Editor’s Note: After Kizombo Kalumbula wrote a two-part series on compassion for Talking Points (Part 1 and Part 2), GRTS invited him to further develop and deliver that message at its annual Intercultural Studies Lecture Series on Oct. 5, 2016.

During his lecture, Kizombo Kalumbula identified what many in Grand Rapids already understand—that Grand Rapids delivers a Garden-of-Eden-esque existence for some while others do not experience the same benefits. For some, Grand Rapids defines ‘family-friendly’; for others, it is, economically, one of the worst places to raise a family.* At the same time, Grand Rapids is ranked among the most charitable places in the country and is a sought after place for refugees looking to settle in a new home.

Pastor Kalumbula refers to this experiential discrepancy as a paradox. White families in Grand Rapids tend to thrive economically, refugees are welcomed hospitably, but communities of color struggle to share in the economic vitality. It’s a paradox that should make it difficult for Christians in Grand Rapids to slump into apathy. If another human being cries out in distress, don’t we have an obligation to hear the cause of their distress and come to their aid?

But what kind of aid? If charity is not enough, what more must be done?

Kalumbula’s vision is for a flourishing Grand Rapids. This vision offers economic, social, spiritual and educational benefit to each person seated at the table. How does he envision the path to flourishing? According to Kalumbula, flourishing will surface with the exercise of “true compassion,” which he describes as both charitable acts and, more importantly for our city, “the full immersion into the condition of being human.” Jesus disadvantaged himself by entering this world as a human. He immersed himself into our condition and sat by our side before He sat triumphantly at the side of his Father. He did not exploit his advantaged position, but instead He used it for our benefit (Phil. 2:6-8). The cup of salvation is His body, not His pocketbook; it is His blood, not a handout.

With this pattern in mind, Kalumbula asserts that “true compassion means following Jesus in places we would rather not go.” His definition highlights that true compassion is concerned with the where of compassion as much as it is with the what of compassion.

Jesus immersed himself in our world, so He grew to understand the complexities of our problems. Similarly, Kalumbula calls for immersion into the world of those we desire to help; because, in order to help others, we need to genuinely understand them and their world. This means learning from and walking alongside the very ones in need, and it means helping them in ways that they believe are helpful. It means addressing problems by forming partnerships and upholding the dignity of others in the process.

Kalumbula argues that, given the above paradox, true compassion seems to be lacking in Grand Rapids. He offers a model that demonstrates the path to true compassion, which he also argues is the path to flourishing. See his model below.

Kalumbula’s model includes immersion alongside charity. Both immersion and charity work together, creating a flourishing society for all its members. Grand Rapids has proven to be a charitable place, but not enough people are immersing themselves in the lives of others. How will you and your community follow Jesus into places you would rather not go?

Here are some thoughts to stimulate your reflection:

  • Quoting Christena Cleveland, Kalumbula said, “Cross-cultural contact is the most powerful antidote for division.” What lines will you cross to immerse yourself in the lives of those in need or those of a different culture and a different part of the city?
  • Crossing lines and practicing immersion do not happen by accident. Will you immerse yourself by inviting someone of a different culture to dinner? Will you accept if you’re invited for dinner?
  • We must pursue conversations with people from other cultures and ethnicities and experiences in order to understand their life and struggles. How can you take steps to immerse yourself in contexts where you already practice charity, like community programs or benevolence services?
  • Immersing ourselves into other’s everyday world often teaches us about our own experience. Are you aware of the ways you may be advantaged (socially, economically, etc.) compared to people from a different culture or ethnicity? Are you open to that possibility? How could you leverage or share your advantaged position/resources with others?

These aren’t easy questions. Immersion isn’t easy. Jesus went before us, though, and He immersed himself in our world to show God’s love. He calls us to immerse ourselves into each other’s worlds in order to show and share God’s love as well.

If your community exercises the “true compassion” Kalumbula describes, we want to hear from you. Others may benefit from your story and example.

*This discrepancy is referenced in the book “City Within a City” by Todd E. Robinson. Also referenced is a January 2015 article in Forbes Magazine that describes Grand Rapids as the second worst city in the country for African Americans to live.