In a previous ministry position, I was responsible for directing pastoral care at a church. My job was to remind people of God’s presence through my presence and prayers as well as to oversee those offering care to others. When someone was sick or dying, a family was going through a crisis, or a newborn baby was brought home, I was there to offer care, as well as discover if and how our church family could help further.
While dying of cancer, a seven-year-old Ugandan child named Okello Dikens became a leader. Though he wasn’t at the helm of a company, he exercised a profound influence through his example of faith, kindness, and service.
I know a leader who learned sympathy when he lost his job. He admitted it’s easier to humbly love when life has knocked you down. When, as he would say, “You’ve got blood in your mouth.” I also know a pastor whose heart was softened by the death of his son. This pastor wouldn’t say it was worth it—and he’d be right—but his grief has made him a more compassionate shepherd.
It’s been said that more is caught than taught. That was true for my siblings and I as we witnessed our parents caring for their parents. My grandmothers, both widows, lived in homes adjacent to our own—purchased by my father and mother. And in time, a grandmother’s sister-in-law also came to live in our little community. All three were doted on by Mom and Dad.
Years ago, a family member who suffers from bipolar disorder had an extreme psychotic break. The manic episode led to job loss, jail time, and homelessness. For two months, I was on the phone with social workers, law enforcement officers, friends, and family members, trying to figure out how to help him. I even contacted my family member’s church. But no one there could direct me to helpful resources.
The bundle of hyperactivity known as Liam was making a day of terrorizing his older (and much calmer) brother. Finally, Mom had enough of it, and Liam earned the mother of all timeouts. Well, at least for the rest of the morning.
In recent years, the refugee crisis has shocked the world over. Images like that of three-year-old Kurdish boy Alan Kurdi, his lifeless body washed onto the shore after the refugees’ inflatable rubber boat capsized, horrified us. Too often, however, outrage has yielded little action. A year after his son’s death, Alan’s father told reporters: “Everyone claimed they wanted to do something because of the photo that touched them so much. But what is happening now? People are still dying and nobody is doing anything about it.”
Gaius Octavius became the first Roman emperor by working behind the scenes to consolidate his power. He changed his name to Gauis Julius Caesar Octavianus, after his adoptive father, and then promoted the idea of Caesars (Roman emperors) being divine—allowing him to be considered the son of a god. Eventually, Octavius took the title of Augustus Caesar—sole ruler of Rome—whose spirit was deemed worthy of worship by his people.
Two news stories caught my attention on the same day. In one, a homeless man shivered under an archway on a cold, rainy evening. Half-drunk, he was shocked when someone offered to pay for a night of lodging. With a bit of help, this man became a social studies teacher, a volunteer, and even starred in a play! In the other story, someone cruelly taunted a homeless man by showing him cash and then burning up the paper money as the destitute man watched.
I have a friend, a nurse, who recently went to Thessaloniki, Greece, to work in three refugee camps, primarily serving mothers and young babies who were far from home in the bitter cold. The overwhelming majority of the refugees are from Syria, where their villages and cities, once places of laughter and life, are now mostly rubble. In an email, my friend attached an image of one of the refugee tents where someone had scribbled on the outside: “We are not refugees, we are prisoners here. We want a better life.”
The Institute of International Education revealed that more than one million international students studied in US universities and colleges during the 2015-16 academic year. As a former international student myself, I know how difficult it is to enter a different culture, to learn to communicate in another language, and to experience culture shock and homesickness. I also know how wonderful it feels to be welcomed and loved by believers in Jesus from a local community.
Two siblings went down truly divergent paths. One turned his back on Jesus and eventually spent years in prison. The other lived out the grace and love of God, compassionately caring for family, those inside the body of Christ, and those on the outside. Two lives marked by actions that spoke loudly.
Renowned psychotherapist and physician Alfred Adler stressed the need to understand individuals within their social context. Calling for compassion and empathy in relating to others, he described empathy as “seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another, and feeling with the heart of another.”
In March 2007, I was standing in an Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp in northern Uganda gazing at hundreds of young refugees who were staring back at me. As I looked into their eyes, saw their malnourished frames, and witnessed their deplorable living conditions, the Holy Spirit filled me in a way I’d never experienced before. I sensed God was telling me, “I love these children. I love them!” And then, it was as if He extended this invitation: “Come love them with me.”