I've recently returned from a trip to Uganda with the charity Compassion. I've been wanting to blog about it almost since the day we arrived, but it's taken me until now to do so. Partly that's because life has been busy, but partly it's because I haven't yet fully managed to process and work through all of the stuff that we saw and encountered. I'm an extrovert and I process things by talking about them, and since I came home there hasn't been much chance to do that as life and church and advent have taken over! If I'm not careful though, the moment will pass - so here are a few random thoughts, that I'll probably be processing even as I'm writing. Bear with me!
The first thing to say is that Uganda turns out to be one of the most stunningly beautiful places you could ever imagine. I've travelled a lot, and I've been to some amazing places, but gosh, I loved Uganda! Especially Kisoro, where we stayed for a few days, in a beautiful hilltop guest house run by the Diocese of Muhabura (led by the Official Best Bishop in the World Ever). It was so lush and green and the views were breathtaking. I very much hope to visit again one day!
The trip was also a good one because it was with a fabulous bunch of people - 9 of us all involved in some way in church leadership and in New Wine, and 2 members of staff from Compassion UK. Some I already knew very well, some just a bit, and some not at all - but I laughed pretty much solidly for the whole 12 days, which simply in and of itself is very good for the soul!
And then there was the whole point of the trip! To see first hand the amazing work of Compassion. I've been a supporter of Compassion for quite a few years now. Since 2003 I've sponsored a little girl in India. She was 5 when I begun to sponsor her and when she was 13 I was fortunate enough to go out and visit her, and to see the project, visit her home and meet her family. It was a fabulous experience, and one that I'll never forget. Meeting her after 8 years of exchanging letters, and seeing her grow from a little girl into a teenager, was a joy. Sadly her family have since moved away and are outside of the project's area, but I have swapped to sponsor a 16 year old girl in the same project. On that trip I was accompanied by a friend, B, and we also then went to Thailand to visit the little girl she sponsors. We had a wonderful time in both places.
So, I thought I knew quite a bit about Compassion, and was pretty sold on what they do. However, this trip completely blew me away! What an incredibly impressive charity it is. Every staff member we met was completely in love with Jesus, utterly dedicated to their work, and totally passionate about transforming the lives of poor communities.
As I write I can tell that I have several essays within me on this topic!! I imagine there will be several more blogs to come... But for now I think the thing that I'm reflecting on is what 'compassion' actually means, and looks like (the actual word, that is, not the charity!). My dictionary defines it as "sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others". That's fine, isn't it, up to a point - but then what? I did feel pity and concern for the people I met in Uganda, of course I did - compared with my comfortable life here in the UK they had so little. There were heartbreaking stories to hear and homes to visit. There were times when I was moved to tears by what I was seeing and experiencing. That's as it should be - if I didn't feel like that there would be something wrong.
But then what? Because my pity and concern don't help anyone. They don't help me. They either just make me feel awful that I have so much and they have so little, and I become almost paralysed at the fact that there's nothing I can do; or they make me feel numb - I have to switch off and not let it affect me because it's just too hard. They also don't help them. They don't need my pity. For one thing, that's because most of the people we met were joyful and lively and fun (especially those who knew Jesus). They praised and worshipped and enjoyed life in a way that would put many of our churches to shame! But for another thing, it's because they need my love, and my prayers, and my time, and my energy, and my money - not my pity.
One of my favourite songs is Hosanna, by Brooke Fraser. In it is the line "break my heart for what breaks yours" - this is my constant prayer to God in the areas of ministry for which he has given me a passion, among the lost and the broken and the marginalised. I want my heart to break when I see things which aren't right - when people are being treated unjustly, when people are starving, when people are being told they don't matter. And yet if all that happens is that my heart breaks, that's not enough. I need my heart to break just enough for me to be spurred to act, but not so much that I give up in despair. The line before that one in the song gives the answer, I think - "show me how to love like you have loved me". That has to be the key. If I can truly get my head around how God loves me, and if I am able as much as possible to copy that love, then that will be the thing that makes the difference.
That's why, while in Uganda, I decided to sponsor another child. Before we'd gone I'd thought about it and decided I couldn't afford it. Once we were in the project and meeting the children, I still couldn't afford it! But I also knew I had to do it. My heart broke just enough to make it happen.
So for me, compassion looked like that breaking of my heart, in tune with God's heart, to do what I could to make a difference. And Compassion are doing that in a truly incredible way. I cannot speak highly enough of the way they work.
But the rest will have to wait for another blog...!
For now, here's a photo of the gorgeous little person who stole my heart and who I've just started to sponsor.