Remaining faithful despite ‘compassion fatigue'
Written by Mary Maxwell
September 2001

Finding the right balance between heartfelt compassion and focused mission is a constant struggle for those of us who work in desperately poor countries.

It is the same problem a church member feels when deciding how much to share with others in support of the local church budget and wider mission concerns.

Keys and locks give me a clue.

Homes in Katmandu, Nepal, have many locks. Every window, door and cupboard shelf has a separate lock.

When I leave for work in the morning, I have to juggle keys and padlocks to let myself out.

As I walk to work at the Nursing Campus, I pass filthy children picking through the garbage on the side of the road in search of recyclable plastic bags. Any remaining food has already been scavenged by the free-roaming cows and street dogs.

I pass emaciated women with large baskets on their backs hauling heavy loads of bricks and gravel to nearby house construction sites.

In the tourist areas on the other side of town are limbless and blind beggars, often using small children and babies to tug at the heartstrings of passers by.

"The poor are always with us," Jesus said.

I will never forget the scene in the '70s movie, "Jesus Christ Superstar," when Jesus is encircled by impoverished people with outstretched, imploring arms. As they come closer and closer to him, he is engulfed and totally surrounded. He disappears into an amorphous mass with them. The scene ends.

It is tempting to lock up my heart to prevent being swallowed up by the poverty around me. "Compassion fatigue" always lurks nearby.

How to adjust my priorities to stay focused on being faithful to my call?

Jesus was able to strike a balance between love and compassion and staying focused on his mission.

I look at the big picture; what will do the most good for the greatest number of people in Nepal? The fundamentals to which United Mission to Nepal is committed: education, nutrition, health care and rural development.

My mission is to teach in a school of nursing, preparing young women for work in health care.

At the end of the day, when I get home, I take out my keys to reverse my locking process.

I hope that for at least a day, I have found the right balance.

Mary Maxwell and her husband, Farley, serve as Global Ministries missionaries with the United Mission to Nepal. To learn more about UCC/Disciples global mission work, visit www.globalministries.org.

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