Church, Practices, Reflections

Dan Reiland on Compassionate Ministry

A Wave of Compassion By Dan Reiland

On January 18, 2005 I returned from a tsunami relief trip to the country of Sri Lanka. Four others from Crossroads Community Church (where I serve) and a group from World Hope International comprised our team of nine people. We traveled halfway around the world to the center of the devastation caused by the tsunami on December 26, 2004. 

What we saw, felt and experienced is difficult to put into words – that's one of the reasons why two of the people on our team were part of a film crew. It was our desire to capture the story of God's compassion, both already in action and the potential to be expressed, in a country where Christianity is not only the minority, but persecuted. Let me tell you about just a portion of our experience.

The first day we landed, after nearly thirty hours of travel, we
dropped our bags at the hotel and immediately took off from Colombo to
Galle. If you watched CNN, you know this as the place where a train was
thrown from the track and its cars scattered over the tops of houses.
Over 1,000 people lost their lives on that train. It was sobering to
see a train track that was twisted like it was made of plastic, and
overwhelming to walk amidst the devastation in the wake of lost lives
and displaced people. 

In that place, we met up with an exhausted team of Americans who
were doing their best to organize a relief camp to feed people, bandage
wounds, and tend to the trauma of people who lost loved ones. We did
what we could and helped them buy a few supplies. It seemed hopeless. I
asked a nurse from New York why she came and she responded, "I had to.
My heart was captured and I knew I had to do something to help." She
turned away and put her arms around an injured Sri Lankan man who lost
his family, and simply sat with him. It was then – on the first day –
that I began to see the power of compassion in action.

On another day we traveled farther south to Hambantota, where an
entire area was wiped out. Most of the debris had been cleaned up by
the time we arrived.  There was only sand, trees and tents where the
people now lived in one of the harder-hit areas.  However, a marking
moment was seeing a red sari and a number of other articles of clothing
still hanging in the trees. Imagining the horror of the people being
swept through there by the force of the wave was overwhelming. We did
what we could, and spoke with Sri Lankan officials to learn how we
could partner in the future to help rebuild the area. God granted us
favor with that connection.

Toward the end of the trip we took a ten-hour journey across the
middle of the country, through the stunningly-beautiful mountains, and
through the city of Kandi all the way to Kalmunai on the east coast.
Here, there was the least amount of help – it is far from Colombo, and
difficult to travel to. We delivered a truck full of food and supplies
to a church that was organizing help to victims in a relief camp.
Members of our team played with the kids, while others listened to and
filmed people’s
stories. One young girl told us her story through
our interpreter, a Christian pastor from Colombo. She was seventeen
years old, married for seven months and four months pregnant. She lost
her husband and everything she had.   A couple members of our team
quietly handed her enough money to really make a difference.

One of the many things that we did not expect to find, (still in
Kalmunai) was an orphanage/church that was left standing in perfect
condition. On either side of the building for blocks, everything was
demolished.  We stood and stared at this little white church with a
cross on the front. It wasn’t touched. There was green grass in the
front and there was no grass anywhere else for miles!  It was simply
spared. We found the pastor and asked the story. When they saw the wave
coming they ran into the church and prayed. That’s it. God saved them.
The pastor’s wife and child had run out of the church and were lost. 

As in any trip of this nature, we all came back changed in some way.
I find myself utterly and humbly grateful for our blessings in the
United States and for the way in which Christ uses my weaknesses for
His Glory. But those personal changes are not the point of this
article. I mention it only because little will change in your church
without the leaders and people changing first. My desire is to stir
within in you the power of compassion and its potential within your
church.

Compassion gains trust and respect for Christianity.
Christianity
has not had favor within the country of Sri Lanka.  Among the various
faith groups it is a very small minority, estimated at less than 5% of
the people. The government supports other religions, particularly
Buddhism and Hinduism, but discourages Christianity.  When the tsunami
hit, Christians were the first to respond – within the country and
outside as well. It is significant that these Christians did not go
with an agenda of conversion, but simply to express the compassion of
Christ. It is also significant that they have not reserved their
assistance for Christians only, but have freely given to any in need
regardless of their faith or race. This captured the attention of both
the government and people of other religions. The pastor who served as
our host and interpreter said that it was the first time in his life
that persecution of Christians has lifted – and, in fact, Christians
have received noticeable trust and respect.

Compassion opens doors and connects hearts.
Compassion
doesn’t take place only out on the field.  We met with government
officials in Colombo and were encouraged to see their responsiveness to
the idea of working with us, through local
Christian leaders, to help bring restoration to the country of Sri Lanka. 

They told us of the need to build approximately 100,000 homes and
how they would be organized into small communities. We learned that the
process is far more involved that simply building and
financing
buildings.  There is a critical need to rebuild the economy through
creating new jobs.  Micro financing and enterprise will be vital to the
process. The plan of each community to have schools and business is
part of the restoration.  All of this will take between one and four
years.  If the Sri Lankan government must do it all on their own, it
will take four years. The more aid they receive, the less time it will
take.

This leads to another complex issue: transitional housing. The
people must live somewhere while their homes are being rebuilt.  They
must have some sort of income so they can eat. How much is
enough,
how much is too much, and how much is too little? The scope of these
matters is far too great for this article, and outside its purpose. The
point is that compassion opened the doors for these conversations and
partnerships to take place. 

Compassion stirs the hearts of Christians to action.
It
was amazing to see how eagerly the hearts of our people at Crossroads
generously responded to the needs of those impacted by the tsunami.
The amount of money raised was staggering – and more will be given.
When the five of us who went to Sri Lanka stood on the platform to be
prayed over, it was as if the entire congregation was going with us. In
fact, they were. Their prayers and financial generosity sent us and
carried us.  Their enthusiasm to see God work has been incredible.

Compassion requires action, and action lifts the hearts of people.
When you cast a vision to make a difference, it breathes fresh air into
any congregation. Whether your church is struggling and plateaued or
thriving and growing, when the people of God get hold of His heart and
His agenda the spiritual fervor of the congregation increases in a
powerful way. People begin to see what God can do in them and through
them in ways that cannot happen without reaching out with the
compassion of Christ.

My purpose in this article is not to tell you to give aid to tsunami
victims. It is to stir within you what we all know to be true about the
compassion of Christianity – the compassion of Christ.  It changes
people. It brings hope to the hopeless; it opens doors, and comforts
the hurting.  Whatever it does, compassion always takes action.
Whether God prompts you to help those in Southeast Asia or people in
your own neighborhood isn’t the point. The point is to make sure that
you and your church are listening to God’s voice and expressing His
heart to those in need.


This article is used by permission from Dr. Dan Reiland’s free monthly
e-newsletter ‘The Pastor’s Coach’ available at http://www.INJOY.com.