Compassion Centered on Christ, For All

The Hyattsville Compassion Center at Redeemer Lutheran Church, Hyattsville, Md., provides physical care and Gospel comfort for the community.

“When you have the love of God, you can tackle any situation.”

Elma Pervaiz radiates both compassionate resolve and sadness as she talks about her work as coordinator of the Hyattsville Compassion Center at Redeemer Lutheran Church, Hyattsville, Md. Pervaiz, a refugee from Pakistan, rejoices in her work and life in the U.S., but she still bears the burden of concern for her children facing problems in her homeland.

Top: Robin Thornton looks at clothing at the Compassion Center in Hyattsville, Md. Above: Shopper Christine Bidmia shares a lighthearted moment with Elma Pervaiz at the center’s thrift store in November.

Pervaiz’s story joins with the tales of those in the community who come to the Compassion Center for help in various ways. In the last year, the center served more than 500 people; distributed over 6,000 pounds of food; and provided chapel, counseling and spiritual care. Many who come to the center for physical care attend worship at the congregation on Sundays.

“This congregation has a culture of caring,” said the Rev. Eric Linthicum, pastor of Redeemer. One of the ways this caring culture manifests is through love of neighbors from various ethnic backgrounds and economic situations. Redeemer is located in a multicultural community. People from all walks of life find themselves there due to the many public transportation stops nearby and the presence of both the wealthy and those struggling to make ends meet.

The Rev. Eric Linthicum, pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church, Hyattsville, Md., leads worship in August.

One in Christ

Redeemer reflects its surroundings. The people who gather there are multicultural and international. “We have people who were born on four continents, and we have seven languages in our congregation,” noted Linthicum. Even before Linthicum was called to serve as their pastor, Redeemer’s members desired to serve. Their outlook is reflected in their congregational motto, based on Rom. 12:5: “We who are many in Christ, form one body.”

Members of Redeemer greet each other before worship.

“The love of the people here … it’s a blessing every time I come. It’s needed. Very needed,” said Carol Laughinghouse, a regular at the Compassion Center. “This place is a blessing. The people here are wonderful. Just wonderful.”

Laughinghouse has been coming to the Compassion Center for nearly three years, ever since the staff helped her through a rough time resulting from her son’s car accident. Now, she says, the people are like family.

“We serve Jesus by serving others. People in crisis are able to obtain clothing and food free of charge on Saturday mornings at 10 a.m. … Spiritual help is always available,” reads a flier to advertise the Hyattsville Compassion Center. The center at Redeemer is one of 10 such centers all coordinated by the Lutheran Mission Society (LMS), a Recognized Service Organization of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS). LMS, founded in 1905 in Baltimore, lists compassion as one of its core values: “As God has shown compassion to us, we show compassion by caring for people’s needs of body and soul.”

A plaque at the entrance to the store.

The 10 centers are the means through which LMS seeks to provide for physical needs, emotional support and Christian outreach.

“Faith is a driving force,” said Helen Joynes when asked why she volunteers at the Compassion Center. Joynes is a member of Trinity Lutheran Church, Mount Rainier, Md., which partners with Redeemer in the work of the Compassion Center. She also noted that the people who come to the Compassion Center evince something to her. “It’s inspiring to me to see the hope they have. These people give me hope.”

From left, volunteers Helen Joynes and Teresa Greene, center coordinator Elma Pervaiz and the Rev. Eric Linthicum pray together before opening the shop for the day.

Bearing Burdens

Yet the work is not always easy, and people’s needs vary. Joynes related that right now, she is working with a grandmother who is watching her two grandchildren. The people at the Compassion Center are working with this grandmother so that necessary repairs are completed on her residence, even as she battles with a stubborn landlord who refuses to cooperate.

“We all got our crosses to bear,” sighed Robin Thornton, a client of the Compassion Center who struggles with homelessness and difficulties in her marriage. Thornton attended the chapel service Saturday morning and rejoiced in the truths read in Rom. 8:38–39.

“God wants you to trust Him. He is the one who gave His Son. … Difficult times will come and go but in Christ, God gives us the power to overcome,” promised the Rev. Aurelio Magariño, pastor of Christ, Lord of Life, a Spanish-speaking congregation in Silver Spring, Md., during his brief chapel homily. “There is not a moment in our lives when God does not love us in Christ.” The weekly chapel services are staffed by Magariño, Linthicum and two other nearby LCMS pastors, the Rev. Peter Schiebel and the Rev. Gugssa Biru.

Dominique Williams holds her son, Carter, as she listens to the Rev. Aurelio Magariño, pastor of Christ, Lord of Life in Silver Spring, Md., during chapel in November.

In addition to providing food (around 10 pounds per person), chapel, emotional support and spiritual care, the Compassion Center also runs a thrift shop. Some customers come for the bargains, but most come for something more significant. “The people are like family to me,” explained Christine Bidmia, an immigrant from Cameroon. While looking through the items for sale at the Compassion Center thrift shop, she smiled and said, “I can shop anywhere. But I come here because they are family. We love each other.”

Sharing the Gospel

Listen as Elma Pervaiz talks about the Compassion Center.

Redeemer and its Compassion Center continue to share God’s love through their service to the community. Pervaiz works to help others and, most importantly, to serve her Lord. “When in Malaysia as a refugee, I prayed that I could work for the Lord,” she recalled. “Now my dream has come true. I get to work for the Lord through [the] Compassion Center.”

“God sent us into the world not to help ourselves but to help others,” said Teresa Greene, a member of Redeemer who volunteers at the center. She lamented that there isn’t much she can do to help physically, but she rejoices that she can assist in some way. “Hopefully, through the Holy Spirit I might be able to help someone know Christ who doesn’t know Him yet.”

“We are going to share the Gospel,” said Linthicum, as he related that LMS had an opportunity to receive a new source of funding — with the condition that there would be no Gospel proclamation. “They weren’t willing to do that,” he continued. “Sharing the Gospel is essential.”

“God sent us into the world not to help ourselves but to help others.”

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Pray with Us

Compassionate Lord, when Your Son saw the crowds who were harassed and helpless, He had compassion on them. He gave of Himself in His Word and cared for their physical needs. So bless the work of the Compassion Centers and all who work to take care of those in their community, that in all things, Christ and His peace might reign as true comfort and hope. Teach us to love compassionately, and so bear witness to Your compassion in Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

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