compassion into something to be proud of and publicize, in most cases to attract donors. There are also instances when we take pictures of desperate kids suffering from malnutrition so as to expose how kind good we are in a wicked society. And we do often forget the message by Jesus on giving. We are called to give but not to publicize.  Matthew 6:3 has a good response to some of the practices we do ” But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing”. Would you have called the TV reporters to film or record the occasion of your visit to Jesus in a hospital bed? One of the lessons we are called to learn is to give with our full heart, not with the intention of being recognized for good work but to do that which is positive to the other.

But what then is sustainable compassion? This is more than just giving, it is when we give not just to meet the immediate needs of an individual or community but transform the circumstances of demand and offer the person the opportunity not to beg again. We usually feel more relieved in our hearts when we do offer coins to kids living in the streets, but there are times when we give up and find it boring. Boring for the fact that there are times when we are not in the mood of giving or unable to give, but seeing the demand. It is important that in our thoughts and actions we consider a world where humanitarian aid and charity will cease to exist and that some will not need to beg from the streets. That’s the world we are called to create, not a world where we find it more joyful to do mission trips helping the poor or rendering humanitarian service.  A genuine opportunity of service to the world and in meeting the needs of the poor and needy is to eradicate the root causes by developing sustainable programs that render our help irrelevant.

Some may wonder why i say this. It is because charity work has been abused and manipulated as a fund raising mechanism whilst undermining the humanity and consideration of others, especially those at the receiving end. We need to learn to consider and treat the poor with dignity and be more responsible in our ethics of charity. The ethics of charity should be guided by the genuine call of service and not the quest for popularity or consideration of being the best man in the world.  I always call upon organizations that publicize their giving, especially to the desperate to change their strategies and be more prayerful and engaged in transformative conversation that builds up to developing sustainable communities.

What would you do if you were giving to Jesus? Is this not the reason why our offerings on Sundays are kept private? If we can give to God’s ministry generously without publicity let God bless you, but if you think your survival and existence as an individual or institution depends on how you publicize the poverty of those you serve, let God have mercy on you for charity ministry isn’t a profession but an inner calling.

It’s time that we put to practice what Jesus taught us, not just to ignore some of these crucial concepts because it challenges our service. I do remember my university chaplain always inviting me to his office to discuss about how we help students in need of food. He would always remind me, never publish the list of those people we help, even to your most trusted person. You many not know the extremes to which you subject some people as you expose their needs. I would call you to give to others just as you give to Christ, your prayers and offerings are always private so should your giving be to others, not just giving for today but giving for life. Jesus told the Samaritan woman that i will give you the living water, that you will never thirst again, if you can do that the heavens will celebrate your actions and Christ will be proud of you.

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