Compassion is a beautiful word that conveys a deep inward emotion of tender love and affection. Pharaoh’s daughter had compassion on the babe that wept when she opened the basket. The Good Samaritan had compassion on the wounded traveler. And our Lord was moved with compassion on many occasions. His compassion was stirred by urgent needs (Matt 9:36-38; 14:14, 19-20; Luke 7:13) and by humble pleas for help (Matt 18:26-27; 20:30, 34; Mark 1:40-41; 9:24-25; Luke 15:20). In a world consumed with self, acts of compassion are few and far between. We can easily find ourselves passing by those in need and turning a deaf ear towards a cry for help. Inaction is readily justified and excuses are never hard to find. However, being moved with compassion is a necessary and distinguishing trait of a true follower of the Lord. Peter commands us to have compassion toward one another (1Pet 3:8-9) and Paul exhorts us to “put on tender mercies and kindness” (Col 3:12-13, NKJV). However, the most powerful and direct words are recorded in 1 John:
“But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him” (1John 3:17-19, NKJV).
Being moved with compassion and responding in a practical way to the needs of our family in Christ is a defining characteristic of those who are “of the truth”. It’s a wonderful responsibility and privilege of every brother and sister who “has this world’s goods”.
When it comes to focusing our response efforts, the Scriptures call us to the most vulnerable: the poor, oppressed, widows, orphans, and strangers. The emphasis on poverty and justice throughout Scripture is striking. I read of one individual who cut out every verse in the Bible referring to poverty and justice, and by the time he was done, his Bible barely held together. The point is clear. Ignore this theme and we have a gaping hole in our gospel. With over 2,000 verses speaking to these issues of poverty and justice, it’s impossible to minimize their importance. James describes visiting the fatherless and widows in their affliction as pure and undefiled religion (James 1:27). Our Lord, when speaking of the judgment, focuses our attention on the very practical aspects of putting love into action by ministering to “the least of these my brethren” with food, shelter, clothing and comfort (Matt 25:34-40). There’s nothing peripheral or optional about putting our love into action. It’s a fundamental first principle of our living faith.
One of my favorite verses on this subject is found in Jeremiah:
“Shall you reign because you enclose yourself in cedar? Did not your father eat and drink, And do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him. He judged the cause of the poor and needy; Then it was well. Was not this knowing Me? says the Lord” (Jer 22:15-16).
Jeremiah, when speaking to Jehoahaz, refers to the righteous reign of his father Josiah who judged the cause of the poor and needy. At the end of the verse we read this incredible statement: “…was not this to know Me? says the Lord”. Judging the cause of the poor and needy is bound up in the very character of the Father. It is to know Him. And because it is part of His character, it comes as no surprise that this theme features so prominently throughout the pages of Scripture.
In our own ecclesias and communities there are many who need our love and care. Some may be poor physically or poor in spirit. Others may simply be needy. And as the gospel message continues to grow in very poor communities around the world, so too do the opportunities for us to put our love into action in practical ways. The CBM (Christadelphian Bible Mission) is very aware and responsive to the needs of our brothers and sisters and through the welfare fund provides practical support to the most needy brothers and sisters. Food aid provided during droughts is one example of the many ways the CBM welfare fund supports our brothers and sisters. Agape in Action works with the CBM to help support these acute needs. The cooperation and coordination between the CBM and Agape in Action ensures a fast and comprehensive response. Agape in Action also focuses on addressing the root cause of many problems by helping brothers and sisters and young people break out of the cycle of poverty. There is no shortage of work to be done.
The needs of our brothers and sisters and their families are very raw and very real. We are used to seeing the haunting pictures in the World Vision commercials. The gaunt faces, the sad eyes and the children with bloated stomachs. They are heartbreaking images. However, nothing hits home harder than knowing that we have brothers and sisters struggling with the same terrible challenges as those on the TV commercials. No longer are these images simply of people living in distant lands; they are our very own brothers and sisters. What affects them affects us all. It’s the personal stories and experiences that change us the most. For me it’s walking with a sister to the fresh graves or her husband and son who had recently died from drinking contaminated water. It’s visiting a widow in her small crumbling mud hut. It’s helplessly watching as a baby gasps for each and every breath as she clings to life on a hospital bed. It’s feeling the tight grasp of a child who is desperate for love and affection and looking into those pleading, piercing brown eyes. Each experience breaks my heart. However, broken hearts aren’t much good unless they are moved to respond. We need to be moved with compassion. We need to love in deed and in truth. We need to do something. Thanks to God, there has been a remarkable response. Brethren and sisters, young people and children have responded to these needs with genuine compassion and care. 2012 was a busy year for Agape in Action, for which we give thanks and praise to our Father in Heaven. We saw our second cohort of young people graduate from the Atashinda program, find employment and start giving back by caring for the needy in their home ecclesias and communities. We rejoiced at the baptisms of many young people. The primary schools and children’s homes shone as lights in their communities. The micro-loan pilot programs exceeded everyone’s expectations. Rainwater tanks were installed at ecclesial halls throughout the driest regions in Kenya. Hundreds of mosquito nets and hygiene kits were distributed. Agape in Action teams shared joy and fellowship with families in Kenya and India as they labored together strengthening one another in the love of Christ. The widows program, the nutrition drink program and the child sponsorship program were expanded into new areas. It is with great joy that we can report that there are more than 2,300 orphaned or unwanted children being supported in Christadelphian homes in Africa and Asia. We are so thankful for God’s blessings, for the faithful brothers and sisters in the field who tirelessly coordinate the activities, and for the unrelenting support of so many. From the volunteers who entered data or sent emails, to the children who sold baked goods or donated their birthday money, everyone did their part. The collective response has been tremendous. Your kind words of encouragement have inspired us and buoyed our spirits when the work has seemed heavy. Thank you.
God willing, 2013 will be another exciting year for Agape in Action and we pray (and ask you to pray) for God’s continued blessing on the work. In January, the doors of the Agape in Action Academy were opened for the very first time. Bright young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are coming to learn. And they are learning much more than a school curriculum. The gospel is being preached and a solid spiritual foundation is being laid for a new generation. It is our prayer that when these students graduate and go back to their home ecclesias, they will ‘set the world afire’ with their enthusiasm for the gospel and put their love into action as they reach out and help those around them. With God’s blessing, we will see new projects implemented and existing projects expanded as we strive to reach more of our brothers and sisters living in extreme poverty. We will continue to work closely with the CBM and local ecclesias to focus our assistance on those who are most in need. And we will continue to ensure that all of our activities support not only the physical needs, but the spiritual needs of those being helped. If we fail to provide spiritual support and share the gospel through our activities, we have failed in the most important things of all.
There is much to do. At times it can feel like we’re trying to empty the ocean with an eyedropper. However, God has not asked us to solve the problem of poverty or even try. In Deut 15:11 He says to His people, “…the poor will never cease from the land”. And yet, the very next words are “…therefore I command you, saying, you shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and your needy”. Our response is a personal one. One that is motivated by love, compassion and a deep appreciation of what our Father and His Son have done for us. It is an outworking of our faith and love. The more we are focused on the life to come, the less concerned we are with accumulating and hanging onto the material riches of this life. The good news is that our Lord Jesus Christ will solve the problem. With righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth (Isa 11:4). He shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth (Jer 23:5). As we wait for that great day, let us put our love into action. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.
James Flint (Cambridge, ON)