As we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge with thousands of youth, young adults, adults, and children, accompanied by officers from the New York Police Department, local television reporters, photographers, and many church leaders, I could not stop thanking God for what we were experiencing, and feeling totally grateful to Him for allowing the New York City Compassion Annual Rally to become a reality. As I think back on that day, there are many lessons I have learned.
Let me share a few with you:
Compassion brings people together.
Because humanity tends to be territorial and selfish, it is sometimes hard to bring people together in church. Perhaps one of the reasons why our church is not very successful at gathering large numbers of people on a regular basis is that each of us has an opinion to share, a turf to defend, and a program to support. However, it is very difficult not to find common ground when it comes to compassion, because people are universally motivated to help others who are suffering and in need.
Compassion brought people from each of the six conferences of the Atlantic Union, five conferences in the Columbia Union, several other conferences in the North American Division, and at least one representative from each of the world divisions of the Adventist Church to New York City. Church-members, non-church members, community friends, church leaders, and politicians were there, because compassion brings people together.
Compassion activates youth and young adults.
For years youth and young adults have attended church and received information without action. Many now realize that they can receive information at home or elsewhere through television, the Internet, magazines, and study guides. Consequently, they are expressing a need for community and relevance to their faith. There were times when many expressed a desire to sit on church boards and make decisions, but I have observed that may no longer be the case. I have heard young adults say: “I have no interest in sitting down for hours to talk about other people’s business on a church board; I want to do something that matters.” Compassion, social justice, helping people, feeding the hungry, stopping violence against women and children, and bringing animal cruelty to a halt, are big among youth and young adults because of their relevance to them. I believe these things were also relevant to Jesus, as well.
God did not create youth and young adults and give them all of that energy, only to have them sit silently in church, gaining theological information with no action. God means to use the energy, the friendships, the zeal, and the desire for community-building to make a difference in this sad and grieving world. God needs youth and young adults filled with compassion to work on behalf of the needy. In my experience there is nothing as effective as a ministry of compassion to activate youth and young adults at our churches and in communities.
Compassion is evangelism.
Every time we help someone in need we are letting this person know that we mean what we say. Most of our preaching and our publications are trustworthy, yet actions speak louder than spoken words and published words. There are many who will never be interested in what we have to say, unless we show the compassion of Jesus.
As the annual rally finished and we returned to our hotel, it was surprising and exciting to watch the news anchors mention the Seventh-day Adventist Church to millions across the New York metropolitan area. They were talking about us on television and they were saying, “Before the weekend is over the youth and young adults of the Adventist Church will have donated between 20,000 to 30,000 hours of love and compassion to New York City.”
If you want to bring people together, activate your youth and young adults, and do evangelism. Compassion may be the best way to start.
José Cortés, Jr., is the director of Adventist Youth Ministries in the Atlantic Union.