By Rachel Kelly
Photo Courtesy of Compassion Connect
When asked about the guiding principle of their work with Compassion Connect, Christine Gilge and Kawehi Marshall of Compassion Connect Puget Sound quoted their inspiration from Jesus:
“Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, love one another. This is how you will be recognized as my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35 (MSG).
The command to “love on another” is repeated three times. Apparently, Jesus thought his followers might forget! And it’s true, sometimes they did. Sometimes they do. Compassion Connect was founded with the intention to combat that apathy through unity, so that the command to love one another is not forgotten.
In fact, Christine and Kawehi had several answers. They quoted verses of unity in the church. Oneness in Christ. “God is light. In him there is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5). Which they take to mean that light should be a part of their regular everyday interactions, infused into their work and their conversation. They talked about many hands making light work. All their inspiration seemed to be about devotion to love. Love that they have felt from God, and love that they were interested in passing along. It is the kind of love that won’t let others feel isolated. Love that inspires connection.
Simply put, the drive of Compassion Connect is to equip community members to shine a light into dark corners. To see those who may feel unseen. To connect with the unconnected. To choose “unity over division and compassion over complacency.” Their base is in Portland, Oregon, but Compassion Connect functions in Washington, Idaho and Arizona as well.
Practically, for Compassion Connect, this means bringing churches together to serve their neighbors in tangible ways. The idea being that churches, and people as a whole, are united by the commonality of their ancestry. Churches are united by a belief in Christ. The community is united behind the intrinsic value of the human being. No matter where their beginnings, no matter where those beginnings seem to be headed. While not everyone may share the same religion, most can agree that people are important. Compassion is essential. Compassion Connect ignites these common values to address two common community struggles: accessible health care and sex trafficking.
Compassion Connect partners with churches, law enforcement, the FBI, and nonprofits in the area to bring a whole solution to each community. In this way Compassion Connect is a larger resource, not just one part of the whole answer. Health care and sex trafficking require resources from all different corners of the community, and Compassion Connect works to see that happen. Organically, by relationship. In this way no one part of the community is left on its own without support. The community is the ultimate benefactor of the partnerships that Compassion Connect creates.
One of the ways in which Compassion Connect helps their communities serve their neighbors is through community health care. Several local churches in Washington, Idaho, Oregon and Arizona unite to offer a free Compassion Health Clinic. They address a variety of health needs such as dental, physical therapy, nutrition, optometry, wellness and prayer. They even provide a tent with games and activities for children whose parents are in their various appointments. Health-care workers, nurses, social workers, food pantries and doctors from the churches in the community come together to offer these services, free of charge.
The most recent Compassion Clinic was hosted in Tacoma, Washington. Congolese and Kenyan refugees were brought by bus from Seattle, and cheerily greeted by the wide smile of the head social worker for the clinic. She rode with the refugees up and down from Seattle, busily occupying herself with connecting to the refugee individuals and families, bringing comfort. Then she would begin her rounds with questions such as, “Do you need a translator?” or “How do you feel today?” Refugees and community members are then met by the next round of people who guide them through various paperwork, signatures and triage, where their overall health is examined. They then wait to be treated by the various clinics within the church, according to their need.
Compassion Connect has several volunteer doctors, nurses and medical assistants to oversee the various clinics, as well as a medical team lead. They have special chairs and tables for physical therapy, and all the various equipment for fitting their patients with glasses. Thanks to generous donors, Compassion Connect also has a large amount of dental equipment, which can be transported from state to state according to need. An entire dentistry chair and sanitized tools is rolled up into one unit the size of a large toolbox. They have several such “toolboxes” that they unpack for one clinic. It is quite the event!
At this most recent Washington Compassion Clinic, the co-founder of Compassion Connect, Milan Homola, attended along with the director of the Idaho branch, John McGee. In 2014, in Caldwell, Idaho, area churches held their first Compassion Connect community health clinic. Caldwell area churches are now expanding their resources to additional communities. The director and staff from the Idaho branch were visiting the Washington clinic to connect and learn from the providers there. As the Compassion Connect staff from South Sound in Washington welcomed the leaders and staff from the Idaho branch, their camaraderie was apparent. They wanted to share, to show and to support. Compassion Connect really does choose unity over division.
The second need that Compassion Connect helps communities tackle is more difficult to address. Sex trafficking is a business that flourishes strictly because it does not often see the light of day. Its victims go unheard. The missing youth and women of our communities disappear quietly because they are alone. They are unconnected, with few advocates. Finding them, hearing them, takes more than just a few people. Addressing trafficking requires not only the unity of the church, but the involvement of the whole community. Compassion Connect seeks to end sex trafficking by doing just that: spurring involvement. Bringing the unseen and unheard to the forefront.
The anti-trafficking aspect of the Compassion Connect ministry is called Adorned In Grace. Each local Adorned in Grace ministry is run by local directors and volunteers, and addresses their communities according to their need. Anti-trafficking can be either preventive or proactive. This assures for a grass roots approach to each community; ears and eyes that directly connect to the present need. Adorned in Grace is then subdivided into two parts, the bridal boutique and the ministry center. The Adorned in Grace bridal boutique sells gently used bridal and formal wear at a discounted price. The boutique, along with church presentations and the website, offer opportunities for awareness and community involvement. All proceeds from the boutique then go to the larger ministry of prevention and restoration.
From talking with Christine Gilge and Kawehi Marshall, who work within Adorned in Grace Puget Sound, the resources that prevent trafficking are often those that also offer restoration. Adorned in Grace Puget Sound works within the G.R.A.C.E. model, which is an acronym for Gospel, Resources, Activity, Community and Education/Employment. Each man, woman or child who comes into the ministry offices are assessed with a G.R.A.C.E plan, to see where their practical and spiritual needs lie.
Practical needs are, of course, addressed first. Needs such as housing, food, safety and medical care are provided for through a network of larger community partners (such as community shelters). Unfortunately, these needs are extremely pressing and present. Christine receives at least one to two calls a month of rape, a missing child or suicide that have to do with sexual predators and violence. Some are more vulnerable than others, but safety is a concern for every child. Every woman. Every family.
This is why prevention is so key to the administration of Adorned in Grace Puget Sound. They do this through a variety of community efforts, including the arts! They showcase ballet and painting events that tell the stories of victims, bringing awareness for its prevention. Art is not just an effective mode for communication, but a healing balm for storytellers. They also hold classes and workshops to teach Power Over Predators, deal with societal pressures and combat isolation. A specific group, The Trophies of Grace, works with teenage boys. They even partner with a ranch to teach survivors practical life skills for future employment. Being on the ranch promotes healing, community and involvement. This brings safety and opens up avenues for conversation.
Unfortunately, even with prevention, there are many people who slip through the cracks. This is where the need for restoration comes in. As mentioned above, it’s the practical first. But afterward, once the pressing physical needs are addressed, the trauma done to the emotions and spirit of the survivor also need restoration. This part is all about “trust, connection and conversation.” This is where the tools for prevention also bring about restoration. Painting, dance, cooking classes, employment, empowerment classes, counseling and community involvement. Simply put, Adorned in Grace connects women and children with their communities, with safe professionals and compassionate care. This promotes a place of safety, allowing each person an opportunity to process, heal and move forward.
As our communities deal with an unprecedented time of isolation, Compassion Connect has not once closed its doors. If anything, their call toward action has only increased. While they have been cautious (the medical community is always gloved, sanitized and masked), inaction was simply not an option. Division is simply not a part of their mission. In all of their efforts, Compassion Connect has relied on the passion and the dedication of their neighbors, volunteers and community. This has been especially valuable in the midst of these difficult times.
The gap in quality medical care toward the unrepresented has only widened throughout the pandemic. The Compassion Health Clinics have worked to close that gap this year, though hampered by fewer resources. Meanwhile, isolation has agitated the already pressing problem of sex trafficking. This year, Adorned in Grace has continued to bring attention and community action toward prevention and restoration. Their classes have not stopped (though some have moved online), their phones have not been turned off, and their contact with shelters and other various community resources have not been severed.
We are all very aware of this year's hardships, of the pressure that our communities have withstood. As we look forward to a future of promise, we can still look back and be grateful. Grateful that there are, and always be, organizations like Compassion Connect that never cease to shine a light into dark places. Though hardships may grow, access to hope does not diminish. Compassion Connect shows us that we too can find common ground to choose unity over division. We too can look into the eyes of others and see the human. The person. We can, and do, choose compassion over complacency.
For more information and how you can get involved, please see CompassionConnectPS.org.