In 2005 I took a trip with the organization Outreach International for 10 days to the country of Nicaragua. Outreach mission is about empowering the local communities to come together, access resources, and make decisions for themselves to better their communal lives. Outreach is located in ten countries and uses indigenous workers to begin mobilizing communities. The impact they have had has been incredible.
During the ten days our main job was to witness and observe the participatory human development process happening among the communities. We were not there to dig a well or help the people. They were helping themselves and our help would not empower them to do it themselves. In other organizations or many church mission projects, people go in and complete projects and leave. This leaves the local people the same without gaining skills and helping them become sustainable. So our objective was to just be.
The various communities we went into showed the various levels of the process happening among the people. Some communities had made substantial change while others were just in the beginning stages.
In one community in particular Los Alvores, they had built 50 new concrete homes with metal tin roofs about the size of a 12x12 room within the last three months. However this took five years for the community to get everything in place for it to happen. These were built so every family could have a house. The homes were dream homes for the residents in that community and they all worked hard to contribute to their cause.
We gathered with the community leaders when we arrived to hear about this project. They talked about a man named Jose who had the vision for the project and worked a great deal to get the resources so it could happen. His dream was to see every family spending time together in their own home.
Standing before us was Jose’s father with tears in his eyes. He told us his son whose dream it was, would not be able to see it because he passed away. Jose had an abscessed tooth which he could not have fixed because of the lack of adequate dental care in the community. He died from not receiving proper care. Jose’s father asked for a moment of silence as we thought about his son and the dream he held for this community.
I stood looking at the eyes of Jose’s father. It was in those eyes where I empathetically felt his loss and pain. I could see the love he had for his son. Tears streamed down my face as I had translated “Your son was a great man, I'm sorry for your loss.” After the translation, he reached out and hugged me. It was in this moment that we were connected. We both lived in two different worlds, spoke different languages, and yet were bonded together by love. I began to understand how we are transformed when we empathetically share our lives and hearts with others.
Let’s explore the concept of empathetically connecting with others and using the gifts we have for good.
Empathetically Connecting With Others
Empathy is recognizing emotions in another while understanding their perspective and reality. Our first step should always be empathy! However so many times we get caught doing the opposite. “Suck it up”, “brush it off”, “don’t let it bother you.” There’s nothing wrong with trying to be tough however it discredits our emotions and moves us further away from identifying and addressing them when they happen.
Empathy is something everyone can do and it doesn’t take long. Many times people just need to know they are heard and cared for. The only concern is if you are someone that takes on the emotions of another which can sometimes be problematic. For more information check out this article by Marcia Reynolds “Can you have too much empathy?” For the majority of people empathy is a way to connect with others and compassionately listen.
The research on how empathy can improve our quality of life has been looked at extensively. Empathy is also the cornerstone of emotional intelligence which has been researched as the biggest indicator for career success. It goes hand in hand with listening to those around you. If you want to become more empathetic go to “Six Habits of Highly Effective People” which identifies six things we can develop in ourselves to become more empathetic.
Using Our Gifts For Others
Jose would have been able to see his dream complete if he had received adequate dental care. It makes we realize the drastic economic and cultural differences in our world. It doesn’t mean we have to give everything away and live like that part of the world but we do need to be mindful of what and how we are consuming. And more importantly how are we using the gifts we have to positively impact those around us. I know many nurses, dentists, and other providers that take trips to impoverished countries to give proper care. This is a great service, but we all do not have those certain gifts or the ability to go to another country.
We each have our own unique gifts which can bring service or joy to people around us. Maybe its telling others jokes to keep them light hearted, or maybe its completing a small house project for someone that can’t or doesn’t know how. Using our gifts for others benefits the communities we are in and provides more opportunities for us to empathetically connect with people. We actually get to be God’s hands and feet when we use what we have learned and been given.
I will leave you with his awesome video about the happiness we receive when using our gifts to help others. I think it’s actually a Thai life insurance advertisement ?! However it does an amazing job of showing what it means to connect empathetically and help others as we can.
I hope you are all enjoying your summer! If you want to spend a week focusing on your relationship with God get signed up for Reunion. Go this Reunion Directory to find one near you. I promise you will not regret your decision.
This week take some time to look at all the great work Outreach International is doing by visiting their website. You can even donate money by buying a chicken or a goat for one of the communities which helps them become more sustainable.
The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Community of Christ. We believe individuals should be allowed to have their own opinions and be at different places in their faith journey.