Almost as wonderful as seeing joy in Kibera’s children has been seeing the growth of compassion in youth on our summer mission trips. In Ephesians 4:32, Paul writes from prison to his church in Ephesus, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as Christ God forgave you. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.
Our youth and families have lived out Paul’s words through mission this summer.
Cleaning a grimy, roach-infested kitchen alongside our high school youth in Puerto Rico as they ministered to an elderly woman overwhelmed by her own declining health and dwindling resources began a summer of mission convincing me that compassion grows through experience. Christian organized a wonderful trip on which our youth were able to see beyond the conditions in which people live to be touched and in return to touch, the elderly people we served.
Participating in a youth development conference in northern England with the Rose Castle Foundation, I saw the growing compassion of young Christians, Jews and Muslims as they came to understand the different ways they experience discrimination and privilege in their respective cultures. By living and dining together and spending a week in team-building activities, these young people came to see their common humanity rather than their differences.
Of all the remarkable ways God’s love is shared in our world, I never imagined it could be through bubbles. Traveling only as far as the parking lot of the old Ramada Inn on Tuckahoe Road in Yonkers, the giant bubbles brought to our community picnic by Bundles of Joy surrounded young migrant children together with RCB congregants’ children in their magic. In the Kibera Slum in Nairobi, high schooler Jacinta Onslow’s bubble machine drew dozens of school children to embrace her in their delight. From Puerto Rico to Kenya to northern England, it has been a joy and privilege to witness young people sharing God’s love with a level of compassion that inspires hope for our future. And right next door, we have neighbors who are equally struggling to survive and thrive and are eager to have us both share their pain and join them in moments of joy.
Psychologist Steven Hayes, in an article entitled “From Loss to Love”, writes, “to open your heart to pain is to open your heart to joy”. He goes on to say, “In your pain you find your values, and in your values, you find your pain”. It reminds me of the wonderful story, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”, when the Grinch begins to understand that people can have fellowship and joy without material things and then falls to the ground in pain at feeling real feelings again. “In Whoville they say – that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day.” I know that my heart grows each time I experience the heartbreak and joy of bringing hope to children who have little to hope for, or food to families who have traveled thousands of miles hoping for a better future for their children. And my heart grows when seeing our high school youth connecting in broken Spanish with elderly Puerto Ricans, and congregant families sharing new experiences in Kenya that will bind them together forever. It makes me wonder whether our desire to protect our children from pain may in fact prevent them from feeling real joy and from finding their own values.
Paul was not asking his church in Ephesus only to rejoice with each other. He was advising them to mourn with each other, forgive each other, to be compassionate and humble. People who travel to Kibera, or to Yonkers or Mount Vernon, can expect to be changed. Once we see real pain and true joy existing side-by-side in people who are struggling daily to survive, we can never view our own lives in quite the same way again. So, even if you are sometimes a Grinch, I hope you will join us at RCB to rejoice with our neighbors and mourn with our neighbors, whether nearby or on another continent, as we strive to follow Paul’s call to love one another, be compassionate and humble, and forgive each other, just as Jesus forgives us.