The Ongoing Compassion Project

As we end The Compassion Project, our Research Assistant Lauren Agnew reflects on the stories shared and encourages us to continue the conversation on poverty.

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At the start of the Compassion Project, we asked, ‘What is poverty?’

Perhaps during the last few weeks your perception of poverty has been challenged; poverty can look like a single working mum struggling with debt and mounting bills, or it can look like the homeless man sleeping on the streets of Belfast. It could even look like the child who goes hungry during the school holidays because there is no constant provision of a meal during the day.

The Compassion Project is not a ‘Project’ that we can approach with a fix it, tick-box attitude to make us feel good in the run up to Christmas. Throughout our articles and videos, we have been both cautious and conscious not to adopt a ‘saviour complex.’ There is not an easy overnight fix to ending poverty- it requires a complex multifaceted approach. That’s why we’ve chosen to highlight the work of a number of different organisations and individuals across Northern Ireland who are taking action.

Whilst our website focus on poverty is drawing to an end for now, the Compassion project in itself is not.  At Christmas we remember our one true Saviour - who’s birth aligns with the least of these. In the Gospels we read how the Son of God was born into a lowly situation. He was not born to a King- but to a virgin and a carpenter. He was Jesus the Messiah, who came to seek and save the lost, and it is because of Him that we have reason to hope. We love, because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19)

We are called to be Christlike in all that we do. In Matthew 25:40 Jesus says, ‘Whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine you did for me.’ Jesus expands on this, ‘whatever you did not do for one of the least of these you did not do for me.’

In these verses Jesus could not be clearer- we must reach out to the poor, vulnerable and the marginalised in our societies. Whether that means buying a few extra cans for your local food bank, volunteering at your local church, running money courses, or striking up a conversation with somebody on the streets- we are called to show compassion to those around us.

I love the well-known story of the little boy and the starfish; the beach is littered with starfish that have been stranded ashore, and the little boy, one by one, throws the starfish back into the sea. A man walking along the beach points out that the little boy couldn’t possibly save them all- there are thousands on that beach, and it must be happening on hundreds of beaches along the coast. “You can’t possibly make a difference.” The young boy continues to pick up starfish one by one and throwing them back into the sea, responding, “It made a difference to that one.’

The ones add up.

We hope that over the last few weeks you have been challenged by the poverty around you, but also encouraged by the local organisations that are taking action to help alleviate it. Each organisation, each political party and each individual has a role to play in bringing poverty in Northern Ireland to an end. Together we can work towards a hope filled future- where the least of these are not ignored, or bypassed or overlooked but instead loved, included, empowered and provided for.

This Christmas season, let’s look to those on the outside - the outskirts of society, and let’s bring them in. Let’s share with them the joy, hope and love that comes from knowing Jesus Christ as Lord.

Let’s continue the conversation around poverty. Let’s keep the Compassion Project going.