When Boko Haram, the notorious Nigerian terrorist group, abducted 276 girls from their school in northern Nigeria last April, the world put a spotlight on their dastardly act.
The #BringBackOurGirls Twitter campaign generated millions of tweets, multi-country demonstrations, and discussions about everything from rising radicalism in the region, religiously-justified violence, corrupt and incompetent government, and women and children at-risk.
And yet these girls are still not rescued.
Rather, Boko Haram has struck with multiple more killings, kidnappings, and mayhem. The social media campaign has not changed the deep-seated political, economic, social and religious conflicts at its root.
The longer the situation remains unresolved, compassion fatigue sets in.
It can feel like a form of attention deficit disorder that only gets further exacerbated by the realization that such chronic, unsettled conflict is hardly isolated to Nigeria.
One country after another generates the wrong kind of international publicity… Central African Republic, Ukraine, Syria, Iraq… the list goes on and on.
At First Fruit we have chosen to focus our work in parts of the Majority World that are among the poorest and with the least freedoms.
These conditions often correspond with places that are embroiled in longstanding, violent conflict, undermining the ability for populations to experience major progress on human development.
It can be deeply dispiriting.
5 WAYS TO COMBAT COMPASSION FATIGUE:
1.Remember the displaced.
While I may have the luxury of turning off the endless barrage of negative news stories, millions of men, women and children are forced to live in neglected and over-crowded refugee and IDP (internally displaced people) camps, dealing daily with disease, prostitution, robbery, drug use, physical abuse, food shortages, housing shortages, and lack of schools.
In the words of one ministry partner working among the 2.8 million Syrian refugees:
It is a very demanding and draining ministry. To see what feels like infinite needs and realize that you can only meet a small part of them is very discouraging… But it has been extremely encouraging to see how receptive the people are when we share the love of Jesus [with tangible acts].”
Leviticus 19:33-34: “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”
2.Find organizations that have implementation capacity in-country.
I’ve learned that even countries in deep crisis can experience pockets of human flourishing.
Throughout a devastating civil war in Sudan (1983-2005), the Episcopal Church of Sudan and the Catholic Church formally educated more than 100,000 students through their respective networks of dioceses.
In times of turmoil, it is often organizations led by nationals that are able to remain functional even while international agencies evacuate ex-patriate staff when the security risk is considered too high.
The exception to this can be those organizations that are viewed as enduring institutions vital to a country’s infrastructure. For example, in Pakistan 13 percent of its medical facilities were contributed by church groups (according to one study in the tumultuous period of the 1960s).
Some of the highest quality and best-run hospitals and colleges in Pakistan today remain Christian at their roots, such as Forman Christian College (an oasis of pluralism I visited in 2012).
3.Pray specifically and actively.
As John Piper says, “The necessity of prayer is a constant reminder and display of our dependence on God for everything, so that he gets the glory when we get the help.”
When I utter generic lines about faraway regions, however, I find my energy for prayer quickly dissipates.
Consequently, ministries partners on-the-ground help me not only with real-time intel of the actual situation, but also ways to specifically join them in prayer.
Ministries such as WIN facilitate sustained, informed and strategic prayer.
Psalm 50:15: “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”
John 14:13 “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.”
4.Be an advocate, but undergird it with wisdom through prayer.
I sometimes get to travel into these conflict zones to listen to and learn from the various constituencies directly involved in the crisis, but since the risks of doing this are very real, I try not to be too cavalier about where I travel.
A good alternative is to find trusted resources and organizations who have established an enduring track record of working with sensitivity and nuance in the conflict area and provide a credible voice on the root issues.
I try to follow their lead in my advocacy.
One such organization is the Institute for Global Engagement (IGE). They’ve helped me recognize that religiously-motivated extremism will attempt to stereotype the “other”, the first step toward de-humanization, and thus violence against someone who bears the image of God.
IGE fastidiously creates a space and a place where people can routinely meet—despite and across their deepest and sometimes irreconcilable theological differences—to discuss the practical policies and programs needed to not only prevent violence, but to enable a common moral framework that serves the common good.
Advocacy involves playing the long game and will have many seeming defeats. A hallmark of the best of Christian faith is long-suffering and endurance amidst intensely challenging circumstances.
I’m learning that only through a discipline of prayer can I trust in God’s purposes and call attention to the glory of God’s grace in the face of such suffering.
2 Thessalonians 1:11-12: “To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
5.Fight against cynicism that leads to inactivity.
When examining a crisis, I’m always tempted to vilify someone.
The government is corrupt and inept.
The opposition forces are duplicitous.
The international community is silent.
The nongovernmental organizations are misallocating resources.
Hashtag activism accomplishes nothing.
The church is complicit.
While not being too naive about the shortcomings of different actors, I realize that focusing too much energy on their flaws becomes a trap. They cannot be trusted. I can never work with them. They will never commit to peace. When I demonize a certain constituency, I may be exercising a subtle form of the same dehumanization that perpetuates the larger conflict. As difficult as it may be, I try hard to resist this creeping defeatism. I want to see the Imago Dei in my adversaries, even while holding them accountable for misdeeds or negligence.
And in the process, I stay in the fight. I think it’s the only way we’ll ever bring back our girls.
RELEVANT GLOBAL TRENDS
Ukraine in Crisis (CFR)
Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (CFR)
The Role of Faith-Inspired Healthcare Providers (World Bank)
Nigeria / Boko Haram (Economist)
Central African Republic (International Crisis Group)
Putin Reclaims Crimea for Russia and Bitterly Denounces the West (NY Times)
Geopolitics fan Sunni-Shia rivalry in the Middle East (Oxford Analytica) – subscription required