September 30, 2009

Compassion in Action

What is it to have compassion?

It amazes me how in the Scripture, Jesus' compassion for the people always translated into action. Many times, the Scripture tells us, that Jesus "had compassion on them" and then He would "heal them", "feed them", "teach them". Compassion finds a way out.

In the midst of our present tragedy, we Christ-followers are called to act on compassion. Just like Christ. Today, I witnessed that calling lived out in an anonymous community of individuals with a strong hope to alleviate the sufferings of others. Obscure as it was, our makeshift donation center was filled with an assembly line of inexperienced volunteers who happily and lovingly packed clothes, foods and other items.

I remember as I packed clothes. We were clearly instructed to include five tops and five bottoms in a plastic bag and appropriately label the finished product according to its wearer. Mine happened to be clothes for women. My fellow volunteer noted how I took time meticulously picking out clothes to pack, a supposedly no-brainer, breeze-through-it job. I smiled and told her that I wanted to pack clothes that the receiver can mix and match. I was simply and sincerely concerned about my receiver's fashion. As ridiculous as it sounded, it proved to me that I was genuinely thinking of the welfare of these people - that they were real humans, with real needs. And wants for that matter.

Earlier, we visited one of the campuses nearby. JASMS/PWU along EDSA. Its wall adjacent to a creek toppled over as water overflowed during the heavy rains of Ondoy last Saturday. It gave way to floods rising to waist-high into the campus, and damaging countless school properties. We were greeted by a sight of muddied pathways and classrooms emptied of flood-drenched armchairs, shelves and paraphernalia left to dry under the sun. It was a devastating sight indeed. The principal, emerging from rehabilitating her office, unabashedly asked us nothing except for manpower to help clean the campus. And it was a plea that will not go unheard. On our way out, we intentionally swung by the Prayer Room and lo, and behold, we were surprised to see that it still laid in ruins. Water still covered the floors and cabinets and tables were in a disarray. The Prayer Room held a special place in our hearts, because that was where we usually spend time with the faculty of the said school. And it broke my heart to see it in shambles, and almost beyond recognition.

After we finished packing the goods, we were all set for distribution. We were to go in a slum area in a nearby barangay -- Sinagtala in Bago Bantay. The residents there lived by the creek. The floods wiped away most of the houses in the area rendering the people homeless. And so it was a perfect candidate to be recipients of our relief goods. Only, the place is quite notorious for its reputation - "den of robbers and ills of society". I honestly balked at going with the distribution team. It was just too dangerous for me - a sentiment which was shared by many as I perceived. Yet, encouraged (or more of coaxed) by my fellow volunteers, I chose to trust God to protect us as we do our final mission for the day. After briefing and dividing into teams, the older ones were tasked to go while the younger ones were left behind to act as our prayer warriors.

So we braved the narrow and dark alleys of Sinagtala and emerged unscathed. When at first it seemed like a nerve-wracking and breath-stopping mission, we found ourselves laughing as we shared our "adventure" stories to the group during our debriefing. We discovered most of our fears were unfounded, save for the presence of drunkards and encounter with knife-toting individual. And that, what we did was really "different" - untainted by political or any selfish motives as affirmed by the reactions of the residents. We were going house-to-house, finding dumbfounded residents to see us knocking at their dilapidated doors. It was custom for them to painstakingly fall in line in the plaza before they could get their share of relief goods. And as if by habit, they were waiting for us to say in whose politician's name we came. But soon enough, they found that we came on our own volition. To do what we had to do - help. And a simple and heartfelt thank you from them made it all worthwhile.

The day ended in prayer and praises. A sense of gratefulness dawned on us as we came to appreciate the little things we often took for granted -- a leaky roof above our heads, dry beds to rest our weary bodies at night, clean water running freely from our faucets, warm hugs of families and friends. At the end of the day, when we thought we were to bless others, it was us who were unknowingly blessed to the overflow.

What is it to have compassion? To see it in action.

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