Compassion Beyond Our Comfort Zone
by Keri Wyatt Kent
It’s one thing to find the poor or downtrodden in our own community. But what about expanding our view to think globally? How can we have an impact on someone on the other side of the planet?
Just thinking about the world’s problems — hunger, slavery, disease, wars — can be overwhelming. Again, it’s important to remember two things: Making a difference for even one person really does matter. And second, helping others changes you. Offering compassion, especially on a global scale, can be a spiritually transforming experience.
But where do you begin? We’ll have the biggest impact on the issue we have the most passion about. For some, it’s the AIDS crisis, especially in Africa. Others just can’t stand the idea of domestic violence, or homelessness — which are often related — and they really want to do something about it.
When you find yourself saying, “This just should not be happening!” that’s most likely the problem for which you have enough passion to be a difference maker. For example, did you know there are more people in the world trapped in slavery today than there were in the 1800s? That makes me angry. But I can’t necessarily hop on a plane to try to find and free people trapped in slavery. However, as a person with disposable income, I can make a difference by making ethical buying decisions. I can purchase Fair Trade certified items whenever possible.
Are the workers who harvest the coffee beans to make your morning java treated fairly and paid a living wage? Were the jeans you put on this morning made in a sweatshop? How would you even know?
It’s an unfortunate reality of a global economy that we often don’t know where our food or clothing originates, and that workers in developing countries are often exploited in order to provide cheap goods. But companies that comply with standards for ethical treatment of their workers can be certified to label their products “Fair Trade.”
By buying Fair Trade coffee, tea, chocolate and other essentials, you can have an impact on families around the globe just by going shopping. If your local grocery store doesn’t carry Fair Trade items, visit globalexchange.org or tenthousandvillages.com or google “Fair Trade.”
There are plenty of other ways to make a difference globally too. My family and I sponsor a little girl in Honduras through WorldVision.com. Our donation helps her get food, clothing and education. Our sponsorship feels like a small thing, like scooping water from the ocean with a thimble. Yet sending that money each month tells her and her mama, “You matter to God.” It also reminds me that our small efforts matter. And it puts a face on poverty, and puts that face on our refrigerator.
However, the best way to make a difference is to work together with others. My friend, Wendy, and the other moms in her small group decided to raise money for Living Water (water.cc), a Christian organization that helps provide clean drinking water to under-resourced people around the world. These Richmond, Virginia, moms took on a “two-week challenge,” where they drank no beverages except tap water for two weeks and then donated the money they saved on coffee, soda and so forth to Living Water. The moms (and some of their children who joined in) raised $400 — and also raised their awareness.
There’s a temptation to become overwhelmed when looking at the needs of the poor, and to think that making a difference is impossible. You can’t help every poor person on the planet or even in your city. Still, each individual matters to God. And if we help one person, we’ve done more than if we had simply thrown up our hands in defeat and helped no one. If each of us changes one life, that’s a lot. When we offer compassion to even one person, we radically change at least two lives — that person’s and our own. That’s making an impact!
Keri Wyatt Kent is the author of Simple Compassion: Devotions for Making a Difference in Your Neighborhood and Your World (Zondervan, 2009). Visit her at keriwyattkent.com.