I have spent a lot of time in Liberia, a country on the Western coast of Africa. I wrote a book about a 12-year civil war that devastated that country. There has been unspeakable savagery through the years, but there has also been Christ-like sacrifice, like the compassion and sacrifice of Napoleon Braithwaite. Napoleon worked for the Minister of Health in Monrovia, so he was well schooled about Ebola, a disease of severe internal bleeding that is spread through infected body fluids and is frequently fatal.
Napoleon was also well schooled in the Liberian way of life, a life of suffering and hardship. His first wife died during childbirth. His second wife died because of a lack of medical care. During the war, the rebel soldiers invaded his home and took everything he owned. They even removed his toilet.
However, throughout the war, Napoleon and his third wife raised a family of eight children, and he preached hope to his people.
After graduating from the Liberian Baptist Theological Seminary, he became the pastor of Peaceful Baptist Church in the early 1980s.
One September morning, a very sick woman knocked on his door and asked to use his phone to call an ambulance. She knew he was one of the few people around who had a phone.
An ambulance was called, but she was told they could not respond.
Knowing the risks of what he was about to do, he put the woman in his car and drove her to a hospital. He knew he would be able to make it through the various checkpoints along the way.
Napoleon’s compassion would not allow her to die alone without some dignity.
Several days later, Napoleon began to run a fever. Fearing the worst, his friends prayed that he was sick with Malaria. But it was not to be. He succumbed to Ebola a few weeks later at the age of 55.
The All-African News ran a story on the front page, “Death of Key Aide Changes the Focus of the Ministry of Health as We Face Ebola.”
If there is no compassion, we lose our humanity. But we lose something more. We lose our connection to God.
Napoleon reminded his people and us that compassion is a messy thing, but without it, people die with no hope and no chance of knowing Jesus.
The Greek word for “compassion” is splänkh-nē’-zo-mī. This word is used to refer to the inner parts of an animal, the intestines, especially the womb. It was picked up and used to refer to the compassion God had for us.
We have a similar word when we want to say that someone has a lot of courage, we say, “That took a lot of guts.”
It’s our way of saying, “That took something deep down within that person for him or her to do that.”
It takes something deep down within us to show compassion because it involves sacrifice, and if we give as Jesus gave, we show compassion even to those who don’t deserve it. Why would we do that?
We do that because the Bible tells us that “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
We have all been the recipients of undeserved compassion. The Bible tells us that God allows the rain to fall on the just and the unjust. God’s compassion isn’t based on merit. It’s based on unconditional love.
It is true; it takes something deep down within a person to be compassionate. The deeper the love of God seeps into our souls, the easier it becomes to makes sacrifices for others, even for the stranger.