The Church of the Nazarene’s inaugural Compassion Conference began last week with a message from General Superintendent David A. Busic about holiness and compassion. “Jesus really believed that holiness is more powerful than sin, and love is stronger than fear,” Busic said. “And that’s the reason He always linked holiness and mission together. And that’s why holiness people love compassion. … Maybe it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if people started referring to Nazarenes again as the friend of sinners.”
These words set the tone for the three-day event sponsored by Nazarene Compassionate Ministries. More than 660 people from 58 different countries gathered on the Olivet Nazarene University campus in Bourbonnais, Illinois, USA, to imagine how the church can live out God’s call to compassion and learn best practices for transformational community ministry.
“Compassion and justice matter to the Church because they matter to God,” said speaker Eugene Cho, pastor of Quest Church in Seattle, Washington, and author of Overrated: Are We More in Love With the Idea of Changing the World Than Actually Changing the World?, on Thursday evening.
During plenary sessions, attendees worshiped together, led by George Williamson, director of worship arts at Point Loma Nazarene University, and a worship band made of university students. In addition to Busic and Cho, speakers at the conference included John M. Perkins, an international speaker and teacher on issues of racial reconciliation and community development; Celestin Chishibanji, NCM coordinator in the Africa Region’s Central Field; Deirdre Brower Latz, principal (president) of Nazarene Theological College in Manchester, England; and Gustavo Crocker, general superintendent for the Church of the Nazarene.
The conference started with a report on the Syrian refugee crisis from a Jordanian pastor who reported how churches in Jordan have been serving refugees for more than four years, long before the crisis was brought to international attention in 2015.
“We have to love people, respect them, and serve them [with]dignity,” the pastor said in an on-stage interview.
Conference workshops designed to educate and build capacity for hands-on ministry addressed topics such as the refugee crisis and ministry to displaced persons, reconciliation and conflict mitigation, disaster preparedness and response, human trafficking, and community development. Bob Lupton, author of Toxic Charity, taught workshops on how churches can help instead of hurt the people they serve, and Ron Sider, author of Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, led workshops on how to think biblically about public policy.
The plenary themes enhanced the learning that took place during workshop sessions. On Friday morning, Perkins emphasized, “Reconciliation is not reconciliation until we do it together.”
The entire conference was built on the church’s call to live out Christlike compassion among those most in need in communities around the world. Ultimately, the event was meant to engage people in holistic ministry that transforms lives by addressing spiritual, physical, and emotional needs.
“Compassion, justice, acts of mercy, solidarity — they are not requirements for eternity,” Crocker said on Saturday morning. “But we cannot claim to have the love of Christ in our hearts and see our brother in need and turn our backs to him, for that means we do not have the presence of Christ in us yet.”
In summarizing what was taught at the conference, Brower Latz said, “We’ve been called, really, to be witnesses, living human documents that testify that reconciliation in Christ, to and with others, witnesses the truth of Jesus as love … [and]usher in the Kingdom into the neglected corners of the world.”
Videos of the plenary sessions and workshop resources are available at compassionconference.com.