Compassion for Dorian survivors is simple but costly

S. Joseph Scott

Special for News Talk Florida

Dorian destroys Bahamas. For most of us, myself included, that is old news. After all, the college football season is just getting interesting. And yet, I perceive myself to be a compassionate person, as I am sure many of us do. I feel sad when I see the devastating images and hear the tragic stories. And then the twenty-four-hour news cycle shifts. But true compassion compels action. I need to learn from those who do more than retweet the headlines. Eric is a former paramedic who now serves as the Director of Community Development at his church.

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Twelve days after Dorian tore Grand Bahama to shreds Eric joined a team of Palm Beach County first responders on a ship to Freeport. Just three hours before leaving the port, he got a call from his old buddies. “We need help.” Compassion moved. In three hours, his church raised over $4,000 to supply and send him. A trip to Home Depot, another stop for baby formula, a kiss and a hug to the family, and he set sail. After a day and a half of providing basic medical care on the Island they returned to West Palm Beach with 1,100 survivors, now refugees. 

Eric taught me three things about compassion. First, compassion is simple, not sexy. We read and hear of the heroic sensational stories of rescue because that entertains, and in the end, media is entertainment. Reality is different. Eric said 90% of the work he did was simple. Heat exhaustion and dehydration were the primary issues.

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Handing out baby formula and bottles of water is not sexy, but it literally saves lives in a hot climate without potable water. What is left of the hospitals are shells without power, water, or medications, yet crammed with survivors seeking help for basic needs. By the time his team arrived ten days after the storm, most of the critically wounded had already evacuated. But the death toll climbs as survivors lack life sustaining necessities. The needs are basic and simple.  

Eric continues to work at the basics. Over a thousand refugees now need a place to stay. Dozens from his church and others have taken them in. People have responded. Air BnB’s have been donated. Guest rooms are now occupied by strangers. And though not all have the capacity to house a family of four, or six, or ten, on short notice, compassion is simple.

Countless acts of simple care are needed to support those who house them.  There is an endless need for transportation, meals, playdates for children, clothing, and toys. Compassion is simple. Share a meal with a neighbor in need.

The second lesson I learned from Eric is that compassion is thoughtful. When an unimaginable catastrophe hits, an immediate influx of resources is necessary to save lives. That too gets the media coverage. Photos of literally tons of supplies help us breathe a sigh of relief.

But true compassion settles in for a season and thinks carefully about rebuilding. In our zeal to provide crisis care it is easy to hurt inadvertently those we seek to help. Eric explained the need to protect and preserve local economies and personal dignity.

Flooding the market with free chain saws might appear helpful, but what about those whose livelihood includes the sale of chainsaws? Compassion includes sensitivity to local knowledge and works cooperatively with those who have it. Compassion comes alongside to serve and defers to the wisdom of those in need. This takes time, reflection and humility. Compassion says, I will walk with you through this. It is never paternalistic.

A third lesson I learned from Eric is, though compassion may be simple, it is costly. Even the simple act of taking a meal to a family costs time, money and resources. Compassion always involves an exchange. One is willing to give up something that rightfully belongs to them, in order to relieve the distress of another. It is no mystery why more of us marvel at acts of compassion, rather than engage in them. It demands sacrifice.

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But, Eric explains, compassion is like a snowball rolling downhill. One small act creates another, gains energy and gathers increasing momentum. Those who have been on the ground and sacrificially cared for those in need only ask, “When can I return?” So be careful, taking that first small step, making that first small sacrifice might lead to giving up more than you first anticipate. But that is when sacrifice becomes compassion. Eric and others, like Samaritan’s Purse, whose mobile hospital arrived just as he was leaving, serve in this way, they will tell you, because they know the God of all compassion.

They know the God who sacrificed his son in order to rebuild humanity. They are Christians, and not the kind who just talk and tweet. God is described in Scripture as a father who shows compassion to his children (Psalm 103:13). And, his children reflect the family likeness. If you would like to assist in any simple way go to http://truthpoint.org/bahamas/ 

S. Joseph Scott has a Ph.D. in theology and has served in leadership positions in both higher education and religious institutions. He has published in both academic and popular journals and has a special interest in the intersection of faith and culture.

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News Talk Florida Staff