by Elizabeth Schenkel
Along with everyone who owns a television, I was shocked to see images of Houston, Texas, under water. Just days before, Hurricane Harvey had been a tropical storm that was expected to barely strengthen into a hurricane before it hit the Texas coast. Instead, it wreaked unprecedented damage to a huge swathe of Texas and Louisiana.
I live in Florida so hurricane news hits me hard. Florida is at risk every year. I have my canned food, my water supply, my escape routes because I live in Florida. And that means that, when I watch the devastation unfold in Texas, my heart hurts for those people. I am engaged. I am praying. I can weep with those who are weeping.
But what about people who are suffering in ways that are not familiar to me? Can I also feel compassion for them?
This summer I attended a conference that was mostly focused on challenging me to do just that. The conference was designed to give ethnically majority people an opportunity to grow in their understanding of, or even experience what it is to be a member of a minority population in America today. For me, it was a wonderfully enriching experience. But not everyone felt that way. I found myself wondering why our experiences were so different. It was certainly not a matter of commitment to Christ and His ways or quality of character. Perhaps it had something to do with our life experiences.
A number of years ago my husband and I moved overseas with our family. For 11 of our 16 years overseas, we lived in a place where we stood out, where we were in the minority. We found ourselves having to live defensively, to figure out how to manage in a society that was organized by a culture other than our own. I experienced living under a police force that was threatening and frightening rather than protective and trustworthy. Many days I struggled to leave my house. Many times I struggled with feeling unheard and misunderstood.
Perhaps that experience has enabled me to weep with those who weep here in America, because I really have felt a pain that I was never aware of before I lived overseas. My suffering enabled me to understand that the negative experiences that are described by members of minority populations in the US are real. I know that their pain is real. And I know that I am instructed by God to feel that pain with them.
My prayer as I write this is that we, as the body of Christ, and especially as women of God, could have tender hearts toward our hurting brothers and sisters. Our hearts should break when others are suffering. We should “be” Jesus in the world. Sometimes for that to happen we have to suffer ourselves. May God grant a gift of compassion to us so that, regardless of whether we are in jeopardy ourselves, we could weep with those who are weeping.