In the early 1940s, as World War II created humanitarian crises around the globe, the International Convention (now the General Assembly) of the Christian Church made recommendations for multiple aid and relief projects. Partnering with ecumenical colleagues, the church designated a Day of Compassion special offering. Soon after, the Wartime Service Fund was approved and churches designated a Week of Compassion, a focused time for prayer and giving to support the ongoing war response. Expanded to include humanitarian aid as well as disaster response and refugee resettlement, a new ministry took shape.
Then and now, Disciples have been clear: When needs arise, we need to respond … we need to be moved, we need to be generous, we need to be faithful, we need to be transformed. We need to take on the role of the generous widow. “[Jesus] looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. He said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them, for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.”- Luke 21:1-4 NRSVue Jesus sees the widow and her gift, and rejoices in her generosity. Others were giving from what they could spare - but this woman, Jesus said, was giving everything she had to live on. Such generosity upends expectation. She brings two small coins, the merest contribution, but she is the giver Jesus praises most highly. It is not only the coins themselves that matter. It is the way she gives - it is the story of her generosity that outlasts her. That’s what Week of Compassion does - what Disciples do. We bring what we have to live on, which becomes a resource for others to live on - and that mutual giving is how our story lives on too.
When we give, we know that our gifts are not the only ones that matter - the true gift of compassion and connection lies in the resilience of the communities we serve. The mutual contribution of those most affected, combined with dedicated partnerships rooted in connection, integrity, and accompaniment, puts flesh on God’s grace for everyone involved.
Through Week of Compassion, families find stable housing and restored community after tornadoes in Kentucky or hurricanes along the Florida Gulf Coast. Children are cared for and kept safe as their parents gather resources to reclaim normalcy following fires on Maui. Women in South Sudan receive life-saving health care that allows them to return to dignity and wholeness with their families. Elderly and disabled persons left most vulnerable during war are given shelter, nutrition, and community in respite centers at the border of Ukraine. Refugees and asylum seekers find new opportunity and true hospitality in the U.S. as local congregations help them explore new neighborhoods, learn new languages, and find new hope.
In the story of the generous widow, we see every Disciple who is part of Week of Compassion. Her generosity sparks a response in us: we give what we have, what we can offer as our very best, what is uniquely ours to bring. An offering can come in an envelope, out of a prayer book, as a meal lovingly prepared, or from a well-worn toolbox on a work site.
What started 80 years ago as a single offering for a single cause, has flourished into decades of relationships with trusted partners, engaged in the work of empowering communities to claim their own strength and impact. This is long-lasting and constantly evolving work – a transformation that takes time. As we do the long-term work of building relationships and true collaboration, we repeatedly discover the beauty and poetry that says new life is possible, that the Spirit of God is real and lives right
here among us.
The widow’s giving is a model of faithfulness. It is a standard of generosity. It is the guide for partnership that encourages and empowers countless people around the world who have received support and nurture and transformative hope …because of these gifts. Because of her two coins –and two coins more – and two coins after that.
Thanks be to God for these abundant and generous GIFTS TO LIVE ON.