Shelly Miller: Compassion is a Lifestyle

You may recognize today’s guest poster, she’s been here before! Shelly is a dear friend who constantly has me giggling in the confines of my office cubicle. Shelly has lived outside of the U. S. for many years, and offers her international experience as we continue Compassion Week. 

Before I had children, a married cousin, who had kids, and I were talking. She was chatting about how difficult it was to teach her son abstract concepts like compassion. At the time, not having children of my own, I sort of shrugged my shoulders and said, “Perhaps the best teacher is just to model it yourself.” I think that I was right, to some degree, but it is also much, much easier said than done.

My family and I live in Antananarivo, Madagascar. In case you’re not familiar with Madagascar, we bring up the rear on most social and economic issues, including human trafficking. We are bombarded by begging, dirty, snotty children every time we go out, who have, unfortunately, been trained by their parents/an adult to approach the vazah (white foreigner) and beg for money. We see people dressed in rags daily as we drive down the road as well as skinny, malnourished children the same age or size as my 5-year-old daughter carrying buckets of water back to their family 2-3 times per day. We are surrounded by poverty and opportunities on a daily basis to practice the physical form of compassion as a lifestyle.

Compassion as a lifestyle is difficult, even when living in a place like Madagascar. Our sending organization has projects to the street people of Antananarivo, particularly a center that provides very basic education, 2 hot meals per day, basic medical and hygiene training, love and biblical teaching for 350 street kids. But we also have churches filled with poverty-stricken and ill people—many who come to my husband weekly asking for money. What do we do? We can’t give to everyone, and, plus, we don’t feel that handing out money is the answer. We don’t have jobs enough for everyone, either. If we did, the massive unemployment in Madagascar would be alleviated.

It is hard to practice compassion on a daily basis. I get tired of being viewed as “rich” just because of my colour while my husband (who is not white) can just sail through a crowd without anyone even noticing him or being bombarded by street kids. But, on the flip-side, my husband gets tired of people coming into his office with elaborate stories (which are often untrue or partially untrue) just to try to pull at his heart strings to get money. I’m here to tell you that money is not the answer to poverty, in case you didn’t already know that, but that’s a post for another day…

Compassion is not giving couple bucks to the guy standing at the stoplight holding up the sign saying, “Will work for food”. Compassion is not getting a little flutter in your heart when someone comes to speak at your church about the starving kids in the Horn of Africa—although I would be the last to discourage anyone from helping with that crisis. A compassionate lifestyle is an attitude and a demeanor toward your surroundings and the people around you. Not a demeanor of pity—those in poverty don’t need pity, they already feel pitiful. Compassion is offering love and the love of Jesus.

The love of Christ can free them from so many of the things that continue the cycle of poverty, such as certain cultural beliefs (let’s remember that culture is man-made, not God-given), animism and even the belief that having a lot of children is one’s glory. Compassion is making someone who is “down on their luck” feel human again, dignified again and loved again, that no amount of money can buy that feeling.

What can you do today to make your fellow human being feel human again?

Shelly is a blogger and missionary to Madagascar. She and her family will be traveling the U.S. in spring 2012, to share about their work in Madagascar. Follow their experiences through their blog, or find them on facebook and twitter.


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