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It has been ten months since I broke my patella (knee) in multiple places. Three days and almost halfway exactly into walking the iconic Overland Track through the stunning, yet brutal Tasmanian wilderness. A slippery track, a tree root, a trip and a fall not only cut short the walk my daughter Emily and I had been planning for decades, it led to my first ever helicopter ride (evacuation), two surgeries and months of rehab. Truth be told, I still have a way to go.

More than the pain of my injury, what I remember most about my accident was the kindness and compassion I experienced in its aftermath. It was overwhelming and leaves me emotional to this day. After my fall, I had to walk another 5 km or so to our campsite, most of it uphill. It was slow and excruciating. The contents of my 17kg backpack were emptied, my daughter adding most of it to her load. We soon came to a particularly treacherous part of the track. Some Swiss hikers waited for an hour or more, so they could literally manhandle me across. 

Once in camp, there was no way I could scramble into our two-person tent, let alone set it up, so another hiker offered me their sleeping platform in the nearby bunkhouse. Other hikers, one a nurse, helped me get undressed, and then dressed the next morning. And in the middle of a sleepless night, when I was teetering on the edge of my bunk, others in my room heard my cries of pain, got up and pushed me back to safety. All who helped me, other than my amazing daughter, were strangers, their names never known to me, or lost in the fog of pain. While their names are unknown, their compassion will stay with me forever.

More than sympathy (pity or sorrow for the misfortune of another), more even than empathy (the ability to share and understand the feelings of another), compassion is a costly commitment to do what’s possible to prevent or alleviate the suffering of another. In other words, empathy enacted. Soft-hearted, suffering alleviating compassion is what I experienced in the highlands of Tasmania, and in the days that followed.

Jesus’ life was fueled by compassion. He refused to simply feel the suffering of others, he sacrificially and generously chose to act to alleviate it – whether it was to heal the marginalised, feed the hungry or stand in the gap before a woman and accusers with fistfuls of stones. His compassion meant he stood against corruption, hypocrisy and hatred. For Jesus, compassion was an act of solidarity – a standing with, and an entering into the pain of others. The ultimate expression of this was his choice to die a shame filled and painful death on a cross to liberate our world from its sin-inflamed suffering by absorbing into himself. All redemptive love, all life-transforming compassion involves some level of sacrifice.

Wesley Mission is filled with soft-hearted leaders, people with compassionate hearts. I saw it last week at our Edward Eagar Centre in Tanya and the way she related to Trev, a resident who has spent most of the last two decades in an out of prison thanks to his addictions. Tanya didn’t treat Trev as a client, but in the way she carried herself, in the way she communicated, the coffees she bought him and a couple of others from across the road – as someone of inestimable value. I heard it last week through one of our Lifeline crisis supporters who shared with me about a call she’d taken from a help-seeker that morning. The caller said their conversation would be the only human contact she had that day. The crisis supporter shared this story with tenderness, communicating the privilege it is to be on the end of the line for those who often are at the end of their rope.

Soft hearted compassion goes the extra mile, crosses the road, gives – and then gives again. Compassion sacrifices when it’s necessary and is always generous – and soaked with a hospitable spirit. I am so grateful to serve alongside so many soft hearts. In the end, it is those with soft hearts that are truly strong – and who change the world.

Every blessing,

Rev Stu Cameron
CEO and Superintendent, Wesley Mission

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