It happened on a three-week missions trip at an orphanage in Mexico. Boarding the bus overflowing with luggage and an excited group of teenagers, I had no idea what to expect.
At the orphanage there were endless ways to serve: canning jars of tomatoes, weeding, washing dishes, holding babies. We also went to villages on the outskirts of town to share about Jesus through conversations and show a short film. I enjoyed these evenings the most. I loved playing with the children and giving out much-needed food. One night, I held a young girl and it was hard to ignore the thick smell of smoke and dirt. Her dress was ripped and worn. As we sat watching the Jesus film play on the back of a van, I was struck with the realization I would never see little Maria again.
What made leaving more difficult was Maria did not know Jesus. She didn't know how much He loves her. With the help of a translator, I shared the Gospel with her before leaving that night, explaining how He died for us because He loves us. I shared about God and heaven. Without knowing the impact this would have on her life, I slipped the bracelet I was wearing around her small wrist, hoping she would always remember.
My eyes filled with tears as we left. Compassion for the people I had met overwhelmed me. And I was compelled to pray for Maria as we drove away, for her salvation. I recognized this was a prompting from the Holy Spirit.
For the rest of the missions trip, I thought about Jesus' ministry and the compassion He must have felt for the many people He encountered. People He taught, healed, and those who desperately cried out to Him. He even had compassion for those who mocked Him. When Jesus was crucified, He cried, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing“ (Lk. 23:34). God sent Jesus to die for our sins. This was the ultimate act of compassion.
In his article, “The Compassion of Christ,” Wayne Jackson explains the Greek word sympatheo, sun (with) patheo (feeling) is where our English word sympathy is found. There are so many examples of Christ being moved by compassion for others. He physically reached out and touched people. He wasn't held back by anxiety, doubt, or fear. Genuinely feeling compassion for others and reaching out is courageous. As Jackson explains, “A heart immersed in compassion will overcome superficial barriers.”
In 2 Corinthians, God is referred to as “the Father of compassion” (1:3-5 NIV). Jesus' actions on earth are our greatest example of compassion because they reveal the heart of God to us. Christ died for us to give us eternal life. How can we not show grace and compassion to others knowing this? Compassion is a direct result of accepting Christ into our hearts.
The Bible says we are made in the image of God. If compassion is God's heart, we have the opportunity to be filled with it. Practicing compassion blesses others and it blesses you. It is a gift. Probably the most real example of God's compassion is His grace in our own lives. He hears our prayers, heals, comforts, brings peace, and restores.
Being a Christian my whole life, I've heard it over and over how we are to act, think and feel as Christians. When I met Maria, I saw my own undeserved acceptance by God, creating a deeper understanding of compassion within me.
I'm not saying compassion is easy. Sometimes it's a challenge or seems downright impossible, especially if there is past hurt. It takes an extra amount of time and effort to do something for someone. And it may not be within your comfort zone. Pray for compassion in situations. Maybe you know someone who needs someone to talk to, a position in your church needs filling, or you feel led to write politicians who need encouragement. Whichever way you show compassion, choose to say, “I will” and you will be encouraged. It is a prompting from the Holy Spirit in your life. God is there.
Since my Mexico experience, saying “I will” created opportunities to join missions teams to Zambia, India, and China. The lyrics to one of my favourite songs, taken from Psalm 145:8 has always stuck close to me, “The LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.”
If I can share one more thought, it would be to follow God's example. He didn't just feel compassion for you and me. He sent His one and only Son. I'm overwhelmed when I think about the possibilities in my own life to show compassion to others.