``COMPASSION fatigue.'' According to famine relief officials working in Africa, this is what citizens and governments of the developed nations are suffering from. The symptoms are a tightening of the foreign-aid money belt; a hardening of the heart; and a turning of backs to the needs of Africa. In addition, the officials say, this fatigue has come at a time when there are still significant emergency food and non-food needs. More important yet is the even greater demand for funding for long term development projects--projects that would help to ensure that Africa would never again face such suffering as it has during the last two years of famine.
The cause most often given for ``compassion fatigue,'' say relief agency officials, is lack of interest. It is a fact, they say, that without constant media stimulation--pictures of those desperately in need--the people of the developed world forget the ongoing needs of Africa.
What kind of compassion is never fatigued? What provides a solid and permanent basis for responding to the needs of our fellow beings?
The Bible tells us that Jesus was moved with compassion when he healed others. Was the Master's compassion brought on only by a picture of tragedy? Jesus provided food for the multitude, though the Bible doesn't indicate that the people were in danger of starvation (see Matthew 14:15-21). Still, he felt compassion for them. It was evening and they had nothing to eat.
Furthermore, Jesus sometimes performed healings when the individual in need was not present. Thus he proved that distance is no obstacle to healing. And he showed that compassionate response to the sick and hungry is born of something far greater than human reaction to a depressing picture.
Jesus was motivated by a deep love for God and man. This love expressed God's love, the love of a Father for His children. God, divine Love itself, fully nourishes and sustains each of His offspring. The creator maintains His creation. When the needs of any one of his fellow beings came to his attention, wasn't it Jesus' understanding of God's everpresent, sustaining care that enabled him to bring forth whatever was required to heal the situation, whether food, health, purity, or even life itself? At one time Jesus reminded his disciples of the depth of God's loving care for them when he told them, ``The very hairs of your head are all numbered.''1
Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered and founded Christian Science, saw as her purpose in founding the Church of Christ, Scientist, ``To organize a church designed to commemorate the word and works of our Master, which should reinstate primitive Christianity and its lost element of healing.''2 For Christian Scientists, an important element in forwarding healing through spiritual means is learning to see each individual as Jesus would have. Mrs. Eddy writes: ``Jesus beheld in Science the perfect man, who appeared to him where sinning mortal man appears to mortals. In this perfect man the Saviour saw God's own likeness, and this correct view of man healed the sick.''3
Christian Science teaches one not to ignore suffering but to face it squarely and bring a measure of healing to it through understanding that everyone, in his or her true being, is a child of the one almighty Father. We need to be very much aware of the challenge posed by drought, famine, disease, and so forth, but also to realize in prayer that these are not true for any of God's children.
As an individual learns--through prayer and study of what the Bible teaches about man's unity with his Father -- how to behold those in need in their true selfhood, he or she will feel an ever greater impetus to take part in healing the ills that beset much of the world.
Compassionate attention to Africa, if it is to bring lasting results, must be built first upon the recognition that God's unending love, not the relentless stimulus from the media, is what impels the most genuine, most meaningful actions, be they donations or some other form of help. And this recognition must be combined through prayer with a growing perception of man as Christ Jesus saw him, perfect and whole, with God as the source of all his substance and sustenance.
When individuals and nations are impelled by divine action, not simply human reaction, they will provide indefatigable aid, and healing, for those in need.
1Matthew 10:30. 2Manual of The Mother Church, p. 17. 3Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, pp. 476-477. DAILY BIBLE VERSE Whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassions from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? I John 3:17