MEEKS: The call of compassion is inconvenient

November 6, 2013 

At 2 a.m. on Sunday morning there was banging on the door along with ringing of the doorbell at the Open Door Community. One of the residents who was awake and had served on house duty earlier in the day was a little disturbed that someone had forgotten to disconnect the doorbell that night before everyone went to bed. So he left his room and went upstairs to disconnect the doorbell, but decided to look out to see who was so desperately trying to get someone’s attention in the house.

It was a young man who pleaded with him for some kind of help because he had just been released from prison and had nothing warm to wear and no place to go. Later he learned the young man did not even have on socks. So my Open Door brother proceeded to gather warm clothing for the young man including a stocking cap, socks and insoles for his shoes. The young man sat down on the steps and wept tears of thankfulness that someone had answered the door.

I heard this story at the Sunday evening service I attend each week at the Open Door, an intentional Christian community that offers hospitality to homeless persons, those who are in prison and on death row. As is my practice now that I live in Atlanta, I stayed for supper and visited with folks in the community and headed home. When I got home, my son and I went to the grocery store and as we were getting out of the car a young woman approached us asking for help with food and telling us that she was a victim of domestic violence and homeless. She seemed to have a cold.

I told her to come into the store with us and get something to eat. She asked if she could get a frozen dinner which she would take up the street to the service station’s microwave? Of course that was alright with me. While my son went off to begin gathering up our items, I waited for her to find the frozen dinner. It took her about 15 minutes. Finally she returned and I paid for her food and she went on her way.

My reflection upon these encounters has led me to realize that the call to be compassionate does not follow a schedule. One never knows when the opportunity to extend compassion will be presented, and the greatest challenge is in staying willing to accept the invitation. Of course another piece of this for me is the deep desire I have to see people have all of what they need and not just tiny parts of it. The young man at the Open Door and the young woman in the grocery store parking lot needed a lot more than they got. But in both cases we did what we could for that moment.

There is a great temptation not to do anything because the need is too great. It seems that the little that can be done in that moment will be inconsequential. But the lovely story told about Mother Teresa comes to mind as I think about this.

There were those who questioned her about picking up babies from the street she knew would be dead in an hour. Her response was, “It is better to be loved for an hour, than not to have been loved at all.”

What a testimony to the need to do what you can when the call to help someone comes without having to be able to fix everything. At the moment, there is a war against the poor in our country and those of us who will not become soldiers in this war must do what we can, though it may seem small and be inconvenient to do so.

This column by Catherine Meeks, Ph.D., appears twice monthly. Meeks is also a contributing writer for the Huffington Post. Email her at

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