Compassion is more than having sympathy for someone; it requires action. The first time I felt compassion was during summer 1972, the summer before I started high school. I was a very selfish, self-centered 14-year-old. My dad asked me whether I wanted to accompany him to Arizona to help him hold a “Baseball and Bible” camp for Native American boys who lived on the reservations. I quickly agreed, because I had never been to Arizona, because I loved to play baseball, and because anything would be better than spending a bored summer in my small hometown, which had a population of only 800. My dad had been raising money in the Midwest to help a Christian mission build a boarding school for Native American children. The school had purchased a large piece of ground but had yet to build any buildings. My dad wanted to set up a temporary campground and build a baseball field so that the school could start ministering to the children at once. So our first week in Arizona, we laid out a baseball field in a meadow, cut down the outfield grass with sickles, scraped out a dirt infield using hoes, and built a backstop from wood and chicken wire. We erected rented tents to use as dormitories, we dug latrines, and we built outhouses. Another family from Ohio came out to serve as cooks. When we went onto the reservations to sign up kids for camp, we were able to get eighteen boys from three tribal groups, Hopi, Apache, and Navajo—the perfect number for two baseball teams. My older brother and I slept in the tent with the boys, and by the middle of the week, the smell was getting very rank. One morning, on awaking, I told the boy who was sleeping next to me to change his pants—he had been wearing the same pair of pants during the three days we had been playing baseball in the hot Arizona sun. He looked up at me and calmly responded, “I only have one pair of pants.”
At once I felt something break inside of me—it might have been my brittle, cold heart. I had never felt biblical compassion before, had never really thought of anyone else’s needs other than my own. I was like the Grinch who stole Christmas: My heart started growing bigger inside my chest. At the end of the week, I went up to my dad, a lump in my throat and tears streaming down my face, and asked, “Dad, can we take some of these boys back to Illinois with us to live with us?” The compassion I was feeling made me want to act, I was very serious about my request. My dad explained that although we couldn’t take them home with us, there were things that we could do to help them. Biblical compassion causes you to act.
The secret to developing eyes and hearts of compassion is to spend time with hurting people. When I got to know the Native American boys personally—eating with them, playing baseball with them, singing with them, and sleeping in the same tent—God began to melt my selfish teenager heart. My journey of compassion started at 14 years old in Arizona, and it has taken me around the world.
If your compassion quotient is low, start looking for hurting people with whom you can spend time. They are all around you. Ask to be granted Jesus’s eyes and heart, which won’t allow you to walk by without acting.
Reflections: Is your compassion quotient high, or low? When was the last time you acted with compassion? Ask the Lord to give you the courage to step out of your comfort zone and into the life of someone who is hurting.
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.