Cultivating Compassion

As we continue to consider “What characterizes our movement?” from The Navigators Vision Statement, we come to a third characteristic: compassion for the vulnerable and broken.
About 100 people have been living in tents in the grassy area next to the freeway off-ramps in our neighborhood. Recently, we learned that the city was going to conduct another “sweep” of the area and that our house-less neighbors would again be moved in an ongoing dance that never seems to result in actual help. This sweep took place last Tuesday.
Because we knew this would be a tough day, several of our neighbors decided to organize a hot breakfast. It was cold and pouring rain, but we set up under a bridge and served scrambled eggs, ham, sausage, muffins, hot coffee, fruit, and juice. A few neighbors swung by on their way to work and dropped off other food items, including some homemade cinnamon rolls.
A couple of our neighbors decided to create personal hygiene bags for each person. They dropped off several hundred disposable plastic zipper bags containing personal products such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, and deodorant, plus things like granola bars, tissues, and snacks. I was amazed at the amount of work it must have taken to assemble the bags. My neighbor said that they had simply put out a list of what they needed on our Next-Door webpage and people dropped off “tons of stuff.” They then engaged the local high school robotics club to assemble the bags. (I was slightly disappointed that they didn’t use robots to do the work.)
I deeply believe that the gospel transforms nonbelievers as they respond to the presence of Christ in people living among them. I believe just as passionately that the gospel transforms believers as we relate naturally to people who believe differently than we do about God. This is why our Calling says that we don’t merely raise up laborers who live and disciple, but laborers who disciple among the lost.
If you're around me for any length of time, you’ll hear me talk about why we desperately need to relate to and live among those who do not yet follow Jesus.
Often, I refer to the parable of the wheat and the weeds sown in a field (Matthew 13:24-30). In this parable, the field is the world, the wheat the “sons of the Kingdom” and the weeds are “the sons of the evil one.” I love the conclusion, when the Lord of the harvest says, “let both grow together until harvest time.”
We grow in compassion as we spend time with people who are lost, vulnerable, and broken. When Jesus saw the multitudes, He felt compassion for them. This led to the prayer that God would send laborers into the harvest field. It seems obvious that Jesus would expect that these laborers would also feel compassion as they moved among those who were distressed and downcast.
In the book of Jonah, God seems just as concerned with the development of Jonah as He was with the salvation of Nineveh. Most of the book is about God’s working with Jonah. At the end of the book, God rebukes Jonah for being more concerned with his personal comfort than with the needs of the people to whom he was sent. The Lord has a talk with Jonah about compassion:

You had compassion on the plant for which you did not work, and which you did not cause to grow, which came up overnight and perished overnight. And should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?
—Jonah 4:10–11, NASB
I’m not sure what lasting impact our community had on our tent-dwelling neighbors. I am certain of the impact this effort had on me. God used it to cultivate compassion in me for human beings—people living in my neighborhood—who are vulnerable and broken. And that’s where I need to begin.
For Your Consideration:
  • What attitudes or beliefs prevent people from feeling compassion?
  • Who are the “vulnerable and broken” in your neighborhood?
  • How might you become more involved with the people around you who especially need your compassion?
Al Engler is the director of Nav Neighbors. This is the ninth in his series reflecting on how The Navigators Vision Statement can be carried out in daily ministry. The series begins with Unpacking Our Vision: An Introduction. To contact Al or learn more about his ministry, click here.