Moved with Compassion

By Commissioner David Edwards – 

My wife, Commissioner Doreen Edwards, and I have just been on a tour of our Salvation Army programs in The Marshall Islands and Micronesia–specifically, the atoll of Majuro and the islands of Pohnpei, Chuuk and Guam. These form part of the Hawaiian and Pacific Islands Division.

This tour has proved to be quite an eye opener. It was most fascinating. I must confess that before coming to the Western Territory, I had not paid much attention to this part of the world–that is, except for Hawaii and that, by and large, was because of the pictures and comments of the brochures designed to attract tourists to the island.

In addition to the places we visited, the Army also has work in Ebeye and Jaluit in the Marshalls. We have been on the Pacific Islands for the past 12 years. Our most recent opening has been this year and this is the outpost on Chuuk run by Brother Hermes Otis and his wife Rufina.

In the short time that we have been there, the Army has made its presence felt on these islands. We are known for our role in emergency disaster, the most recent being the crash of the Korean jet liner on Guam, where more that 200 persons lost their lives.

Alcohol and drug abuse are rampant. Apparently, only The Salvation Army seems interested in doing something positive to try and address this issue. We are about to open a recovery program in Guam. During our visit, the Bank of Hong Kong presented the corps with the amount of $10,000 to help start this program, for which we are deeply grateful. The needs are many and the challenge is huge.

When visitors to these islands take a look at the conditions under which most of their inhabitants live, their needs and the challenge they present, one wonders what is their response. The extreme poverty, the apparent exploitation, the lack of basic amenities, there are few who could be indifferent.

Very often, when visitors from wealthy and developed countries visit their poor neighbors in the rest of the world or people watch similar scenes from such places on their television screens, they will confess to feeling either guilt, sympathy, outrage or all three. There are times when guilt, sympathy and outrage are appropriate. But whichever is felt one must admit the response to be somewhat inadequate.

With guilt, there is often the tendency to over-compensate. Where sympathy is felt, there is often the underlying attitude that tends to promote a sense of personal superiority. Outrage is often the basic feeling of the revolutionary, which could lead to a response of violent confrontation.

The Christian always has to look to Christ for his example. Matthew, in his gospel, says of Christ that “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36) Like our Lord, the Christian’s motivation for action should always be compassion.

Compassion requires from us a willingness to identify with those for whom we feel sympathy. We take their feelings into consideration. We treat them the same way we expect to be treated. We respect them, whatever their social status, whoever they are. We never take them for granted. We give them help, not to manipulate, control or impose our will on them.

During this year the territorial administration has been taking a serious look at the work in The Marshall Islands and Federated States of Micronesia in an attempt to try and develop a strategic plan of action for the future of our work in these islands. Several members of the territorial cabinet have visited and submitted reports giving their impressions and recommendations. I expect that mine will soon be added to the rest.

Two “summits” have been held with the officers and all those involved in ministry in the Pacific Islands, all with a desire to discover ways in which we could better serve the people of these islands.

We were accompanied on our visit by the divisional leaders for the Hawaiian and Pacific Islands Division, Majors Don and Jan Mowery. Whenever we met with the goverment officials, the divisional commander would often ask “How can we be of help ?” My sincere prayer for all our people in Micronesia and the Marshall Islands, or wherever, is for that always to be our desire–simply to find ways of helping. Like our Lord, we are to be a people moved with compassion.

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