“Engaging hearts”…one of the driving purposes of Compassion Corps…what does this look like, and how difficult is it?
In the USA, the hearts, souls, and pocketbooks of many Americans are “engaged” in the pursuit of pleasure or “entangled” in the briars of busy-ness. Upon hearing of the great needs of our neighbors in West Africa, most of us can do no more than sigh or hastily send off a check. But to learn of poverty, extreme suffering, and destruction of political, economic, and social infrastructure as a result of prolonged civil war and to determine to do something about it – this is noteworthy! This is “engagement” of heart.
First Baptist Church of Collingdale, PA, a predominantly Caucasian church, learned firsthand about the horror and devastation being endured in Liberia, West Africa, through the stories shared with them by Liberian men and women who visited the church and sought to take refuge in the U.S. Some of them settled in Collingdale and became a part of their church family. Awareness grew of how families of these Liberian brothers and sisters were still suffering and making courageous efforts to rebuild their nation and churches after the war ended, and the hearts of church members began to prompt them to do something to help. Hearing of their concern, the pastor of Lighthouse Baptist Church in Monrovia, Liberia, extended and invitation to Pastor Perry Messick of FBC Collingdale to come and to bring a team who would be able to teach, train, and encourage them.
Almost simultaneously, but completely unaware of their neighbor church’s newfound commitment, First Baptist Church of Oakeola, an African – American Church, felt moved to step out in a gesture of compassion for brothers and sisters in Liberia. They, too, had learned of the hardships faced by Liberian brethren through new members who had fled from the war-torn land. Pastor Lonnie Herndon had received an invitation, similar to Pastor Messick’s, from the pastor of a different church in Monrovia – Providence Baptist.
Just over a year ago, at a combined service, the two Collingdale-area pastors shared their concern for Liberia with one another. They immediately began to sense that their mutual endeavors were no coincidence. They had actually been forming a local neighbor-church partnership in community outreach and music ministry, and now considered how they might serve in Africa together. They wondered if this might not be the perfect way to communicate the transforming power of sacrificial love as two churches lay aside ethnic differences, join hands, learn to appreciate one another and to work together to serve those in critical need of hope, forgiveness, and restoration?
Over the past year a combined team from the two churches met monthly to prepare for the journey of love to Liberia that finally took place from June 4th -16th, 2008. Pastor Messick, knowing of Compassion Corps’ experience in West Africa, asked Jan and Beth to assist the 16-member team administratively and to help carry out training and activities for men, women and children while on the field. What a privilege it was to help facilitate their efforts, and what a thrill for each one who was able to participate, to feel more fully alive as lives, souls, and treasures were invested in a labor of selfless love.
While in Liberia the near-daily meetings were filled to overflowing, and one wondered if all of Monrovia wasn’t encouraged by the powerful, joyful songs that erupted from every gathering. What a hopeful sound for those who have for so long fought against the inner haunting of bitterness, remorse, and fear.
Beth organized a day of fun and games for the area children, and each member of the team was assigned a duty, whether it was running a carnival game, mobilizing relays, serving snacks, telling stories, or just doing crowd control. It was the first event of its kind at the church; the kids were completely delighted, and the church children’s workers gained the vision, resources and encouragement they need to continue serving the hundreds of impoverished children in their region.
The team grew in understanding of the magnitude of the economic devastation and needs as they traveled to the far north and west of the country on two excursions. Visits were made to regions that had endured some of the worst conflicts of the recent war. There they would be honored to meet courageous Liberian men and women who are rebuilding schools, running orphanages, and rehabilitating former child soldiers; there they would feel their hearts awakening and yearning to do something – anything – to help. For many days and now weeks afterwards, thoughts of these things weigh heavily and promises both made and unspoken agitate for faithful and compassionate action in the year ahead.
A heart that is engaged in selfless acts of love for those in need is never quite satisfied with lesser things afterwards. It is a taste of joy that leaves us longing for more…