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Christ, Ukraine, and radical compassion

The solidarity shown to Ukrainians has been inspiring. The church must lead the way in taking that compassion further.

Veena O'Sullivan | 17 Mar 2022

Credit: Jana Cavojska

In war, horror is made manifest. It takes a physical shape: a bombed out hospital; a family running for their lives; a discarded teddy bear, its owner nowhere to be found. Yet horror is not the only reality. As darkness falls from the sky and haunts the streets, love and light pour in to meet it. 

A row of prams left at a train station by Polish mothers. Anti-war protesters braving imprisonment on the streets of Moscow. Hundreds of thousands of people across Europe opening their homes to refugees. War reveals the worst of humanity, but also sometimes the best.

The barbaric, criminal invasion of Ukraine has resulted in one of the largest spontaneous outpourings of compassion since the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami. Nearly £200 million has been raised for the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal to date. In churches, homes and businesses around the land, the same refrain can be heard: ‘What can we do to help?’

The posture of compassion

There is a narrative that the modern world has been overtaken by individualism. We are, supposedly, increasingly self-obsessed. Perhaps there is truth in that. But it is not the whole truth.

‘What the response to the conflict in Ukraine has revealed is that, when given the opportunity, the natural posture of people is compassion.’

We have seen this before – throughout the pandemic, with the Syria conflict, the Rohingya crisis, and with natural disasters such as the Nepal earthquakes, or Hurricane Matthew in Haiti. 

Running through the bedrock of our society is a vein of Christian values. At the heart of these is the idea that we must dethrone ourselves from the centre of the universe. To be a Christian – to be at our most deeply human – is to open our arms as wide as Christ did on the cross. Because as well as being selfless, Jesus’ love was boundless.

Including and embracing

The church must fiercely, loudly counter any narrative that separates the world into ‘us’ and ‘them’. Because it is in Christianity that we find the alternative: radical compassion and solidarity. Divine love doesn’t just tear down walls, it builds bridges in places you wouldn’t normally expect.

At the core of Jesus’ ministry was reaching out to the marginalised and oppressed. Jesus sought out those who had previously been excluded, and included them. He sought out those who had been rejected, and he embraced them. He sought out those who had been left out, and he let them in.

That is the call of the church – our call. So how do we live it out at a time such as this? The compassionate and generous response to the conflict in Ukraine is a start. But we can go further: reaching out to those who have been excluded, those who have been rejected, those who have been left out. This is what Tearfund exists for.

While the eyes of the world have been fixed on Ukraine, other horrors have been taking place. With attention elsewhere, there is a risk that the cries of millions of marginalised and oppressed people are going unheard. 

The forgotten crises

Across the Horn of Africa – a region comprising Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya and Uganda – a hunger crisis of colossal proportions has been building for months. Three rainy seasons in a row have failed, with below-average rainfall forecast for a fourth. This on top of the devastation caused by the locust swarms of 2019-2021, as well as violence such as the conflict in the Tigray region of Ethiopia. More than 13 million people are waking up severely hungry every day. Alarmingly, cuts to the UK aid budget, combined with attention being turned to Ukraine, means that this crisis could miss out on life-saving funding.

Similar disasters are taking place in Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen. We must not forget them. We must practice the radical compassion of our Christian faith and call attention and respond to these forgotten crises.

It is easy to feel overwhelmed or powerless in the face of such vast suffering. Yet we are not facing it alone. When we join together as the church, partnering with God’s work of redemption and restoration, there is enormous power. We see this all the time at Tearfund – it is why we partner with networks of local churches. As the church unites in order to reach out, lives around the world are transformed.

Poverty is not God’s plan. You are. We are. Radical compassion is. We won’t stop trying to live out that compassion in our work, and we invite you to join us.

Help ensure no one is forgotten

Please donate now

  Veena O'Sullivan

International Director, Tearfund

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