The Gift of compassion
Hello everyone. My name is Lisa and I’m a lawyer. I’ve been living in Dallas for the past 20 years and about to move to New York. I’m excited to share a story with you today that is near and dear to my heart. So a little bit about me, I am a survivor of sexual abuse and I’ve had the privilege of going on mission trips to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which has been called the rape capital of the world. Unfortunately, many women there, old, young, all different ages have suffered rape and just really horrible acts of sexual assault because of just different tribal infighting and things. There was a church that I’d been a part of in Dallas for a long time that took a group of women who have overcome sexual abuse and have learned how to heal through a relationship with Christ. We wanted to give that same knowledge and that same healing to the women in Congo.
So my first trip was in 2010 and we saw the Lord do lots of amazing things. In 2011, I got to go back as a co-leader, and I expected things to kind of go the same way they did in 2010. But of course, the Lord has different plans. Each trip is different and each experience is different. So 2011 was what I would call the mission trip that taught me about compassion. A particular story that the Lord highlighted was about an elderly lady that on the second day of teaching came up to me during tea break. We would have these mid morning tea breaks for about 10-15 minutes and it was always a little bit chaotic. But she was pushing her way to the front, elbowing people aside, because she really, really wanted to talk to me. And I was a little bit scared to be honest. She had a panicked look in her eye and just looked really intensely anxious and a little bit desperate. I could tell it was going to be a dramatic situation. So she came up, and she got a hold of me, and we had a translator with us for just a couple minutes. I was able to get the background and what was going on is that she wanted to share her story with me.
She was telling me that she had been raped multiple times by some soldiers, and that they had pinned her down. She had machete wounds all over her left arm and she wanted to show me the wounds. So she was holding out her arm and pointing out the different places where things were disjointed, because it hadn’t healed properly. She just kind of had this panicked look in her eyes and just was imploring some sort of response. At this time the translator had left, so there wasn’t really anything I could say or give her. I remember just feeling the presence of the Lord. It’s like that moment just stopped in time, like we were in this little bubble. It makes me cry to even think about it now. But I just, I just cried with her. I just told her, you know, through my tears, how sorry I was and I think… I mean, this went on throughout the tea break. I just held her arm that was still broken and I put my palm on her machete wounds, and I just locked eyes with her and I cried. And it wasn’t like sobbing crying, it was just like streams of tears just coming down. The more I cried, the more she calmed down. I think she just finally felt heard and seen and like her pain mattered. Because in Congo, with so many women with similar stories, it’s hard for them to give each other that compassion because they’re going through their own pain. So it’s hard for them to sometimes have the perspective and the space emotionally to give that to others.
The very last day she hugged me, and she said, “You’re like the daughter that I never had,” and just, you know, felt very, very close. I remember she just grabbed my hand and interlocked her fingers and she started to cry, and then I started to cry again. I don’t know if she’s even with us anymore. She was so old back then and had a lot of injuries. But I know that I’ll see her again. But that was just a very surprising encounter. I expected, you know, my trips to Congo to be full of teaching and Bible verses and sermons, everything that we prepared, but that was by far the most powerful part of the trip. So I’ll never forget that trip for that, that experience of just giving. Being pushed to the max with your compassion, the compassion of the Lord. It’s not always a persuasive sermon that’s going to move someone’s heart or bring them into the healing presence of the Lord. It can be your compassion.
Fast forward a couple of years and 2014 I was at a new church and I was getting ready for another mission trip. This time it was going to be with lawyers, and we were back in East Africa. This time it was going to be South Sudan, but still working with a lot of sexual abuse survivors. And I was a little nervous to go back because I remembered that I had cried before and this time I was going to be working with lawyers and I thought that could be embarrassing. I am a lawyer but you know, sometimes lawyers, they don’t look highly upon tears during speeches. So I didn’t want to go down that road again. I was at a prayer set at this church and someone came up to me, my friend Taylor, and she had said that the Lord had highlighted to her that I had a gift of compassion, and that it was not a weakness, it was a strength. And that Jesus, if you look through the Scriptures, a lot of times before He did His greatest miracles, it says He was moved with compassion. So that word from Taylor really helped me a lot; not to be afraid to be used by the Lord with compassion, not to be afraid to enter into the depths of His heart for people in that area. That it’s not something to be ashamed of, that it can be a good thing, even with lawyers.
Just to sum that all up, I would say that this past year 2020, there’s been a lot of tension. There’s been a lot of disunity, a lot of, I don’t know, pride and self righteousness, even amongst Christians, and how we treat each other, with respect to opinions with politics, or COVID. And lots of different things where I’ve just felt the Lord’s heart to be compassionate, and to encourage others to really sit with Him and to pray for His heart for people before giving an opinion or a verse. I don’t say that lightly, because I know that it’s important to, you know, share scripture and to share your opinion with others and not be silent. But I think we just have to be very careful to speak from a place of compassion and not judgment. In a world of social media, where you see someone post something and you respond quickly, I think compassion can be lost.
Since that trip, I’ve taken the pressure off and known that it’s okay just to listen to the Holy Spirit, and what He’s telling you to do in that specific moment with that specific person. Because God is so specific in the way that He communicates to each of us. Because He loves people, and He wants them to feel seen and loved in the most specific way possible. You see that throughout the Bible and I’ve also seen that in my own life. But that’s something that has changed over the years as I’ve learned more about the Holy Spirit and how He speaks, that He’s so eager to give us detailed instructions and moment by moment guidance. We don’t have to be afraid. We don’t have to have whole chapters of the Bible memorized, just to be able to go on a mission trip. He uses all that we have, and He uses even the simplest things to get His message across.
I will just say that I’ve been reflecting on this specific story from Congo more this past year than I would have imagined. Just being prompted by the Lord to give more tears for people that are in pain and protesting out of that pain, or posting things that are dramatic or offensive out of that pain. Psalm 40:11 says, “You, oh Lord, will not withhold Your compassion from me. Your loving kindness and Your truth will continually preserve me.” So that first part, “You, Oh Lord, will not withhold your compassion…” Just the idea that we can withhold it from people sometimes. That the Lord can be stirring your heart towards compassion, and you withhold it or you shut it down. Or that, you know, people’s hearts can be so hard that they’re just not even open to compassion.
That’s something that I’ve seen this past year, that even believers, at times, appear to withhold compassion until someone agrees with them on a specific topic that can be spiritual or political. For example, I’m not going to be compassionate to someone who is pro-choice until they change their mind and agree with me that pro-life is the most biblical way to believe. That I’m not going to validate people’s pain that they’re showing during protests. I’m going to withhold my compassion because I disagree with the manner they’re carrying out their convictions. There’s been a lot of withholding of compassion.
Before Jesus fed the 5,000 it says, “He was moved with compassion,” and if you look at the story of Lazarus in John 11 it says, “Jesus wept.” And people love, you know, to see that Jesus wept. It’s the shortest sentence in the Bible, but a powerful one. But the verse after that says, “The Jews looked and said, See how He loved him.” So they knew that Jesus loved Lazarus because He wept. Because of His tears. It wasn’t after He raised him from the dead. It was before that they saw His love, because of His tears. When I was crying with that lady, I was really, I was feeling her pain. I was imagining what it was like to be held down and to have your arm cut with machetes, and I was going there with her as deeply as I could. And it hurt, you know? I can’t imagine how much it broke the Lord’s heart and to be present and to see that and to see each rape, each thing that had happened in Congo. I mean, He sees it all and I just got to see a slice of it. I can’t imagine how big His heart is to handle all the things that go on.